Welcome to the 2014 San Diego Chargers football season!
After 47 days of training camp, which came after a couple weeks of Organized Team Activities, which came after mini-camp, which came after rookie camp, which came after the NFL Draft, which came after a few organized workouts in the weight room, the Bolts FINALLY get to kick off against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football at 7:20 P.M. Pacific time.
Because, you know, we all have not waited long enough.
The NFL started scheduling a second MNF game in 2006. The Chargers shut out the Raiders 27-0 that night. Since then, the Chargers have been a late favorite. 2014 marks the sixth time in nine years they'll get the late start, with five of those coming on the road.
San Diego is 3-2 in those games, with all three wins coming in Oakland against the Raiders. They lost in Kansas City, and at home to Houston.
The Cardinals have only played once in the late MNF game, back in 2007, when Matt Leinart was still regarded as a viable NFL quarterback (he lost his starting job a few weeks later to Kurt Warner). So experience is certainly on the side of the Bolts.
Now, before we get to our three players to watch for, let's review the guidelines. We don't pick guys like Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle because they'd be on the list every single week. These players are more game-specific. So, here we go!
Shareece Wright, CB:
Brandon Flowers is a two-time Pro Bowler, so you have a good idea what to expect from him. First round pick Jason Verrett will play in nickel situations, so he won't have as much pressure as Wright does. As the corner starting opposite Flowers, he's going to get a lot of looks at one of the Cardinals two mammoth wide receivers, Larry Fitzgerald (6'3", 218 lbs) and Michael Floyd (6'3", 225 lbs). Both are 1,000 yard receivers and both can break a big play at any given time. Wright came on strong in the second half of the 2013 season, playing the best football of his career. He picked off his first NFL pass against Eli Manning and the Giants in December, then made another interception in the playoff win in Cincinnati. Arizona QB Carson Palmer threw 24 touchdowns a year ago, but was also intercepted 22 times. He is going to test the Chargers secondary. If Wright is able to steal one, the Bolts will be in good shape.
Ladarius Green, TE:
Antonio Gates is questionable with a hamstring injury he suffered Saturday morning at practice. If he can't go, the Chargers will need somebody to pick up the slack on 3rd downs. The Cardinals defense was one of the NFL's best in 2013, especially at home, where they allowed just 17 points a game. CB Patrick Peterson is looking like this generation's Rod Woodson, but he'll likely be spending a lot of time chasing Keenan Allen around, so Green can be the difference-maker. At 6'6", Ladarius will be the tallest skill position player on the field Monday Night. We saw his Red Zone capabilities in that playoff win against the Bengals, but he also might be the fastest player on the team (just cue up the tape of him running away from the Chiefs secondary in Kansas City last year for proof of his speed). If Rivers gets pressure, he'll be looking for someone he can trust to bail him out. This should be the season Green lands himself on the short list.
Dwight Freeney, DE:
Palmer throws one of the best deep balls in the NFL. Problem is, to do that you have to hold the ball a little longer. If you do that, you open yourself up to being hit. Palmer was sacked a whopping 41 times in 2013. But, here's an even more alarming statistic. In 138 career games, Palmer has fumbled 57 times. That means he puts the ball on the ground, on average, every two and a half games, and that's where Dwight Freeney comes in. Freeney tore a quadriceps muscle in the fourth game last season. He saw extremely limited action in the pre-season, but looked good when he did. If Freeney can be the edge pass rusher the Chargers hoped they were getting last season, he'll likely show it in the first game against an offense that sees its quarterback on the ground an awful lot.
Carson Palmer turns the ball over a couple of times. Philip Rivers does not. Both teams get big plays off offense, but the turnovers are too much for Arizona to overcome.
Final score: Chargers 30, Cardinals 24