Just about any way you slice it, this is a make-or-break type of season upcoming for Philip Rivers. The Chargers' starter at QB for the past seven seasons, Rivers will turn 32 in December, has a cumbersome contract and no ties to San Diego's new coaching staff.
Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune said on the NFL Network last week that "2013 is the final audition of Philip Rivers."
And if that's the case, Rivers is in trouble.
When new head coach Mike McCoy was hired back in January, he inherited a roster that had some nice pieces but fell shy of looking like a Super Bowl contender -- and probably even shy of really challenging Denver in the AFC West. While San Diego has made a couple of decent free-agent additions (Danny Woodhead at running back, Derek Cox at corner), the offense especially looks more or less like it did in 2012. That unit, if you'll recall, was thoroughly underwhelming.
The hope for Chargers fans has to be that the offensive-minded McCoy's arrival can bring back the Rivers of old, the QB who won 46 games and threw for 105 touchdown passes from 2006-09. Maybe it's as simple as just flipping that switch, too, by getting Rivers more comfortable.
But all the issues that plagued San Diego's offense last season (aside from an increasingly turnover-prone Rivers) still remain. The offensive line, which coughed up 50 sacks in '12, has not improved much, if at all, despite the additions of King Dunlap, Rich Ohrnberger and Chad Rinehart. The Chargers also, as of yet, have not added any more weapons to a receiving unit that is coming off a disappointing year.
San Diego holds the No. 11 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, so it could address one trouble spot there. The natural fit is at LT, where Jared Gaither hung the Chargers out to dry in 2012 as he struggled with injuries. What if Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson are off the board, though? Would a developing Cordarrelle Patterson fit at wide receiver? Could San Diego trade down and go the quantity-over-quality route?
Rivers no doubt will be watching intently. He and this Chargers team simply cannot go into 2013 with the status quo on offense and expect to improve. Sure, the offensive line could raise its game inexplicably and Ryan Mathews could stay healthy all year, while Malcom Floyd continues his development into a top-flight receiver. Heck, maybe even Robert Meachem might bounce back from free-agent bust land to pitch in some, or Danario Alexander's reception numbers will continue to trend upward.
The problem is that the Chargers, as they stand, need all of those what-ifs to occur simultaneously to really be a threat in the AFC West.
Short of that, Rivers' regression figures to continue behind an overmatched offensive line and with an underachieving group of position players.
The natural reaction when any team struggles is to blame the quarterback. It's happened time and again with Rivers, just as it has with Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez and many other QBs. Rivers does deserve his fair share of criticism, following three straight years without a playoff berth.
As is often the case, however, the letdowns have been far from a one-man operation. Even at his best last season, Rivers could only do so much with the talent (or lack thereof) around him -- specifically, up front.
The situation for 2013 does not set up that much better, either. The Chargers have done little more than plug gum into the holes on their leaky line and the receiving corps is the same one Rivers threw to throughout the 7-9 2012 season. BANKS: Which of this offseason's new backups are best?