Chargers season preview: Back to the playoffs?

*Around The NFL's season preview starts in the AFC West. *

Change we can believe in

Notable Madden ratings


After a few offseasons of upheaval, the Chargers were happy to make only cosmetic changes to their roster. The biggest change came at offensive coordinator, where Frank Reich takes over for Ken Whisenhunt. Transitions like this can be bumpy, but Reich is going to keep many of Whisenhunt's principles while putting even more on Philip Rivers' shoulders.

We love the idea of Rivers doing his best Jim Kelly impression in a no-huddle offense where he is calling the shots. Now 32, Rivers has seen it all. He's a top-five quarterback in his prime with plenty of weapons around him, including Donald Brown joining an already-deep backfield. The Chargers present a lot of matchup problems from Ladarius Green to Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead.

Biggest concern

The defense needs to get better without adding a lot of new players. They are counting on the healthy return of Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram to bolster a pass rush that was DOA in 2013. The Chargers upgraded by replacing cornerback Derek Coxwith Brandon Flowers. Defensive coordinator John Pagano hopes Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes will take a step forward after disappointing second seasons.

This was a miserable defense for most of last year, but the unit was a different group down the stretch once Pagano made adjustments. The defense only needs to improve to average in order to make the Chargers dangerous -- their offense should carry them.

Training camp surprise

Malcom Floyd's career looked all but over as a result of his neck problems, but he's made a strong recovery. The Chargers could use him as another deep threat since Vincent Brown hasn't panned out and might not even make the team. Keenan Allen is clearly the No. 1 wideout here, but a healthy Floyd would add needed depth at wideout. Buoyed by a strong running game, Rivers has more weapons now than at any point since LaDainian Tomlinson's heyday. Tight end Ladarius Green is ready to break out, and Ryan Mathews is one of the best early-down runners in football.

One thing that's not a surprise: Manti T'eo is struggling with a foot injury again.

What we'll be saying in February

The Chargers are a strong playoff team stuck in the wrong division. Rivers' 2013 renaissance was real.

Around The NFL's predicted finish: Second place in AFC West, No. 5 seed in AFC playoffs, No. 9 in Around The NFL's Power Index.

The latest "Around The League Podcast" recaps all of the action from the second week of the preseason.

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