San Diego: Consider this proof of TMQ's Twilight of the Running Back theory. Entering the season, of the 27 active players with the most touchdowns scored, 17 are pass-catchers, and just 10 are running backs. Tied for first among the receivers is Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, an undrafted free agent who has 87 touchdown receptions and a decent chance of joining a very rarefied club -- undrafted members of the Hall of Fame.
The perception of the Chargers is that they stumble early then roll in December. This perception is grounded in reality. Last season the Bolts opened 2-4, closed 4-0. Over the last decade they have the NFL's second-best December record (39-10). The best (New England, 42-7) is assisted by December games played in bad weather versus warm-weather visitors. But kickoff temperature is never a factor in San Diego. So what makes the Chargers stumble early and come on strong late? It must have something to do with San Diego having the league's best surfing and beach-bunny scene. The Bolts just can't keep their minds off waves and babes till the local surf season winds down in November.
Tennessee: The Flaming Thumbtacks hang the hat of their 2013 season on a close 20-13 loss at Seattle to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks. Tennessee trailed 20-10 with 2:20 remaining and faced fourth-and-3 at the Seattle 8. Of course you have guessed that Mike Munchak did the hyper-conservative thing and sent in the field goal unit, then did not onside kick. Down 10 points at the endgame, close to the end zone, try for the touchdown, then hope to launch a long field goal later. Taking the field goal makes the final score respectable but means that if you get the ball back, then you must move a long distance for the touchdown. Munchak went hyper-conservative, and Tennessee never touched the ball again. Now he's ODD -- Out Da Door -- replaced by the presumably more freewheeling Ken Whisenhunt.
Tennessee had the fewest touchdown passes allowed in 2013 but otherwise was unimpressive statistically. The starting quarterback and tailback for the majority of games, Chris Johnson and Ryan Fitzpatrick, departed in free agency. The Titans have compiled a very impressive offensive line -- first-round draft choices Chance Warmack, Michael Oher and Taylor Lewan plus Andy Levitre and Michael Roos, both top performers. The rest of the roster has a who-dat quality. At least music at tailgate parties is always good.
Reader Animadversion: Last week I chided the public schools of Montgomery County, Maryland, for replacing letter grades with mysterious designations such as "ES" instead of A. I wrote, "ES stands for exceptional, a word that does not include an S." Dana Tofig of Rockville, Maryland, replies, "There's an error in your item about the grading system in Montgomery County Public Schools. ES stands for Exceeds Standard, not Exceptional. So I'm giving you an I ('in progress') for this item, but your column overall is a solid P ('proficient'), almost an ES!"
Next Week TMQ's NFC preview.