By Rick Brown
The Los Angeles Chargers will be kicking off the 2017 football season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High against the Denver Broncos Monday evening. The season opener marks the 116th time these two AFC rivals have played each other. The Broncos lead the all time series 64-50-1, and have won eight out of the last 10 matchups since the 2012 season. The last time the Chargers won in Denver was in 2013.
Both teams will be debuting with rookie head coaches on the sidelines. Vance Johnson of the Broncos and Anthony Lynn of the Chargers look to make an immediate impact on their respective teams. Previously, Lynn was the assistant head coach and running backs coach for the Buffalo Bills and will be taking over for Mike McCoy. Johnson was the defensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins last year before becoming the head coach of the Broncos. A lot of uncertainties surround both teams. Will a change of scenery and a new head coach help the Chargers to a winning record?
Los Angeles Chargers, 0-0
Football has returned to Los Angeles, and after a quarter of a century of waiting for its return, the Chargers and Rams are now calling this major market home. To wipe the slate clean, the Chargers fired Mike McCoy, who has rejoined the Broncos as an offensive coordinator. Lynn has also hired George Stewart to lead special teams and Gus Bradley, former Jacksonville Jaguars head coach, to coach the defense. Looking to create some sense of stability, Ken Whisenhunt will return for his third season as offensive coordinator.
Philip Rivers is returning for his 13th season and is hoping his new head coach can right the ship. The Chargers are 9-23 in the last two years and finished in last place in the AFC West last season.
Rivers is happy to have Keenan Allen back in the line-up after he missed all of last season with a knee injury. But the injury bug continues to bite the Chargers’ wide receivers when the seventh pick in the 2017, Mike Williams, went down with a back injury. There was speculation he could miss the entire season, but after a few weeks of rest, it appears he will be ready to join the team in the next few weeks.
Emerging superstar Melvin Gordon will look to continue building on his success. Last year, he played in 13 games and rushed for 997 yards and 10 touchdowns. He rushed for 200 yards against the Broncos defense last year and added four receptions. Gordon had bursts of brilliance last season, even rushing for 196 yards against a tough Tennessee Titans defense. While the Broncos defense was amazing against the pass last year, the rush defense was among the worst. Look for the Chargers to make Gordon the focus of the offense to test the new Broncos’ rush defense.
The Chargers look to emulate the two other top defenses in the AFC West — the Kansas City Chiefs and the Broncos — with Bradley leading this group. During his time with the Seattle Seahawks, Bradley built what was arguably one of the best defenses in NFL history. His success earned him a head coaching job with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but after four losing seasons, Bradley looks to once again bring his success as a defensive coordinator to a talented Chargers’ roster. Right off the bat, the Broncos’ offensive line has its hands full with super stars Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Look for these two, along with Corey Liuget, to terrorize offensive lines all season long. The secondary is talented group of players led by Casey Hayward.
Players To Watch
The smart play would be to attack the Broncos’ weak link from last year, the offensive and defensive lines. The Broncos made a lot of moves in order to fix these two parts of the team. If the defensive line has not improved at all, look for Melvin Gordon to have a great day on the ground. Garett Bolles, the Broncos’ 2017 first-round draft pick, will get a true test of NFL talent when he faces off against Bosa and Ingram coming off the edges. Broncos fans should know rather quickly if the defensive and offensive line woes will continue this season.
Opening week ends with a bang as these two AFC West rivals battle it out for a win. While both teams are loaded with talent, there are some question marks on both sides of the ball. The Broncos and the Chargers want to get out to a quick start. Both head coaches have high expectations, as both coaches should – the Broncos and the Chargers have talented rosters. Expect a lot of questions for both teams to be answered once the clock ends.