Posts Tagged ‘Dan Fouts’

I don’t get too disappointed these days over anything in the Sports World but Don Coryell getting passed over for the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year made no sense.

This was the year with the opening, the year he was a finalist for the fourth time, the year where there are no longer any NFL coaches who could be argued to have better credentials.

This was the year in which Don Coryell, the former San Diego Chargers coach and one of the greatest innovators of all-time, should have been given the thumbs-up.

Next year will be rough for Coryell to get inducted.  You got Ray Lewis and Randy Moss eligible for first time … and Brian Urlacher and Ronde Barber … Then in 2019 Ed Reed and Champ Bailey become eligible. … Troy Polamalu in 2020 … and then 2021 you got Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson, Charles Woodson and Jared Allen.

So considering the other recent finalists who have bypassed, there is going to be tough sledding over the next four years.

If you ever meet anyone who doubts Don Coryell belongs in the Hall of Fame, just point them to Dan Fouts.

Fouts was a stiff over his first six seasons with the Chargers. Then Coryell arrives and the guy goes from being Brock Osweiler to the most dazzling passer ever seen up to that time. The statistical stuff was out of the world because the offense invented by Coryell was ahead of its time.

Now there seems to be some Hall of Fame votes who are behind the times.

Anyway, 2017 was the opening for Coryell and it closed without his induction. I find that to be really lame.


Weekly links is back and what a weird week for San Diego football fans.

Dean Spanos is finally taking the Chargers to Los Angeles and he has become a national laughingstock. It felt like only San Diegans were aware of what a dork the guy is but the announcement of the move displayed that all football fans are fully aware.

Even other pro sports team were mocking the Chargers … ouch. And you could almost hear that spineless public relations director yelling “Take a chill pill” if you recall that silly incident from the 2012 season.

My favorite thing I ran across was some Los Angeles writer giving a rundown of the organization and wondering if the move to Los Angeles could affect the Chargers’ on-field play in 2017.

Ummmmmm, they are 9-23 over the past two seasons, dude. And they were the only team in the NFL to lose to the dreadful Cleveland Browns.

If moving to Los Angeles is going to affect the record, the Chargers will BE the Cleveland Browns.

Happiest team about the Chargers’ move to Los Angeles is the soccer team that will share the StubHub Center with the Chargers.

That’s because the LA Galaxy are guaranteed to still be the highest-scoring team playing in that venue.


OK, on to the links.

It will be interesting to see how the Dallas Cowboys fare against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

Quarterback Dak Prescott and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott (NFL-best 1,631 rushing yards) haven’t looked like novices during a 13-3 season. But how will they handle the playoff pressure?

Prescott has handled everything well while going from projected third-stringer to making Tony Romo forever irrelevant. But the playoffs are a completely different animal and things can go wrong quickly.

You might recall Dan Fouts’ first career playoff game as the leader of the Don Coryell Chargers. He threw five interceptions and the heavily favored Chargers lost to the Houston Oilers.

If a Hall of Famer like Fouts could fall flat on his face, so can a fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State.

Not to forget that Aaron Rodgers is hotter than lava (you bet lava made it into my lead) and is an experienced veteran of the playoff wars. Rodgers has thrown 18 touchdown passes without being intercepted over the past seven games.

Here is the stellar Packers-Cowboys preview —


Now that it is mid-January, it is time to start figuring out which college basketball conferences are good and which ones are pretenders.

I haven’t yet figured out where the SEC stands but I know what direction I’m leaning.

Kentucky is pretty talented but we saw South Carolina collapse late last season to be relegated to the NIT so it is hard to take the Gamecocks seriously.

Which brings me to Florida.

I’ve had to watch the Gators play a few times lately and write about them because I’m paid to do so and their record (13-3, 4-0 SEC) appears to be better than the sum of its parts.

In Tuesday’s 80-67 victory over Alabama (now that school is a pretender), it was Florida’s ninth-leading scorer playing the hero. Some guy named Keith Stone and his 14-point effort improved his scoring average to 4.6.

You can say it is a good quality when a team can have its ninth-best player lead them in scoring. But the other fact is that teams like this typically start displaying their true colors in mid-February.

They don’t tend to get better — and often will decline.

Florida has one good scorer in sophomore KeVaughn Allen. Senior Canyon Barry (son of Rick) provides scoring punch off the bench but it isn’t a team that scares anyone.

The Gators play Georgia (I’m leaning toward pretender for the Bulldogs) on Saturday and I will be watching closely.

Here is the stellar Georgia-Florida preview —


The Los Angeles Rams hired a coach who turns 31 years old on Jan. 24.

That’s correct — 31 years old. Not 41. Not 51. Not 61. Heck, not 71.

