Ben on the Bolts: 2014 Predictions

SAN DIEGO - It’s an annual tradition…predict how the Chargers will fare as soon as the schedule is released. Don’t worry that the draft is still two weeks away. My theory is that every season will include at least 2 or 3 big surprises—games that look like a loss on paper, but turn into a win, or vice versa. I’m including a couple of those in my forecast. Here we go:

Week 1 – at Arizona Cardinals (9/8)  The Chargers once again open on Monday Night Football, and veterans will be familiar with the long wait to get the season started. Unfortunately, Arizona has a terrific defense, including a cornerback in Patrick Peterson who will try to shut down Keenan Allen. Since the offense will likely need a little bit of time to start firing on all cylinders, I expect the Chargers to come up a little short in this one. CARDINALS 20, CHARGERS 17.

Week 2 – Seattle Seahawks (9/14)  I’ve seen a lot of people predict a loss in this one. The Seahawks will have four extra days to prepare after opening on a Thursday night. Still, I think the Chargers will be ready for the Super Bowl champs, who are not nearly as good away from their 12th man fans. Richard Sherman will be a tough matchup for Keenan Allen, but look for an improved Chargers defense to lead the team to a win in the home opener. CHARGERS 17, SEAHAWKS 16

Week 3 – at Buffalo Bills (9/21) This one could be tricky. The Bills also have a good defense (it’ll be a tough opening stretch for the Chargers offense) and quarterback E.J. Manuel will likely be improved in his second season. Buffalo has a good home field advantage. Another surprise, but the Chargers come up short. BILLS 23, CHARGERS 17

Week 4 – Jacksonville Jaguars (9/28)  No surprises here. The Chargers were better than the Jags last season on the road, and will be better than the Jags this season at the Q. The offense finally breaks out after scoring 17 points in each of the first 3 games. CHARGERS 31, JAGUARS 10

Week 5 – New York Jets (10/5) The Chargers should thank Rex Ryan and the Jets for beating the Dolphins in Week 17 last season, allowing the Bolts to make the playoffs. But not this week. The Chargers take advantage of an opponent making a cross-country trip to improve to 3-0 at home. CHARGERS 27, JETS 21

Week 6 – at Oakland Raiders (10/12) The Raiders signed loads of free agents in the offseason, but that strategy rarely works in the NFL. I see another tough season in Oakland, and the Chargers don’t come out flat like they did in their trip to the Black Hole last year. CHARGERS 30, RAIDERS 20

Week 7 – Kansas City Chiefs (10/19) After two heartbreaking losses to the Chargers last season, the Chiefs will be out for revenge. Andy Reid is also a wizard coming off the bye week. He’s 13-2 in his career, even after a loss at Denver last season. The entire week, the Chargers promise that they’re not looking ahead to a Thursday night game against the Broncos, but they peek just a little, and it costs them. CHIEFS 26, CHARGERS 24

Week 8 – at Denver Broncos (10/23) The Broncos did not like losing to the Chargers on Thursday night last season, allowing Philip Rivers and his bolo tie to celebrate with the NFL Network crew on the field at Sports Authority Stadium. Peyton Manning won’t let that happen again. BRONCOS 34, CHARGERS 21

Week 9 – at Miami Dolphins (11/2) The Chargers lost in Miami last season, but had plenty of chances to win the game. The Chargers cash in on all their red zone opportunities, and head into the bye week with a road win. CHARGERS 28, DOLPHINS 24

Week 10 – BYE

Week 11 – Oakland Raiders (11/16) After facing Seattle and Denver the previous two weeks, the Raiders are wiped out, while the Chargers are fresh and rested. This one gets ugly. CHARGERS 41, RAIDERS 7

Week 12 – St. Louis Rams (11/23) Still fresh after the bye (and pulling all their starters in the 4th quarter vs. Oakland), the Chargers face another team at the end of a murderer’s row. Starting in October, the Rams face, in order, the Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Chiefs, 49ers again, Cardinals, and Broncos before coming to San Diego. That’s just not fair. CHARGERS 33, RAMS 20

Week 13 – at Baltimore Ravens (11/30) I expect the Ravens to bounce back after missing the playoffs last season. The post-bye gravy train ends for the Chargers in a 10am West Coast start. RAVENS 27, CHARGERS 19

Week 14 – New England Patriots (12/7) They still have Tom Brady, but the Patriots aren’t what they used to be. Not even close. On a Sunday night, the Chargers prove that they’re playoff contenders, improving to 8-5 with a critical win. CHARGERS 30, PATRIOTS 23

Week 15 – Denver Broncos (12/14) With a two-game lead over the 2nd place Chargers, the 10-3 Broncos come to the Q with a chance to clinch the AFC West in mid-December. It’s motivation enough for the Donkeys, who get a late touchdown drive by Manning to steal another win at the Q. BRONCOS 31, CHARGERS 30

Week 16 – at San Francisco 49ers (12/20) A Saturday game in the new Levi’s Stadium, the Chargers catch the 49ers right after their second game against the Seahawks in a span of three weeks. After those two wars, the only energy San Francisco has left is Jim Harbaugh jumping up and down and screaming on the sideline. I told you there were always some surprises in the NFL. CHARGERS 17, 49ERS 13

Week 17 – at Kansas City Chiefs (12/28) The 9-6 Chargers can clinch a playoff spot with a win at Arrowhead Stadium, but the 8-7 Chiefs are still alive, even though they need some help. In a 10am start, this game turns into a desperate brawl. Nick Novak nails a 51-yard field goal as time expires to send it to overtime. The Bolts win the coin flip, and drive down to the 1-yard line, but are facing 4th down. They can kick the field goal, but that would give the Chiefs a chance to drive down and tie or win. Instead, emboldened by his second successful season as head coach, Mike McCoy decides to go for the win. The offseason addition of Donald Brown pays off, as the running back barrels into the endzone for the touchdown. The Chargers are headed back to the playoffs. CHARGERS 29, CHIEFS 23, OT

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