I write about the entire NFL for Inside the Pylon, but I’m a New England Patriots fan. My columns have spanned the schemes, players, and team-building strategies of all 32 franchises, but I spend more time watching and thinking about my hometown team than any other. I know the good Twitter follows, I know who’s “next man up,” I know who’s nursing a hamstring injury, and I know the reports on how the fifth-round pick is developing (just kidding, the Patriots hate fifth-round picks). My rooting interest – and physical proximity, as I live about 10 miles from Gillette Stadium – gives me an awareness of the Patriots that I don’t have with the other franchises.
This fandom has affected my impressions of football and the way that it is meant to be played. When head coach Bill Belichick took over in 2000, I was a 20-year-old college junior, so he has essentially been football Moses for my entire adult life. He saw the burning bush and came back with tablets that said, “this is how you play football.” I paid attention, and it turns out you can learn a lot by watching Belichick and trying to understand what he’s doing. I believe in option routes, versatile linebackers, bend-but-don’t-break defenses, investing in safeties and tight ends, the Erhardt-Perkins scheme, and long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days (clip NSFW).
Belichick’s way is not the only way, however. I followed the Detroit Lions for the 2016 season, watching every game and following media like the SideLion Report and the P.O.D.Cast. I observed quarterback Matthew Stafford’s breakout season, defended offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s bold playcalling, and endured some truly wretched defense against both the run and the pass. The Lions earned a playoff berth at 9-7 and the experience gave me a different perspective on the NFL. It was a heck of a lot of fun, too, with Stafford leading an insane eight fourth quarter game-winning drives. I’m planning to continue this experiment through the 2017 season.
My choice this year is the San Diego Chargers. Dammit, I mean the Los Angeles Chargers. The move to LA provides one unique element to this team’s outlook, but there are plenty more fascinating storylines:
- Philip Rivers has never won an MVP or a conference championship, but he’s often on the cusp of doing so, posting big-time numbers year-in and year-out in an organization that hasn’t always surrounded him with top talent. His numbers dipped in 2016, however, and he turns 36 in December. Is this his last hurrah?
- What will new head coach Anthony Lynn bring to the table? The Buffalo Bills running attack was highly effective in 2016, with Lynn serving as running back coach, offensive coordinator, and head coach at various points in the season. Can he bring the same ground performance to Los Angeles with a spotty offensive line and talented third-year running back Melvin Gordon? As someone who just traded for Gordon in my dynasty fantasy league, I’m interested to see how this plays out.
- The Chargers ranked 29th in the league in defensive scoring last year and haven’t boasted a top-10 defense since 2010, but the pieces are starting to come together. Fourth-overall pick Joey Bosa logged 10.5 sacks in just 12 games en route to being named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year, forming a quality edge rushing tandem with underrated bookend Melvin Ingram. Top cornerback Jason Verrett returns from injury to join playmaker Casey Heyward. I’m a big fan of fifth-round rookie defensive back Desmond King, who I evaluated for the ITP Draft Guide. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley flamed out as a head coach in Jacksonville, but his run as DC with the Seattle Seahawks was a big success. There’s real potential in this defensive unit.
- The Chargers are poised for a bounce back. They went 5-11 in 2016 but were only outscored by 13 points on the season; they lost games by 6 (in OT), 4, 1, 4, 8, 7, 7, 3, and 3 points, and their worst loss was only by 12. That was without Verrett or leading receiver Keenan Allen, who combined to play only five games. It’s not hard to see better health, better coaching, and better performance in close contests translating to playoff contention.
There’s reason for pessimism, too – the franchise has seemingly been on a downward trajectory since their improbable playoff loss to the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship Game. Each coaching change has brought less success, and seemingly every year they deal with catastrophic injuries. The injury bug has already bit in 2017. Receiver Mike Williams, the seventh pick in April’s draft, missed the preseason with a back injury and isn’t expected to return until October. Second-round guard and Friend of Pylon Forrest Lamp tore his ACL in the preseason and will miss his entire rookie campaign. The Chargers seem to be snake-bit.
Each new year brings optimism, however, and moving up the California coast from San Diego to Los Angeles should bring a fresh start. I’ll be hoping that’s the case as I follow along, watching the team, reading Bolt Beat, and listening to the Locked On Chargers podcast. Whatever happens, 2017 in Los Angeles promises to be a fun and exciting inaugural campaign.