The Los Angeles Chargers are ready to begin a new season and a new era this Monday night. The Bolts will start the 2017 season when they visit the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football. Kickoff from Sports Authority Field at Mile High is set for 7:20pm PST.
Here is a breakdown of what to expect in what should be an exciting showdown between two AFC West division rivals:
The 2017 Chargers are loaded with offensive weapons. However, the collective eyes of Chargers Nation usually start their fixation on Number 17. Quarterback Philip Rivers is looking to build on his stellar performance from last season. He completed 349 of 578 attempts. In total, he threw for 4,386 yards and 33 touchdowns. Those 33 touchdown passes were the second most of his career in a single season; only one behind his career-high 34, set in 2008. If Rivers can compile a 300-yards passing on Monday night, it will be the 52nd of his career. That would set a new Chargers franchise record.
Tight end Antonio Gates is also looking to to make history with a record of his own. Gates’ next touchdown catch will make him the all-time leader in career touchdowns by a tight end. Keenan Allen returns from an ACL injury suffered during last season’s opener. On the ground, the team will look to pound it with running back Melvin Gordon. Gordon turned heads with a Pro Bowl year in 2016, in which he carried the call 254 times for 997 yards and 10 TDs. The road for the running game may be a bit smoother than originally thought for this contest. But, we’ll get back to that in a minute.
The Chargers have plenty of optimism on the defensive side of the ball. New defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is eager to show-off his new 4-3 scheme. However, the Bolts have plenty of playmakers as well. Jason Verrett and Casey Heyward will finally get the chance to play alongside one-another, as the pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks lead an impressive Chargers secondary. New starting safety, Tre Boston, has been listed as questionable with a calf injury and is likely to be a game-time decision. Of course, a lot of focus will be on defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The pair is expected to be one of the top pass rushing duos in the NFL, and will look to get to Broncos quarterback, Trevor Siemian, as much as possible.
And their opponents…The Denver Broncos
Former Chargers Head Coach Mike McCoy returns to Denver as the team’s offensive coordinator. Trevor Siemian is set to enter his second season starting under center. Of course, one cannot ignore the return of Brock Osweiler to Denver. However, the Broncos back up QB is unlikely to see action in this game. Denver’s top receiving targets are Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both wide receivers surpassed 1,000 yards receiving in 2016. Thomas caught 90 balls for 1,083 and five TDs while Sanders had 79 receptions for 1,032 and five scores. Meanwhile, former Kansas City Chief, Jamaal Charles, is on board to join C.J. Anderson in forming a potent one-two punch on the ground.
The true strength of the Broncos will once again be its defense. Last year’s fourth ranked defense finished the year as the top passing defense in the league. In 2017, they return largely intact, minus Demarcus Ware and T.J. Ward. The defense is still led by Von Miller, whose 13.5 sacks ranked second in the NFL. Meanwhile, Justin Simmons is thrust into the starting strong safety spot, entering a standout secondary led by cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. In a bit of good news for the Chargers ground game, Defensive ends Zach Kerr (knee bruise) and Jared Crick (back spasms) were ruled out on Monday’s game. This may reduce the pass rush and allow Rivers and Gordon to collaborate in a two-headed offensive attack.
A Bit of Series History
The Chargers trail the all-time series 64-50-1. The two teams split the season series a year ago with both teams winning at home.
The Chargers are looking for their first win in Denver since 2013.
This marks the first time the AFC West rivals meet on Kickoff Weekend since 1994, a 37-34 Chargers win.
At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, Chargers key to success is pitting the ball in the end zone. Against the Denver defense, this is not an easy task. Melvin Gordon had a lot of success on the ground last season against the Broncos. With some upgrades along the offensive line for the Chargers, there should be more of the same on Monday night. Philip Rivers will look to connect with Keenan Allen and Antonio Gates, as he attempts to make history.
This could lead to a good day for the Bolts offense against the Broncos. Of course, all of that could change if the Broncos pass rush runs roughshod over the Chargers offensive line. Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale will need to be stout in their protection of Rivers. Denver will find success if they establish a running game with C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles. However, this will ultimately prove to be too difficult a task on Monday night. The Chargers take this one in a close contest.
Chargers 21, Broncos 17
– Mike D’Abate is the Managing Editor for cover32.com/Chargers and covers the Los Angeles Chargers.