The Chargers' slow starts under Norv Turner caught up with them last season, when they opened 2--3 for the fourth straight year and missed the playoffs for the first time since '05. Their mantra now is start fast, finish strong, and the schedule makers have given them a smooth road. San Diego plays three of its first four at home, against a Vikings team breaking in a new QB, a Dolphins club still searching for a capable passer and a Chiefs team that the Chargers beat 31--0 in K.C. in 2010. The fifth game is at Denver, where San Diego's only loss in the last five meetings came in the game in which referee Ed Hochuli's blown call set up Denver's decisive TD.
The schedule is daunting for Kansas City, whose easier slate contributed to an AFC West title in '10. Four of the Chiefs' first six are on the road, including divisional games at San Diego and Oakland, and they'll play six games with teams that won at least 10 times last season, including 14-win New England, 12-win Pittsburgh, conference finalists in the Bears and the Jets, and Super Bowl champion Green Bay. That will make for a tough repeat.
Eight great matchups involving AFC West teams
WEEK 1 at Monday, Sept. 12
Oakland has lost eight straight season openers but whipped Denver by an aggregate 98--37 in their two meetings last year.
WEEK 2 at Sunday, Sept. 18
In what's developed as a pretty fair transcontinental rivalry, New England held off a late San Diego rally last year to win 23--20.
WEEK 3 at Sunday, Sept. 25
A Chris Johnson feast? Denver allowed an average of 154.6 yards rushing last year. Johnson had 100-plus yards in 19 of his last 27 games.
WEEK 7 at Sunday, Oct. 23
LaDainian Tomlinson faces the team for which he starred for nine years—and the coach whom he feels phased him out.
WEEK 8 at Monday, Oct. 31
In 2010, K.C. ended S.D.'s division-title run at four straight; this Halloween showdown will loom large in the race in '11.
WEEK 9 at Sunday, Nov. 6
Rivers versus Rodgers: Two of the game's elite quarterbacks pilot a pair of the league's most explosive offenses.
WEEK 11 at Monday, Nov. 21
A showdown between '10 division champs, with story lines including the return of QB Matt Cassel and G.M. Scott Pioli to New England.
WEEK 15 at Sunday, Dec. 18
A Sunday-nighter with likely playoff implications pits Baltimore's stingy, hard-hitting defense against that prolific San Diego attack.
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (GATES)
ANTONIO GATES, Chargers
RIC TAPIA/ICON SMI (SEYMOUR)
RICHARD SEYMOUR, Raiders