Michael Kranzler: The New Orleans Saints Are Scary
The losing team most likely to trip up the Chargers is the Buffalo Bills, who host the Bolts in Week 7. The Bills showed significant progress last season, posting a winning record over the final 13 games (7-6). The Bills' offense features explosive playmakers like RB Marshawn Lynch and WR Lee Evans, while the defense was fortified this off-season by the additions of DT Marcus Stroud and LB Kawika Mitchell.
The Bills also expect to make substantial progress from within. QB Trent Edwards showed well as a rookie and should continue to improve in his second year. The defense hopes for similar gains, as last year's top draft pick, LB Paul Posluszny, is healthy after playing in only three games due to a broken arm.
The Bills are catching the Chargers at the right time for an upset. The Chargers will be coming off their most hyped game of the year, a primetime contest against the New England Patriots. The Bolts will also be in the midst of a logistical nightmare, as the team follows its game in Buffalo with a trip across the Atlantic to face the New Orleans Saints in Wembley Stadium.
The Bills have all the ingredients to pull off an upset: 1) a defense that creates turnovers, ranking 10th in the League in interceptions last season; 2) special teams that can score, led by Terrence McGee, who has returned five kicks for scores in the last four years; and 3) an offense that protects the football, helping the team to a plus-nine turnover differential last season.
San Diego will not face a team more talented than itself next season, let alone one coming off a losing season. However, if any losing team topples the Bolts in 2008, the Bills will be the squad to do it.
The Chargers face a very mixed non-conference schedule next season. They go up against several strong teams in the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, which are all winnable to a certain extent if the Bolts can stay healthy and play their game.
However, the Patriots showed us last year how difficult it is to stay perfect all season, and it is not out of the question for the Chargers to falter at some point next year against an inferior team. Teams like the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets all have major questions at quarterback, which could make for long seasons for all three of those teams.
However, one team that had a losing record last year but is poised for bigger and better things is the New Orleans Saints. Boasting a high-powered offense led by former Charger Drew Brees and local product Reggie Bush, the Saints have the offensive firepower to slug it out with any team.
The Saints will also welcome back a healthy Deuce McAllister, who will provide an inside running presence that was so lacking once he went down with a knee injury last year. This will allow Bush to get out in space like he does best, which may give opponents nightmares.
But where the Saints look to improve most this year is on the defensive end, where off-season acquisitions LB Jonathan Vilma and CB Randall Gay will fill major holes and provide some very welcome production for their underachieving unit.
Factor in that the game is being played in London, and jetlag could have a major impact on this game. If any team with a losing record is going to surprise the Chargers, it should be the Saints. Surprise, maybe; but shock – I wouldn't go that far.