Sean McVay was hired by the Rams to turn around their fortunes and perhaps he’s too young to know that’s nearly impossible. And since Kroenke the Donkey owns the team, is there anybody anywhere that wants to see the Rams win?

McVay is the youngest coach in NFL history as I’m sure you figured out. He was most recently the offensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.

The fun part about stories like this is you see a report and you start writing and reporting like a madman. It took just 15 minutes to write this breaking news and that includes doing all the research on McVay’s background and searching for statements from McVay and the Rams.

This story was out on the national wire 20 minutes before the Rams even released the news themselves.

That is part of the fun as you never know what you might have to write on a moment’s notice.

So now I’m well-versed on Sean McVay.

Oh, there is a player on the Rams who is older than McVay. Now that’s funny.

Here is the stellar breaking news story —

San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey plays in the final game of his standout career on Saturday and he should be recognized as the all-time leading rusher in college football history when it ends.

But alas, that won’t be entirely true.

The NCAA is a weirdo organization and it doesn’t recognize bowl statistics if they are from before 2002. But eventually, the NCAA is going to come to its senses and count those games.

Even that group of people won’t be dumb forever, right?

So come Saturday in the Las Vegas Bowl, Pumphrey (6,290) needs 108 rushing yards against a tough Houston Cougars’ defense to surpass Ron Dayne (6,397) as the all-time record holder. But he really needs to gain 836 yards if he wants to keep the record.

Count Dayne’s bowl games and the Wisconsin star — who played from 1996-99 — rushed for 7,125 yards.

Pumphrey may get the record Saturday to cap off a fantastic career but he will only be renting it.

Here is the stellar Las Vegas Bowl preview —


The San Diego Chargers are playing their next-to-last game in San Diego on Sunday as there won’t be a January reprieve this time around.

The team is off to Los Angeles, which means Dean Spanos gets to play second fiddle to Kroenke the Donkey (Rams owner Stan Kroenke) until the end of time. Or a shorter time span if Donald Trump learns where the bomb buttons are hidden.

Regardless, rubbing salt in the wounds of San Diego sports fans is this nugget: The Oakland Raiders can clinch a playoff spot by beating the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium.

Now that really hurts.

Oakland is on the verge of ending a 14-year playoff drought and has one of the top quarterbacks in the game in Derek Carr and one of the elite pass rushers in defensive end Khalil Mack. The Raiders can make some noise in the postseason too.

But Chargers’ fans don’t want to see this clinching, that’s for sure. There are already enough bad memories with the Raiders — Stabler to Banaszak to Casper rates as the worst and the 1980 AFC title game is right behind — and Oakland celebrating a playoff berth on the field once home to Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Junior Seau and LaDainian Tomlinson would be one final act of rubbing it in the faces of San Diegans.

The Chargers may be goners but San Diego’s intense hate of the Raiders will live on.

Here is the stellar Raiders-Chargers preview (back to the New York Times link!) —

The Spanos family plane sits on the runway in San Diego on Wednesday.

The Spanos family plane sits on the runway in San Diego on Wednesday. Photo credit – Secret airport source.


So for one last time the “San Diego Chargers” will take the field.

Probably never to be referred to in that way again on a football field.

Sunday’s road game against the Denver Broncos will likely mark a sad end for a franchise that was adored by San Diegans for most of the past five-plus decades. And the only reason why enthusiasm dimmed this season was due to the club’s actions.

The stage was set when owner Dean Spanos made it clear he wanted to move the team. Proposals by the city of San Diego were scoffed at by Spanos and team spin doctor Mark Fabiani.

Instead of looking at a way to make things happen, Spanos and Fabiani repeatedly pointed out why the city’s proposals for a new stadium wouldn’t work.

Regardless, the City of San Diego submitted its proposal to build a $1.1 billion stadium for the team to the NFL on Wednesday. It’s a last-ditch effort by the city to keep the team but Spanos isn’t listening.

He is ready to apply for relocation as soon as Monday and is hoping to gain approval to move the team on either Jan. 12 or 13 when the league’s owners meet in Houston.

All along, Spanos has been working his fellow owners behind the scenes in hopes of approval to move the franchise.

Spanos envisions playing at a stadium in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson. The greed of an NFL owner knows no limits and once the St. Louis Rams began looking at moving to Los Angeles, Spanos couldn’t help himself.

His greedy hands kept picturing the possibility of adding billions of dollars to his family’s net worth.

And now he is just a couple of weeks away from having his wish granted.

Once approval occurs, a team that began playing in San Diego in 1961 will flat-out vanish.

Too bad Spanos couldn’t just vanish and leave the team alone.

Good on-field play certainly disappeared this season as poor Philip Rivers has tried to carry a team with little talent. The squad carries a 4-11 record into the season finale as coach Mike McCoy continues to make poor decisions and display that he should be an offensive coordinator and not an NFL head coach.

