SOS: Strength of Schedule Keeps Bolts Afloat

The Chargers have been granted the NFL's second-easiest schedule in 2008, as San Diego's opponents combined to go 108-148 (0.422) last season. But is the docket as easy as the numbers dictate? Several losing teams on San Diego's schedule are primed to rebound next season, while the top-tier teams seem as dangerous as ever.

Injuries grounded San Diego's playoff run last season and threaten to do the same thing early in 2008. Former Pro Bowl C Nick Hardwick (foot) could open the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list, which would cause him to miss at least six games. All Pro TE Antonio Gates is iffy for the season opener, as well, as he works his way back from off-season toe surgery.

Luckily for the Chargers, their schedule is favorable early in the season. Their first five opponents had a combined record of 23-57 (0.288) last season, with all five of them finishing below .500.

LB Shawne Merriman
Donald Miralle/Getty

The meat of San Diego's schedule lies in Weeks 6-12. During that six-game span, the Bolts take on three teams that won their respective divisions last season: the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts.

This middle stretch also includes a travel-intensive trek through Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo and all the way out to Wembley Stadium in London for a showdown with the New Orleans Saints.

The combined record of San Diego's opponents during this brutal six-game stretch: 57-39 (0.594).

If the Chargers can stay above water heading into Week 13, they should be in good shape coming down the stretch. Four of San Diego's final five opponents posted losing records last season. Those five foes combined to go 28-52 (0.350) in 2007.

All of these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Several losing teams on San Diego's schedule will pull complete transformations in 2008; the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Saints each appear set to win at least three more games than last season.

Nonetheless, it likely won't be enough to prevent the Chargers from winning their fourth division crown in five years.

San Diego's strength of schedule is the easiest of all of the teams in its division. The reason the reigning AFC West champs have the softest schedule is simple: everyone else in the division has to play the Chargers.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

BoltsReport Top Stories