Shutdown Corner - NFL

It's too early for '09 season previews, and too late for '08 season reviews. What's an NFL blog to do in the never-ending quest to overcover the bejeezus out of the NFL? Offseason progress reports. Let's go in alphabetical order. Today, the San Diego Chargers.

Free agents lost: RB Eldra Buckley(notes), TE Scott Chandler(notes), G Mike Goff(notes), LB Marques Harris(notes), CB Grant Mason(notes), C Jeremy Newberry(notes), DE Igor Olshansky(notes), CB DeJuan Tribble(notes), LB Anthony Waters(notes)

Free agents gained: LB Kevin Burnett(notes)

Drafted: DE Larry English(notes), OG Louis Vasquez(notes), DT Vaughn Martin(notes), OG Tyronne Green(notes), RB Gartrell Johnson(notes), CB Brandon Hughes(notes), S Kevin Ellison(notes), WR Demetrius Byrd(notes)

Quick, tell me which quarterback led the league last year in quarterback rating? Peyton Manning(notes)? Kurt Warner(notes)? Drew Brees(notes)? Incorrect on all three. It was Philip Rivers(notes), who posted a 105.5 rating, while no one else reached 98.

Why do I mention this? Because teams with quarterbacks that good tend to also be pretty good teams. And Rivers is young enough -- last year was just his third year as a starter -- that he's probably still improving. The nearly complete lack of roster turnover can't do anything but help him, either. Continuity is good.

It seems like it's become a little bit trendy to predict a shaky 2009 for the Chargers, and I get that. They went 8-8 last year with virtually the same roster, and no one likes seeing an 8-8 team in the playoffs. There's also the presence of Norv Turner, and I understand that it's hard for anyone to look at Norv and think, "Success is on the way!"

But honestly -- and I'll understand if you think this is just me being a homer -- it's hard for me to imagine that 2009 won't bring at least some measure of success for the Chargers. Look around the AFC West. Even if you love the moves that the Chiefs and Raiders have made for the future, there's just no way any rational person could claim that those rosters are close to being as deep and developed as the Chargers. They're just in different stages of growth.

I know that surprises happen, and I know that there's traditionally a lot of turnover in playoff teams from year to year, but I don't see a team in that division that can compete with the Chargers. It's just not there. If the AFC West was a division of UFC Fighters, you'd have the Chargers at the top as Brock Lesnar, and the rest of the division would consist of Gary Coleman, Miley Cyrus, and a Cabbage Patch Kid. You can decide who's who.

Okay, so maybe I'm overstating. But if the Chargers are going to fall, someone has to take their place, and I don't know who that would be. It's entirely possible that the Chargers will fall, but I still think they'd win that division.

Progress: The defense should be better, if for no other reason than health. Antonio Cromartie(notes) played last year with a broken hip, and Shawne Merriman(notes) missed the season, and if both of them play anywhere near their potential, it's a much-improved defense. On offense, the whole gang is back from a team that scored 27.4 points a game last year, second-best in the league. I see the Bolts being a force in 2009.

Plus three games. 8-8 last year, 11-5 this year.

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