And for good reason. Since the NFL expanded its postseason to 12 teams in 1990, teams that began the year 0-2 have reached the playoffs 12 percent of the time. And San Diego is a veteran team with playoff aspirations for a second straight season.
But standing in the Chargers’ way Sunday are the Seattle Seahawks. San Diego plays host to the defending Super Bowl champs in the home opener at Qualcomm Stadium.
Seattle manhandled the Green Bay Packers 36-16 in the NFL season opener. Making matters worse for San Diego, the Seahawks had 10 days to rest and prepare for Sunday’s contest, while the Chargers are getting ready on a short week after a loss to the Cardinals on Monday night.
ESPN.com Seahawks reporter Terry Blount and Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams take a closer look at the matchup:
Blount: Eric, I think most people know that you covered the Seahawks and know them well. With that in mind, what would you say is the No. 1 thing the Chargers must do well Sunday in order to win this game?
Williams: From watching Seattle coach Pete Carroll’s teams perform over the last five seasons, the one thing San Diego must focus on is not letting the Seahawks dictate tempo on both sides of the ball. That means bottling up Marshawn Lynch and Seattle’s potent running attack on defense. And offensively, the Chargers must control time of possession by running the football, moving the chains and scoring touchdowns -- not field goals -- in the red zone. Carroll’s teams are so effective because they usually don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to win games on a consistent basis. San Diego must counter that by getting the Seahawks out of their comfort zone to have a chance to pull off the upset.
Terry, the Seahawks will have had 10 days to prepare for San Diego leading up to Sunday’s contest at Qualcomm Stadium. How has Carroll approached having that time off? And is there any chance the Seahawks will be lulled to sleep during the early moments of the game, particularly after Seattle’s dominant performance in the preseason against the Chargers?
Blount: After talking to some of the players this week, I just don’t see them coming out flat, despite the layoff and the big win in preseason. They get it and realize judging any team off a preseason effort is a big mistake. I think the layoff helped them after all the hype surrounding the Thursday night game against Green Bay. But more importantly, the players talked about how much of an asset it was to be able to watch the Monday night game and take some notes. Earl Thomas said he planned to watch Philip Rivers’ eyes in the close-ups on TV. The funniest response came from wide receiver Ricardo Lockette, who said, “I’ll be watching everything, even the water boy.”
Eric, I’ve heard so many people talk about wide receiver Keenan Allen and predict big things for him in the future. How good can he be, and do you see him as one of the elite receivers in the NFL?
Williams: Allen’s not there yet, but he has the potential to develop into one of the elite pass-catchers in the NFL. He was surprisingly productive in his rookie season, finishing with 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. What makes Allen so effective is at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, he has elite short-area quickness, which allows him to separate at the top of the route. Along with that, Allen is great running with the football after the catch. I’m interested to see how Allen matches up with Seattle’s lanky corners in Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell.
Terry, everyone knows what Lynch and Russell Wilson mean to Seattle’s offense. But can you talk about how the addition of a healthy Percy Harvin creates another dimension for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell?
Blount: It’s even more than I imagined it would be, Eric. Other than maybe Gale Sayers, one of my childhood heroes, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player with the quickness and burst that Harvin has. I’m not talking about pure speed, which he also has. But Harvin’s ability to get by defenders off his first step is uncanny. They just can’t catch him. And the jet sweep has become the new “it” play of the NFL, but Harvin is what makes it special for the Seahawks. Defenses have to account for him coming across the backfield, and when they focus too much on Harvin, Wilson hands it to Lynch or rolls out and throws. It’s the new triple option.
Eric, the Chargers seemed to have some issues with the no-huddle offense in Arizona on Monday night. The delay penalty on the final drive really hurt them. Do you think they can shore that up, and will they try to use it to keep the Seahawks from subbing out defensive linemen on every play?
Williams: With new offensive coordinator Frank Reich calling his first game and Rivers shouldering more of the load on making calls at the line of scrimmage, San Diego appeared to have some issues with the mechanics of making play calls. But Arizona is a defense that uses a lot more exotic looks and blitzes up front, which caused more adjustments for Rivers. That will not be the case with Seattle, which relies more on a four-man rush to create pressure. I’m sure there will be instances where San Diego tries to keep Seattle’s base defense on the field using no-huddle, but I don’t think that will be a main focus of the team’s strategy Sunday.
Terry, lastly, how are the Seahawks handling being the defending Super Bowl champions? Do you believe this team has a chance to repeat, and what will have to go right in order for Seattle to accomplish that goal?
Blount: I predicted them to break the trend and win the Super Bowl back-to-back. They’ve shown zero signs of getting fat and happy, so to speak. They’re still a young team with key players who likely will continue to get better. And they probably still are the most talented team in the league, but two things will determine their fate. First, they will have to get it done with much younger depth. The Seahawks lost 10 players off the Super Bowl roster who had a combined 58 years of experience. And two, the schedule down the stretch is brutal. The last seven games include four against 2013 playoff teams (the 49ers twice in three weeks) and two others against the Cardinals, who won 10 games last year. If the Seahawks stay healthy, I believe they can overcome it and get back to the big game.