Philip Rivers' San Diego Chargers poised to make noise in 2014

So, did you hear the huge news about the San Diego Chargers? The juicy rumor? The major splash?

Don't worry -- you're in the clear. I didn't hear any of that, either. The Bolts have experienced a completely buzz-free offseason.

Over the last few months, how many Chargers articles have you read on How many times have they been in the A-block of "Total Access" on NFL Network?

The San Diego Chargers are easily the most under-the-radar team from last season's playoff field. No pundit is pounding the table for them. Nobody is projecting a Super Bowl push. It's probably just how they like it.

But don't let the silence fool you. This team is, in theory, ready for even bigger and better things in 2014. And that's saying something, considering San Diego won a playoff game in Year 1 of the savvy new regime headed by general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy.

You didn't remember that? Yeah, San Diego won a playoff game -- on the road, no less.

Actually, I was kind of the problem. A lot of us in the media were.

Truth be told, and you can peruse this column for visual evidence, I picked the Chargers to beat the Cincinnati Bengals in the wild-card round. I wrote that column seven days before the game was played. With Philip Rivers' renaissance last season, I didn't hesitate.

But the universal takeaway from that game -- and I wrote about it here -- was that Andy Dalton and the Bengals lost it. They choked. Again. That was the hot-button talking point. That was the lead. The Chargers winning was a sidebar. Unfortunate, as San Diego won that game -- in hostile territory -- by three scores.

San Diego then lost to the Denver Broncos in the divisional round, with a furious fourth-quarter comeback falling just short. And then Denver went to the Super Bowl. After getting bludgeoned by the Seattle Seahawks, John Elway and the Broncos reloaded, making them the 2014 AFC favorites, let alone AFC West favorites.

Yes, Denver is locked and loaded. The Kansas City Chiefs won double-digit games last year. The Oakland Raiders had a solid offseason and actually should resemble a legit squad that can potentially surprise.

And the last few paragraphs had very little to do with the Chargers, adding proof to this column's overriding point.

Fact is, San Diego was wrongly viewed last season as a team that got some luck in a do-or-die Week 17 bout against the Chiefs, with Andy Reid's decision to rest starters and Ryan Succop's adventurous kicking. In addition to winning that game, the Bolts needed the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins to lose their respective regular-season finales. San Diego, of course, got it all, allowing the franchise to return to the postseason for the first time in four years.

Hey, you take the breaks you can get, and then you capitalize. The Chargers did just that. Credit them for that.

More than ever, this is a passing league. And Philip Rivers returned to form as a great passer last season. I could site stats and tell you he finished fifth in passing yards. I could tell you he only threw 11 picks against 32 touchdown passes. I could tell you he posted the best completion percentage in the NFL. These are all facts.

Or I can simply say what I felt while watching Chargers games last season: Rivers was a top-five NFL quarterback bar none. He was fantastic in 2013, and thus, San Diego bounced back.

McCoy, an offensive guru, deserves so much credit for Rivers' rebirth. Last season was a far cry from the quarterback's 2012 (22 turnovers) and 2011 (20 interceptions) campaigns. Rivers took to the coaching of McCoy and offensive coordinator (now Tennessee Titans head coach) Ken Whisenhunt. No. 17 stopped pressing and started producing again. And it didn't hurt having an improved supporting cast -- a group that looks even stronger going forward.

Keenan Allen enjoyed a monster rookie season at receiver, hauling in 71 catches for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns. And here's a scary thought for the rest of the AFC West: He's only going to get better. Malcom Floyd, meanwhile, missed almost the entire season with a neck injury. But just this week, he was cleared for contact and participated in organized team activities. That's a huge deal. Team him with Allen, Antonio Gates, Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown in a passing attack directed by Rivers? That's strong. Plus, don't forget about Danny Woodhead (76 catches, six receiving scores) out of the backfield. Speaking of the backfield ... Ryan Mathews shed his bust label with a 1,255-yard campaign. And free-agent signee Donald Brown provides enviable depth at the position. Lastly, the Chargers' offensive line is not the problem it has been in the past; there is cohesiveness from one year to the next, with all five starters coming back after performing well in 2013.

The offense was strong last year -- ranking fifth in total yards -- and Rivers was dominant. Still, the stage is set for improvement in 2014. And the same should be said for John Pagano's defense.

Quietly, San Diego had a splendid draft, boosting the defense (which ranked 23rd last season) with the first two picks. The Chargers needed a cornerback, and drafted TCU's Jason Verrett with the 25th overall pick. Then they stole playmaking linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu in Round 2. Both of those guys will provide immediate help. Of course, this defense wasn't in dire straits last season, as evidenced by the unit ranking a respectable 11th in scoring D. There's talent on this side of the ball. Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget are strong, young ends. Manti Te'o had a solid, drama-free rookie season and will continue to improve. Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle is a playmaking veteran, the centerpiece that makes this defense tick. And don't forget about the healthy returns of Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney, who logged just four games apiece last year. This is gigantic for the defense -- specifically, the pass rush -- and cannot be understated.

Maybe Chargers fans are still numb from repeatedly being "Norved," accustomed to underachievement and disappointment. Maybe Chargers fans aren't used to silence -- rather, more accustomed to A.J. Smith's cantankerous and counterproductive ways.

The regime has changed. The approach has changed. The entire feel has changed.

Enjoy the silence while it lasts, because the Chargers, behind their star quarterback and a rapidly improving supporting cast, are poised to make more playoff noise. These Bolts are ready to prove they are more than just lucky, more than just that other team on the winning side of another Andy Dalton meltdown.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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