Nick Athan: Is Norv Turner looking over his shoulder once again? With a guy like Mike Shanahan available in the offseason, will the Chargers finally kick Turner to the curb and get a more proven head coach?
Michael Lombardo: I do believe this will be Turner's last season in San Diego. He has failed to develop the team's young talent and the squad as a whole has regressed under his watch. The team went from 14-2 in Marty Schottenheimer's final season to 11-5 to 8-8. This season is still young, but the way this team is playing, it's difficult to imagine the Chargers winning more than seven games.
I think Turner's performance will lead to his ouster more so than the deep pool of proven coaching talent. However, joining the Chargers would be the fastest way for Shanahan to get back at his former team. Nonetheless, if the Chargers make a move for one of the marquee coaches, I expect it to be Bill Cowher.
NA: In Kansas City, Larry Johnson, fast approaching 30 years old, seems to have lost a step. LaDainian Tomlinson was the best running back in the NFL for many years. Do you think he'll ever regain a resemblance of his former All Pro self?
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
The Chargers no longer run the offense through LT. He hasn't logged more than 26 rushes in a game since 2006, which was the magical season in which he smashed all the scoring records. This is due in part to the development of the Bolts' passing game, and in part to LT's inability to avoid nagging injuries.
NA: We recently ranked the AFC West QBs and put Matt Cassel at No. 2 behind Kyle Orton. Thus we put Philip Rivers No. 3. Do you think Rivers can really lead this team to the Promised Land?
ML: Whenever I rank players, I typically do so in tiers. As I see it, the top-tier of QBs is Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. The second tier of QBs then consists of Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Rivers and Jay Cutler. I could go down to a third tier, but no one else from the AFC West would be in it.
Rivers is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Last season, he became the best QB in NFL history (statistically) not to be invited to the Pro Bowl when he led the NFL in TD passes and passer rating. And speaking of passer rating, it's worth noting that in two of his three seasons as a starter, his fourth-quarter rating was above 107. That kind of clutch play has helped the Chargers go 35-18 with Rivers at the helm. So, yes, he can lead the Chargers to the Promised Land.
RB Darren Sproles
ML: The Chargers coaches, to their credit, quickly realized Sproles is not a full-time running back. However, he is an electrifying kick returner and an exciting scat-back. No runner is better than Sproles on third-and-long because of his ability to hide behind his blockers and make people miss in space.
Nonetheless, when Sproles is forced into the starting line-up, San Diego's offense really suffers. Look for the Chargers to re-sign Sproles this offseason and to find a featured back to replace LT. Sproles needs a thunder-runner to complement his lightning.
NA: What's the matter with Shawne Merriman? There were some rumblings that the New England Patriots made inquires about his services prior to the trade deadline. Are his days numbered in San Diego?
ML: Merriman, like Tomlinson and Antonio Cromartie, is likely in his final season with the Chargers. If his offseason antics didn't seal his fate, his terrible start to the season should do the trick. Merriman has lost his explosiveness and is no longer a terror coming off the edge. Throw in his inability to hold the corner or shut down the back side of plays, and you have one big defensive liability.
When the Chargers drafted Larry English in the first round of this year's draft, they were picking a player to replace Merriman, not to play beside him.
NA: For someone who has covered the AFC West for so many years, who do you think long-term will come out of the pack and become dominant not only this season but in the years to come?
ML: This is a tough question. The Chargers are sliding, but they still have a great core of young talent, so I think a good coach can keep them in contention. Denver is clearly the class of the division right now; Kansas City has a lot of important pieces in place; and Oakland is finally starting to reap the benefits of so many top-10 picks.
To be honest, I see the AFC West becoming one of those divisions where everyone lands between 7-9 and 10-6, with all the teams beating each other up and assuring no one gets a bye week. If I had to guess which team will win the most division titles in the next fives years, my money would be on Denver.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.