Team: San Diego Chargers
Record: 8-8 Home: 5-3 Away: 3-5 Division: 5-1
Coaching Staff – C-
Norv Turner is an excellent offensive game-planner, but is a suspect leader/motivator. Ron Rivera has seen the defense improve every week under his watch. Defensive backfield coach Bill Bradley is an excellent teacher as is quarterback coach John Ramsdell. Clarence Shelmon and the veteran Charlie Joiner are highly underrated football coach.
Offensive Line – B
The line is stellar in pass protection, ranking in the top-10 in sacks allowed despite protecting an immobile quarterback. The run blocking has been shaky has improved, not coincidentally, along with LaDainian Tomlinson's health.
Wide Receivers / Tight End – B
Vincent Jackson is an emerging superstar and Chris Chambers is a better than average No. 2. Antonio Gates will be going to his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl and finished amongst tight ends in TD receptions (eight). Backup receivers Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee can cause match up problems with their size and athleticism.
Running Backs – C
Tomlinson has struggled mightily this season, averaging less than 4 yards per carry and setting a career-low in rushing yards (1,110). He was finally getting healthy but is now battling an abdominal strain. Darren Sproles is explosive but is better as a change of pace back. Jacob Hester is a strong runner but sub-par lead blocker.
Quarterback – A
The only quarterback in the league playing better than Philip Rivers right now is the man Rivers will face on Saturday, Peyton Manning. Over the last six games, Rivers has thrown 13 touchdowns against just one interception. Don't let the school boy looks, the ready smile and the funky throwing delivery fool you, between the lines this player is a stone cold killer with great playing instincts.
Defensive Line – D
Jamal Williams is still a very good run-stopper but was just not an up the field force as a pass rusher. Defensive ends Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky are big strong defenders, but at time during the 2008 season they disappeared to enter the witness protection program.
Linebackers – C –
Secondary – F
This is similar to the situation at the linebacker position. Quentin Jammer has been superb all season long while everyone else has been horrible. The Chargers have the worst tandem of starting safeties (Clinton Hart and Eric Weddle) of any team in the playoffs.
Special Teams – A
Injury Factor – Tomlinson has an abdominal strain; which will limit him but is expected to play. Antonio Gates has a grade 1 ankle sprain, but is good to go. Shaun Phillips (knee) and Luis Castillo (groin) will play through minor injuries, as well. The Chargers lost wide receiver Buster Davis played in only four games during the 2008 season and Oh and before I forget, the Chargers used to have this guy by the name of Shawne Merriman who just might have made a difference had he lined up for 16 games during the regular season.
Team Offensive MVP – Philip Rivers It hard not to say the name Tomlinson when mentioning the words Chargers and MVP, but this year's hands down winner is without question Philip Rivers, the heart and soul of this Chargers football club.
Team Defensive MVP – Quentin Jammer and Stephen Cooper. Both have been sensational and steady all season long. I'd probably give Jammer the slight edge, but Cooper came on strong with four interceptions in the last four games after serving an early season suspension.
Top Rookie – CB Antoine Cason – Has been mostly steady as the nickel back and has contributed two picks and a forced fumble, all of which came in the fourth quarter of ball games. He lacks the type of juice you want in a wing, but he does show play making ability.
Top Free Agent – Offensive center Jeremy Newberry, who started the first three games this season in place of Nick Hardwick and played well in relief in Week 16. Speaking of free agents, the Chargers would be very smart to sign Tomlinson's replacement Darren Sproles.
Team Strength – Passing offense…there is no close second in 2008. The Chargers have tons of weapons and options and most importantly a red-hot trigger man.
Team Weakness – Pass defense. Antonio Cromartie, Hart, Weddle and Steve Gregory have been all huge liabilities throughout the 2008 season. Part of the reason the pass defense has gone south probably has to do with their inability to rush the passer.
Final Word – The player to watch is TE Brandon Manumaleuna, especially with Gates limited. Manumaleuna has two TD catches in the last two games; he's basically a sixth offensive lineman in the running game; and he will have to help Jeromey Clary against DE Robert Mathis. If the Chargers are to advance in the playoffs, I believe an electric back and special team player like Darren Sproles, must make a play at a critical stage of the game.