Softer schedule offers Chargers playoff path


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Jan 22, 2006
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Softer schedule offers Chargers playoff path

Team mostly at home in tougher second half
By Kevin Acee
April 7, 2006

A schedule that appears significantly more manageable than last year's awaits the Chargers in 2006.
It includes a premature vacation, early road tests for new quarterback Philip Rivers and a finish that has them playing three of their final four and four of their final six games at home.

“I like that,” General Manager A.J. Smith said. “Good teams – playoff teams – they take care of business down the stretch.”

While the Chargers expect to be playoff contenders again this season, they were just 4-4 at home in 2005 and lost three of their final four overall in flailing to a 9-7 record.

The opponents for 2006 have long been known, but before yesterday the Chargers were aware only that they would open the season Sept. 11 at Oakland.

The rest of September features just the home opener Sept. 17 against the Tennessee Titans and a bye in Week 3.

After playing the Raiders in the second half of a “Monday Night Football” doubleheader to start the season, the Chargers again play in prime time Oct. 8 at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. After losing 24-22 to the Steelers on Monday night last season, the Chargers play host to the Steelers on Sunday night this year.

That could be their final prime-time appearance in '06. But any of their final eight games – except Dec. 24 – could be played on Sunday night. The league is introducing flexible scheduling this year, which will allow NBC to feature marquee games in its Sunday night slot beginning Nov. 24.

Any switch to a Sunday night kickoff would be announced at least 12 days in advance.

Pittsburgh is the only one of the Chargers' first eight opponents coming off a playoff appearance.

After having what proved to be the NFL's most difficult schedule in 2005 based on opponents' winning percentage, the Chargers have a schedule ranked 20th going into 2006. Their opponents were 125-131 in 2005 (a .488 winning percentage).

Those in the organization were quick to point out the sometimes-misleading appearance of a schedule in spring.

“I just look at two years ago when everybody had to be circling a 'win' by the Chargers,” team President Dean Spanos said, referring to 2004 when the Chargers went 12-4 after a 4-12 2003.

Still, it played out that last year's schedule was an almost impossible task, just as predicted. While the Chargers were largely the same team that made the playoffs the previous year, their schedule had them making five trips to the Eastern time zone, playing 11 games against teams with winning records and four games in a five-week span against teams coming off byes.

Just four of the Chargers' 2006 opponents made the '05 playoffs. But for the second consecutive season they play both Super Bowl participants, playing host to Pittsburgh and traveling to Seattle for a Christmas Eve game.

“That's good,” Rivers said. “You have to play those (top) teams eventually anyway.”

While the opponents do not seem as ominous and the planes won't take the Chargers as far, October has the team traveling to Baltimore, San Francisco and Kansas City.

The schedule gets tougher in the second half.

The Chargers' first eight opponents were 51-77 (.398) last season. Their final eight were 74-54 (.578).

That second half begins with back-to-back games at Cincinnati and at Denver, two division champions in 2005.
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