Defensive tackle Jamal Williams, the key to the team's success on early downs, has tender knees. Welcome to the start to 2008, which looks like the end of 2007.
The Chargers exited last year's AFC Championship Game, to some extent, because of a lengthy injury list.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
It was a disheartening defeat, but one the organization hopes to build on and springboard it to a solid 2008.
The Panthers are the first of two home games over the initial five weeks.
Rivers, though, appears to be fine. It was amazing watching him take all but a handful of the training camp snaps and basically his same rotation in the preseason games. He looks fine, although it's yet another injury that figures to challenge Rivers' mobility. Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill is out with a neck injury.
With the Panthers offering Julius Peppers, this could be a key Sunday.
Despite the various ailments, few teams wouldn't want to trade rosters with the Chargers, the two-time defending AFC West champions.
It's a squad loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball and one with a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl.
In fact, it's hard to think of anything derailing the Chargers -- except injuries. And it's never a good sign having to already deal with them on opening day.
At least they draw the Panthers, one of the softer spots on a decent schedule. And their upset hopes aren't helped by missing standout wide receiver Steve Smith.
But this has the potential to be a dangerous game for the Chargers. That said, they are at least a touchdown favorite as they start their journey for their third straight AFC West title and possibly so much more -- their health willing.
SERIES HISTORY: 4th meeting. Panthers lead series, 2-1, although the Chargers prevailed the last time they met, 17-6 in Charlotte in 2004. The Chargers erased a 6-0 first-half deficit in that game and hogged the ball most of the second half.
--Panthers GM Marty Hurney was ex-Chargers GM Bobby Beathard's top lieutenant for eight seasons before going to Carolina in 1998.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson, the two-time defending NFL rushing leader, is primed to go. Funny, though, that he has struggled in two of his previous seven opening days. Last year he had but 25 rushing yards against the Bears and in 2003 it was a 34-yard game against the Chiefs. "I think it just depends on the team and the way they approach the first game," said Tomlinson, who also has four 100-yard rushing opening days.
DE Luis Castillo
--TE Antonio Gates is playing Sunday without the benefit of an exhibition game snap as he returns from toe surgery. "Going into the game, I don't feel 100 percent," he said. "But I'm definitely better than what I was."
--New TE Kris Wilson played for receivers coach Charlie Joiner in Kansas City last year. Coach Norv Turner thinks he will blend in quickly. "He blocks well on the edge and he's experienced in this offense," he said.
--If LB Shawne Merriman's knee acts up on him, Jyles Tucker is the first one off the bench. Tucker has played in six NFL games and had three sacks in one of them last year against the Raiders.
--QB Philip Rivers on the Chargers' dream of going to the Super Bowl. "You can kind of tuck that away and put it in the bottom drawer and worry about everything else right now," he said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16 -- Number of Chargers wins in last 18 home games, including the playoffs, since 2006.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Just one goal -- to win a championship. That is the only thing you are going to hear me talk about all year." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson, when asked his 2008 objective.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers need to monitor their situation at tight end as it has become jumbled in the days leading up to the opener.
Pro Bowler Antonio Gates is going to play, but this is someone who didn't take a preseason snap. How long -- or how effective -- he is with his surgically repaired toe remains to be seen.
Gates' backup, Scott Chandler, had been getting plenty of work in the preseason, but he hurt his foot in the last preseason game and was placed on IR.
The team still has Brandon Manumaleuna and while his hands are softer than one might think, his thing is to block, not catch passes.
The team added Kris Wilson, who was released Saturday by the Eagles. He had 24 catches last year with the Chiefs. If Gates' toe flares up, Wilson could be pressed into action sooner than the Chargers had hoped.
--ILB Derek Smith will replace Stephen Cooper as Cooper begins his four-game suspension. Cooper was the Chargers' leading tackler last year.
--WR Craig Davis is fighting for looks at the No. 3 spot. Chris Chambers and Vince Jackson are hogging most the action out wide. But Jackson's hamstring gave him some problems in camp, which could give Davis an extra snap or two late in the game.
--C Jeremy Newberry is in for Nick Hardwick. Newberry is an 11-year pro and known for his physical nature. Hardwick (foot) could miss the first month.
--CB Antoine Cason, the team's first-round pick, earned the nickel role in camp. When Cason, Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer are on the field at once, the secondary is loaded with speed and athleticism.
--RB Darren Sproles will handle both the punt and kickoff returns. The shifty Sproles has looked dynamite in camp, and is getting more looks in the offense.
GAME PLAN: Defensively, the Chargers can key on the run to set up their pass rush. With the Panthers' Steve Smith not playing because of a suspension, the Chargers can sell out against the run -- something the Panthers have to prove they can do well. If in passing situations, Jake Delhomme will likely wonder about his repaired right elbow and the lack of a reliable option when faced against the Chargers' stout pass rush. He will have Muhsin Muhammad back in the fold, but the absence of Smith will allow the Chargers' run stoppers in their secondary -- cornerback Quentin Jammer and strong safety Clinton Hart -- to cheat in and give run support.
With the Chargers' pass rush going against a new Carolina offensive line -- on the edges -- and a possibly gun-shy Delhomme, it sets up for some potential turnovers.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Chargers LT L.J. Shelton, in his first game with the Chargers, vs. Panthers DRE Julius Peppers, who is eager to bounce back from a disappointing 2007.
Shelton is forced into the lineup because of Marcus McNeill's neck injury. Shelton is a veteran, but drawing Peppers in the first assignment is a tough way to break in. Making the transition tougher is a new center as well, meaning left guard Kris Dielman will be trying to read the body language of two new teammates in their first games -- Shelton at left tackle and Jeremy Newberry at center. Peppers had but 2.5 sacks last year and will be pumped to put that behind him.
Chargers FB Michael Tolbert, an undrafted rookie, vs. MLB Jon Beason, the Panthers' leading tackler last year.
The Chargers insert Tolbert after letting Pro Bowler Lorenzo Neal go in the offseason and cutting his backup, Andrew Pinnock. Tolbert was a camp surprise in making the team and gets a test with his lead blocks against Beason -- he had a team-record 160 tackles last year.
Chargers pass rush off the edges against the Panthers' tackles.
Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips make their morning blasting around the sides on passing downs. Jordan Gross played right tackle last year for the Panthers, but he flipped sides to make room for first-round selection Jeff Otah. Somewhere there may be a breakdown on an assignment by a fresh left tackle or a youthful mistake on the right side in which Merriman and/or Phillips take advantage of.
INJURY IMPACT: LB Shawne Merriman (knee) worked the entire practice but he could take some early downs in series off on Sunday to protect his knee. If so, Jyles Tucker would replace him.
--C Nick Hardwick (foot) didn't work. Jeremy Newberry replaces him. Hardwick could be down a month.
--TE Antonio Gates (toe) did work and is a go for Sunday. He's worth keeping an eye on, though.
--LT Marcus McNeill didn't practice and will be replaced by L.J. Shelton.