The Chargers aren’t part of the playoff field for the fifth time in six seasons and this year’s record is the franchise’s worst since 2004.

Of course, winning has never been a Spanos specialty. The Chargers have made the playoffs only nine times in 32 seasons under the family’s ownership.

They were the owners for the team’s lone Super Bowl appearance when San Diego was smashed by the San Francisco 49ers following the 1994 season.

But coach Bobby Ross and general manager Bobby Beathard couldn’t get along and Spanos showed Ross the door after the 1996 season.

And they certainly were in position to reach the Super Bowl in the middle of last decade but again the lack of top-flight leadership by Spanos curtailed the possibility.

San Diego recorded a franchise-best 14-2 mark in 2006 but was ousted in the opening round of the playoffs by the New England Patriots. Once again, the coach and general manager didn’t know how to communicate and Spanos kept hard-nosed GM A.J. Smith and sent coach Marty Schottenheimer packing.

Spanos termed the situation as “dysfunctional” and apparently wasn’t smart enough to figure out his lack of a spine over the previous two seasons was a major factor. What leader would allow two of the most crucial people in the organization to go that long without talking?

Making the whole situation sadder is that the Chargers then hired Norv Turner as coach. Handing a team built to win a championship to a mediocre coach and leader assured the Chargers would miss their championship window – and they did.

Spanos will arrive in Los Angeles with a lousy football team and that isn’t going to help matters.

Know this: USC is the preferred football team in Los Angeles and there is no chance of the Chargers ever surpassing the Trojans when it comes to popularity.

Spanos also has to fire McCoy. You can’t arrive in Los Angeles with that kind of guy as your coach. He also needs a different public relations staff as having a staff in which the top two guys are lifetime wimposauras is going to be a detriment to doing PR properly in the multi-dimensional Los Angeles market.

Taking the history to Los Angeles will be awkward. You just can’t have Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts or LaDainian Tomlinson show up to wave to the crowd of a city that never watched them play.

Not to mention honoring the “Air Coryell” era or Junior Seau’s tremendous tenure or the franchise’s 1963 AFL title. Kellen Winslow’s performance in the epic playoff game in Miami on Jan. 2, 1982 certainly will never feel like a “Los Angeles” thing.

Added up, it’s just an all-around uncomfortable feel. A greedy owner didn’t get his way in San Diego so he is going to pick up his football team and move it 100-plus miles up the road.

The team will be missed for sure. The ownership won’t be.

And with his two overmatched sons lined up to run the team, the long-standing tradition of Spanos-led teams losing will surely continue.

Good luck, Los Angeles. And brace yourself for decades of buffoonery.

Ever think where the San Diego Chargers might be if they didn’t have Philip Rivers on their team?

Um, no, smartass, saying “in Los Angeles” isn’t the proper answer.

They also wouldn’t have been in the game against the unbeaten Green Bay Packers if not for Rivers having a superb contest.

The Chargers suffered a painful 27-20 loss to the Packers on Sunday in what was an absolutely stellar effort by the veteran quarterback.

Rivers had the most prolific game by a quarterback in Chargers history – the type of performance that would even make Hall of Famer Don Fouts blush.

Rivers set clubs records for completions (43), attempts (65) and passing yardage (503). He broke his own club record for passing yardage – 455 against the Seattle Seahawks in 2010 – while becoming only the 17th player in NFL history to top 500 yards in a single game.

Receiver Keenan Allen caught 14 passes – one short of the franchise record he shares with Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow – before leaving with a hip injury.

But all that production didn’t equate to a victory. The Chargers only scored 20 points despite accumulating 32 first downs, possessing the ball for 38 minutes and running 89 plays to Green Bay’s 49.

The Chargers had a chance to force overtime but a third-and-goal run by Woodhead was halted for a 1-yard loss and Rivers’ fourth-down throw into the right flat never reached Woodhead as the pass was broken up by Green Bay cornerback Damarious Randall.

Just like that, Rivers’ big game wasn’t enough.

Here’s the number why the Chargers head home disappointed – 20.

All that production and San Diego only scored 20 points.

Rough way to drop to 2-4 and pretty much know that you are out of the AFC West race with the Denver Broncos being undefeated.

The Packers remained unbeaten with the victory and recorded their 13th straight home win. Oh yeah, they are also 10-1 lifetime against the Chargers.

So the history wasn’t good as San Diego’s lone win against the Packers came on Oct. 7, 1984 and you may know it is also one of the most-ignored victories in franchise history.

That’s because the Padres beat the Chicago Cubs to reach the World Series for the first time that same afternoon. Winslow set his franchise record during that contest but the only receptions most San Diegans saw were on the Monday Night Football halftime highlights the following night.

So considering the history, it wasn’t looking too good for the Chargers when they spotted Green Bay a 17-3 lead.

