How Good are the Chargers Really?

1200498856Bill Belichick made his point yesterday to his team: The San Diego Chargers are the best damn football team in the AFC (present company excluded, of course) and are one dangerous bunch. Belichick made his case, as Heath Evans said, trial-lawyer style, by laying out the statistical evidence of the Chargers dominance, including the fact that they have won more games since Thanksgiving than anyone else (present company included).

That would be eight straight wins—San Diego had an extra game on the Pats thanks to the first round of the playoffs—and over that eight-game stretch a few trends have taken hold.

First, Philip Rivers has played really well. It’s easy to make fun of Rivers. He yaps at opposing teams, opposing fans, and it would seem, his own teammates. But during the Chargers’ eight-game winning streak, Rivers has morphed into a dangerous downfield passer, averaging 12.5 yards per completion.

In a completely related note, Rivers downfield acumen improved when stud tight end Antonio Gates‘ production began to wane. Enter Chris Chambers. The former Dolphin wide receiver has always been known as a big-play threat, and in the last six games Chambers has caught 24 passes for 468 yards, including a 6-catch, 121-yard day against the Titans in the playoffs.

Rivers has been operating without the usual brilliance of LaDanian Tomlinson, who has gained only 70 yards in two playoff games. Rivers, Tomlinson, and Gates are all banged up, but the Chargers have dangerous weapons on the outside in Chambers and Vincent Jackson.

Then there is the defense. In the last eight games, the Chargers D has given up an average of 13 points a game, and has forced 26 turnovers. Corner Antonio Cromartie has become as dangerous on defense as Chambers is on offense with five picks in that stretch. If not for a truly horrid holding call at the end of the first half, his interception return against the Colts might have broken that game wide open.

It’s worth noting that San Diego’s last 6 regular season opponents finished with a combined record of 37-59 and the only winning team in the bunch was the Titans. So, is Belichick right in his assessment or is he merely channeling Lou ‘I’m really concerned about this Navy team’ Holtz?

Time will tell, of course, but it’s clear Belichick has his team’s attention. Just like Igor Olshansky said he would.