Chargers preview: 5 questions on the Bolts

While you spent your summer sipping mojitos and playing beach volleyball with Iceman, we've been here, tirelessly breaking down the Chargers. Here's our take on the upcoming season.

1) If the Chargers don't make the playoffs, does Rivers get traded?

Faris Tanyos: I already documented my thoughts on Rivers here. Short answer: Yes. Rivers is the Arctic Monkeys of QBs. AM was supposed to be the second coming of the Beatles, or at least Oasis. Ten years on, we're still waiting.

Rivers needs a change of scenery. Romo secretly has to want out of Dallas. Rivers wouldn't be fazed by the Cowboys' media hordes, he'd relish them. Romo would love to paddleboard La Jolla Cove in peace.

The Chargers should use Thursday's preseason game to get to know their 2015 starter.

Ben Higgins: Tony Romo as a Chargers quarterback? Hasn’t San Diego suffered enough?

Whether or not the Chargers make the playoffs this season, Philip Rivers still gives the Chargers the best chance at winning a championship in the next three to four years. I believe it, and more importantly, Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy appear to believe it, too.

The Chargers have gone to the playoffs five times with Rivers at QB. They went to the playoffs four times in the previous 23 years before he took over as starter.

He’s not going anywhere.

2) Will Ryan Mathews still be the starting running back by Week 16?

Ben: NFL injuries remain unpredictable, but if Mathews stays healthy (and I think he can), he’ll still be the starter in Week 16.

With Mathews set to become a free agent at the end of the season, the Chargers should get all the mileage they can out of the former first-round pick before taking the fresh-legged Brown out of the garage.

Faris: No. Mathews is the girl you date before the girl you marry, usually in your senior year of college when you're sporting a lot of flannel and keep a Memento poster on your wall. Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard and Alfred Morris are all girls you marry.

Mathews was fourth in the NFL last season in rushing attempts with 285, the first of his four seasons in which he was healthy all 16 games. He ran for 1,255 yards (7th). That seems reasonable. It isn't. He averaged 4.4 yards per carry (17th), against a fairly soft schedule that saw the Chargers completely avoid the top four rushing defenses. In his two playoff games he ran for a combined 78 yards.

His numbers were a result of quantity, not quality. Since Mathews cedes pass-catching duties to Danny Woodhead, he needs to be a workhorse back to succeed. Now Donald Brown is in the fold. If Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich is smart, he'll use more of a committee approach.

Mathews is in a contract year. He won't be back next season.

3) Will the Chargers still be playing in San Diego in 2020?

Ben: If the Chargers are still calling America’s Finest City home in 2020, it’s for one of two reasons:  

1) The team has either completed a brand-new stadium or has one under construction.

2) Los Angeles (or another mystery city) hasn’t made a sweet enough offer to entice the Chargers to move.

Qualcomm Stadium is on its last legs. Even the Supercross event abandoned the facility for 2015. If the people and politicians of San Diego have any vision at all, they’ll squeeze every dollar they can from the NFL to help build a badly-needed facility that will draw major events here.

If that doesn’t happen, we can probably count on L.A. to continue to muck up every stadium plan that comes down the pike.

Faris: Yes, but not because of their rabid fan base. San Diego is a beautiful city with too much to do. Why waste four hours and $90 on a Sunday afternoon when you can be out surfing or restaurant hunting in Little Italy?

The Chargers averaged 64,200 fans a game at Qualcomm last season, a capacity rate of 90.1 percent (25th in the league). Their Week 6 matchup with the Colts was almost the first Monday Night Football blackout in 14 years.

The Chargers will stay in San Diego because players and coaches want to live here. As a player, would you rather spend Christmas in 70-degree Coronado or subfreezing Green Bay?

When Los Angeles nabs a team, it won’t be from here.

4) Other than Philip Rivers, which player will be most instrumental to the Chargers’ success this season?

Ben: The Chargers had an offense that was ranked in the top five all season long last year. What they need is a defense that can get the ball back to that offense. When I think takeaways, I think Eric Weddle.

The Pro Bowl safety has already picked off Rivers several times during training camp. If he can do that against opposing quarterbacks this season, the Chargers will be a playoff team, and possibly a Super Bowl contender.

Hopefully, a healthier linebacker corps can free Weddle up to make big plays in the secondary, rather than cheat up as a run-stopper, as he was forced to do much of last season.

Faris: I learned a lot from The Blind Side. It's better to oversimplify complex cultural issues so they're more palatable for a mainstream audience, even if that involves cutting corners with the truth. Leigh Ann Tuohy was more important than Michael Oher. Oh, and left tackle is quietly the second most critical position in football.

Starting Chargers LT King Dunlap missed five games last season due to concussions. However, his return coincided with the four-game win streak that got them into the playoffs. Dunlap led an offensive line that saw Rivers sacked only 30 times all season (4th) and hit only 60 (5th).

Dig: The Chargers running backs rushed for negative yards on the left side of the offensive line only four times all season (1st), per NFL.com.

A more shocking stat: On power rushes on 3rd or 4th down and less than 2, the Chargers got a first down or TD 100 percent of the time when they rushed left.

Leigh Ann Tuohy would be proud.

5) The Chargers won 9 games last year. Are you taking the over or under this year?

Ben: Ten wins is a tall order considering the schedule the Chargers are facing, but I think they can do it. The Chargers went 5-2 against playoff teams last year; what they really need is to play better against the weaker teams.

With McCoy entering his second year, and Philip Rivers even more comfortable with the new offense, I think the Chargers will avoid the mistakes that led to a 5-7 start last season.

The Chargers will get off to a fast start, and might even give the Denver Broncos a run for their money in the AFC West.

Faris: Under. The Chargers are getting a mixed bag with the NFC West and AFC East.

Realistically, they'll have to open 5-1 to have a shot at the division. Outside of the Seahawks, they're favorites against the Cardinals, Bills, Jaguars, Jets and Raiders.

Their thorn is a brutal closing stretch: Ravens, Patriots, Broncos, 49ers and Chiefs, with those last two on the road. They'll be lucky to go 2-3.

In a best-case scenario, they split with the Broncos, Chiefs and Seahawks/49ers. They sweep the Raiders and take care of business against the Rams, Jets, Jaguars and Dolphins. That puts them at 11-5, good enough for a wildcard.

However, I see them splitting with the Raiders, getting swept by the Chiefs or Broncos and going 2-2 against the Rams, Jets, Jags and Dolphins.

That leaves them at 7-9, a more probable scenario.

-- Follow Ben Higgins on Twitter @BenHigginsSD
-- Follow Faris Tanyos on Twitter @OnlyFairchild

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