<strong>June 30, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.sportsline.com/nfl/story/8609904">CBS Sportsline</a>
The San Diego Chargers have the talent to repeat in the AFC West, but there's something about this team that disturbs me -- and it has nothing to do with Drew Brees looking over his shoulder at Philip Rivers.
No, the problem is the road. There aren't just speed bumps ahead; there are potential sinkholes.
Look at the club's schedule, and you find five games in the Eastern Time Zone -- including a Dec. 18 date with Indianapolis, which never deviates from Eastern Standard Time. Traveling three time zones is hard enough -- NFL clubs were a combined 13-18 doing it last year -- but look at how the Chargers must do it this season.
At New England. At Philadelphia. At the New York Jets. At Indianapolis. And at Washington.
OK, so Washington's a potential breather. Look at what's left. There are four playoff teams with a combined record of 49-15, including the Super Bowl finalists. Now let's look at their home records: New England was unbeaten, Philadelphia and Indianapolis lost once each and the Jets twice.
That's a 28-4 record -- 32-4, if you include the playoffs -- and it could be a problem for the Chargers.
Sure, it can be overcome. The San Francisco 49ers won 19 straight road games from 1988 through 1990, but they had Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott and Jerry Rice. The Chargers lost only three road games a year ago, but compare that to their 7-1 record at home and you can see why this could become an issue.
"In a perfect world I'd play 16 games at home," said San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer. "And not just for the benefit of not traveling; but for the benefit of the support of your fans. But when the schedule first comes out I look for how the games fall; where the bye week is and if there are any back-to-back road trips.
"A year ago, the Carolina-Atlanta thing was a monster (the Chargers traveled to each in consecutive weekends), and we went 1-1. So it all comes down to understanding that the schedule is what it is, and you're wasting your time worrying about it."
Maybe he won't worry, but we will. And so should the Oakland Raiders, one of San Diego's AFC West rivals. They not only have four games in the Eastern time zone, but two of them occur in the first three weekends -- against New England and Philadelphia.
That's the bad news. The good is that the Raiders don't make another East Coast swing until Nov. 20 when they play Washington and follow their Sept. 25 date at Philadelphia with four straight weekends at home -- including an Oct. 2 bye.
The Chargers catch no such breaks. They have two eastern games in October, two in November and one in December -- followed the next weekend by a game in Kansas City.
It's uncharted territory for the division champs, and it's one reason to wonder if they succumb to gravity. The Chargers never played five eastern games in one year, though as members of the AFL they were forced to play at Buffalo, Boston (Patriots) and New York three successive weekends for six consecutive years .
They were 9-6-3.
That's not only acceptable; it's respectable. So is this: Since the NFL-AFL merger the Chargers played four eastern road games in one year six times, with an 11-12-1 record to show for it.
Now look what happened to Schottenheimer's club last season. Its most impressive game down the stretch was not its win at home over Denver but its loss on the road to Indianapolis. The Chargers were supposed to get drilled, yet they dominated a formidable opponent -- leading 24-9 -- and would've won if their special teams hadn't self-destructed in the second half.
They lost by a field goal in overtime.
"There's no doubt this is tough," Schottenheimer said of this year's schedule, "but think about it this way: Find your way into the playoffs having beaten a few of those teams on the road, and you're going to have a very positive sense about yourself going into the competition -- even if you have to travel."