Stability could aid Chargers in division race

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) reacts during a preseason game against the New Orleans Saints Aug 25.Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

AFC West is undergoing change, in some way or another, with every team.

The Los Angeles Chargers can't wait to see the visiting Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday's season opener and if seeing an AFC West foe reminds Los Angeles of its opportunity, so be it.

L.A. is eager to pick right up where it left off after being one of the hottest teams to end last year by winning nine of its final 12 games. The Chargers know they blew a chance last year to reach the playoffs because of an 0-4 start. They are determined to start fast this year and it would be a bonus to also pin a loss on a division foe.

It's a division that is undergoing change, in some way or another, with every team. That illustrates the chance the Chargers have to make the playoffs for only the second time in nine seasons.

The Chiefs will be trying to break in an unproven quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. The Raiders let go of an impact player in Khalil Mack and can head coach Jon Gruden rekindle his midas touch? The Broncos are introducing a fresh quarterback as well in Case Keenum and he's on his fifth franchise in six seasons.

And all that turnover and the Chargers look like the Rock of Gibraltar.

That is especially true at quarterback with Philip Rivers setting sail on his 15th season as he continues to climb the NFL's all-time lists in nearly every passing category. Combine him with a prudent running game led by Melvin Gordon and targets that include Pro Bowler Keenan Allen and a recently signed Antonio Gates. It seems like a wealth of riches on that side of the ball.

With the Chiefs' defense struggling this preseason, look for Rivers to set the tone early by attacking it through the air and the ground.

But the Chargers' other side of the ball isn't void of impact players, either. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram supply a challenge to opposing quarterbacks and some speculate that first-round pick Derwin James, a safety, will have multiple Pro Bowls in his future. Bosa might not play in the season opener.

It's the run defense that needed attention and it has gotten plenty with new faces and a new intensity. So far so good, but there are fewer areas which will be watched more closely.

Mention the kicking game and that's a past that still haunts the Chargers. There was no bigger reason why the Chargers missed the playoffs last year other than their horrendous kickers -- they went through four!

But with Caleb Sturgis filling that role, and head coach Anthony Lynn keeping his fingers crossed, the Chargers are confident that part of their roster is set, too.

We'll see about that, and everything else, come Sunday when the Chargers lift the curtain on their second season, and third overall, in L.A.

In a city of stars, the Chargers think they have enough to reach the playoffs. With the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills as their opening opponents, L.A. has an opportunity to do something it didn't do last year and that's bolt from the gate.

The Chargers, like everyone else in Hollywood, know that any good script requires a good ending. But it has to begin with a good start.