The 2004 NFL draft was all about one thing, starting quarterbacks. Three quarterbacks were projected to go in the first round that year, Eli Manning of Ole Miss, Ben Roethlisberger of Miami (OH), and Philip Rivers of NC State. Manning made it clear in the lead up to the draft that he did not want to play in San Diego for the Chargers who held the number one overall pick.
The fact that Manning was refusing to play for the Chargers didn’t stop them from drafting him number one overall, and it led to this great moment where Manning did his best to fake like he wasn’t completely miserable. The New York Giants selected Rivers three picks later and one blockbuster draft night trade later the players were swapped for each other. Big Ben went a couple of picks later at number eleven to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In an era where franchise quarterbacks are hard to find and nearly impossible to keep, those three guys have spent the last decade plus being three of the best quarterbacks in the league, and they all still play for the team they started their career with. Between the three of them, they have four Super Bowl titles, and all three seem to be locks for the Hall of Fame. The problem is, Philip Rivers, despite posting gaudy stats for his entire career, has never enjoyed much postseason success and has yet to hold the Lombardi Trophy.
Is This Rivers Year?
While Manning looks to be washed up and Big Ben can’t keep his best weapons happy and on the field with him, Rivers is enjoying one of his best seasons yet as a pro.
Rivers threw for 4,308 yards with 32 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. His 105.5 QB rating is tied for his best ever, and he is very much in the NFL MVP conversation.
The Chargers went into Baltimore and knocked off the Ravens last weekend in the wild-card round, a team that had just beaten them at home a couple weeks before and have now advanced to the divisional round. People are starting to wonder, is this the year that Rivers breaks through and wins the Super Bowl?
Why This Is His Year
A case can certainly be made for the Chargers to make it to the Super Bowl this year. Not only were they one of the best teams in the AFC all season long, but the rest of the AFC also looks very flawed at the moment.
Another reason that the Chargers have a legit shot at making it to the Super Bowl is the weapons that surround Rivers. Rivers has never managed to have multiple elite weapons around him at the same time. Yeah, he had LaDainian Tomlinson for a couple of years before he faded into obscurity and Antonio Gates has always been a reliable target, but when you look back at Gates career, he only surpassed a thousand yards in a season twice in his sixteen-year career.
But when you look at legit wide receiver threats, Keenan Allen is the best that Rivers has ever had. Guys like Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd were nice players, but Allen is one of the best in the game. Allen has averaged over 1200 yards a season the last two years and has finally been able to stay healthy after missing big chunks of playing time early in his career.
And when you look at Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, while he is nowhere near as explosive as Tomlinson was in his hay day, the guy is averaging over 1400 yards per game from scrimmage and thirteen touchdowns a season the last three years. He isn’t a big-time playmaker like LT was, but the guy moves the sticks and scores a lot. Throw in Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams who gained more than a combined 1300 yards and scored fifteen touchdowns, and you can argue this is the best all-around set of offensive weapons that Rivers has ever had surrounding him.
Why It Won’t Be His Year
We talked above about all the reasons why this team could make it to the Super Bowl, now we will look at the reasons why this season will end like the previous fourteen seasons have for the Chargers with Rivers at the helm, in disappointment. No obstacle is bigger than this week’s opponent, the New England Patriots. While there is reason to believe that this team isn’t as good as some of the New England teams of recent memory, going into Foxboro and beating Tom Brady in the playoffs is something that just almost never happens.
A lot of the talk this week has been about the fact that Rivers has never beaten Tom Brady in a head to head matchup. Seven games, seven losses for the Chargers against the Patriots with Brady on the field. The Chargers did manage to steal one win against New England way back in 2008, but that was with Matt Cassell playing signal caller for the Pats. We all know that the difference between Cassell and Brady is a major one, so I am throwing that win out. So, the first step to the Super Bowl is likely the biggest for Rivers and the Chargers.
But that will clearly be a huge test as winning on the road in a championship game is never easy. So, I am not going to act like the Chargers will walk into Arrowhead and walk out with an easy win, but I think if they survive the Pats, they are going to give KC all they can handle.
That brings us to the Super Bowl itself. Just making the game will be a major monkey off of Rivers back, but this is the NFL, and we don’t give away participation trophies, so if he is going to be exercising any demons this year, he is going to have to come home with the title. And that is where I see the trouble coming in for Los Angeles. In my estimation, the NFC is just the far better conference this year.
The Chargers played the Rams earlier this season and lost by double-digits. I see the Chargers as fairly decent sized underdogs against both the Rams and the Saints out of the NFC, and with all the Nick Foles magic from last season starting to reappear this season, nobody wants to play the defending champion Eagles right now either. So, even if the Chargers manage to survive the minefield that is New England and possibly Kansas City, they are going to have a very tough time against whichever team emerges from the NFC as well.
So, is this the year that Rivers finally takes the trophy home? Long story short, I don’t think so. While I think the Chargers have a somewhat reasonable chance to navigate through the AFC playoffs, I just don’t think they are going to be able to beat the NFC representative in the Super Bowl.
2018 looks to be another year that ends in heartbreak for Rivers and his Chargers! Thanks for reading!