Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 8. This week: No. 16.
Where they stand: The San Diego Chargers are 4-5 and that is a disappointment. But the Chargers can’t feel badly about where they are as they head into their bye week. It is, at least, familiar. San Diego has won two straight games after starting 2-5 overall and 0-4 on the road. The Chargers have become famous for starting slow and finishing red hot under coach Norv Turner. In 2007, San Diego won its final six games. In 2008, it won its final four games, and last season, it won its final 11 games. Each season ended with San Diego winning the AFC West title. So the Chargers should be optimistic, even though they trail 5-3 Kansas City and 5-4 Oakland. The Chargers have lost to both the Chiefs and Raiders.
Falling: Special teams. I hate to be redundant, but I’m sure the San Diego special-teams unit hates it even more. This is quite likely the worst special-teams performance of all time. San Diego finds new ways to bungle on special teams every week. It has betrayed the Chargers in many different ways. The punting game is the center of San Diego’s special-teams woes as it has had four punts blocked. There’s been a fifth, but since it traveled 1 yard it doesn’t officially count as a block. There have been five other blocked punts in the NFL this season.
Rising: Passing game. You have to wonder how dangerous the San Diego passing game is going to be in a few weeks when Vincent Jackson is eligible to play and the two starters who replaced him -- Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee -- return from hamstring injuries that have kept them out in recent weeks. Quarterback Philip Rivers has been operating without his top four receivers (including Buster Davis, who is on injured reserve) for the past two games. In Week 9 at Houston, Rivers was also playing without top target Antonio Gates. Still, Rivers threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns. Rivers is playing at an incredibly high level. He has thrown for 2,944 yards and is on pace to set the all-time single-season passing yardage record.
Midseason MVP: Rivers. If the Chargers would have a slightly better record, he’d be the runaway leader in the MVP chase.
Outlook: The Chargers have to leapfrog two teams, but they are not in terrible shape. If the Chargers continue their late-season trend and get rolling, they could be the team to beat. This team is very talented. The key is to stop killing itself on special teams. If that is finally addressed after the bye, San Diego will be a factor. The Chargers have home games against Oakland and Kansas City and two games against cellar-dwelling Denver. San Diego shouldn’t be counted out yet.