Aaron Rodgers threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to James Starks in the first quarter and Starks later added a 65-yard touchdown run. Starks appeared stuffed in the middle of line before reversing to the right and taking advantage of the fact the Chargers backside defenders over pursued and meandered down the field for the score.

But the Chargers regrouped and scored a significant touchdown right before halftime. Allen caught a pass near the goal line with 12 seconds left – a review confirmed he was a foot short – and San Diego nearly let time run out before using one of its two timeouts.

Nearly a pretty major gaffe by coach Mike McCoy, who has made a habit of curious decisions during his head-coaching stint. There was no reason to be scrambling to the line and trying to get set to snap the ball at the last second. He had TWO timeouts.

If the play gets reviewed, the result can only be improved for the Chargers. The replay officials may have ruled Allen got in as opposed to being a foot short. So no need to hurry and get a play off.

Then weirder, McCoy ran in the field-goal kicking team while the play was under review. It is OK if you used your Nancy Kerrigan “WHYYYYYYY?” voice because that was even sillier than the timeout fiasco.

Finally, San Diego got the offense back on the field and cashed in as Rivers threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dontrelle Inman. Trailing 17-10 at halftime in Lambeau Field provided hope and that was infinitely much better than trailing 17-3 or 17-6.

Helping matters more is that the Chargers continued to play strong at the outset of the third quarter and tied the contest on Rivers’ 19-yard scoring pass to Ladarius Green.

But Rodgers finally got Green Bay moving again after going more than 20 minutes without a first down. Once the Packers went ahead 24-17 on Rodgers’ 8-yard pass to James Jones with 46 seconds left in the third quarter, it wouldn’t have been a surprise if things fell apart.

It didn’t happen as the Chargers moved back within four points on Jeff Lambo’s 32-yard field goal and were able to make the Packers settle for a 28-yard field goal by Mason Crosby with 2:37 remaining.

But the final drive didn’t produce the tying points. Rivers drove the Chargers down the field but the offense stalled after reaching the 3-yard line. Two Woodhead runs and two incomplete passes later, San Diego walked off the field with its third road loss of the season.

Just don’t put any blame on Philip Rivers.

Sure, he only guided his club to 20 points but what more could he do?

He did it all on Sunday and it still wasn’t enough for a victory.

Philip Rivers is apparently fine with the possibility of being quarterback of the Los Angeles Chargers.

The veteran signal caller inked a four-year contract extension with the organization on Saturday night as speculation continues that the club is entering its final season in San Diego.

Rivers wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea of moving to Smogville several months ago but dollar signs have been known to change a player’s mind on numerous fronts. And landing a contract reportedly worth more than $83 million – with $65 million of it guaranteed – sounds like a good reason to embrace the idea of playing in Los Angeles.

Besides, nobody says Rivers has to move there. He can commute from his home in 4S Ranch, located in the northern part of San Diego County.

Rivers is 33 years ago as he enters the 2015 season so it is likely his last big-money deal. A player has to cash in while he can and a poor campaign this season – or one in which he suffered a devastating injury – could have cost Rivers tens of millions of dollars.

And the Chargers badly need Rivers on board when they make their move. Arriving in Los Angeles with an established veteran who has 10 years of starting experience surely beats showing up with an unproven rookie or a journeyman behind center.

The Chargers will also be fighting for headlines once they move north so it helps immensely on the public relations front.

Of course, San Diegans aren’t so thrilled with the prospects of this being the last season of the Chargers in Qualcomm Stadium.

That’s no fault of Rivers, who has 252 career touchdown passes and will break the franchise mark set by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts (254) early this season.

Rivers passed for 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns last season so he’s certainly still at the top of his game. With this extension, the club is gambling that he will still be a top-flight quarterback through 2019.

The only unknown is this: How will Rivers like playing in L.A?

Norv Turner did two things after being fired as San Diego Chargers coach on Monday that didn’t surprise me in the least.

Turner wore one of his Dallas Cowboys’ Super Bowl rings to his final press conference. Turner has been living off his run as Dallas’ offensive coordinator for two decades now and I am pretty sure he stares at the ring every single night before hitting the sack.

Call it calculated timing for that ring to be on Norval’s finger Monday as he desperately wants to be running an NFL offense next season – a role he will once again excel at when it is the only thing he needs to worry about.

The second thing Turner did was take not-so-thinly veiled shots at general manager A.J. Smith, who was also fired on Monday. I’ve been expecting this to happen as Turner is one of those head coaches who seldom takes any responsibility for his own failures.

I sat down with Turner in his office shortly after he was hired as Chargers coach in 2007 and the guy was just loaded with excuses for why his stints with the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders ended in failure.

There wasn’t a single thing that was his fault. He pointed fingers at quarterbacks, at general managers, at owners and, yes, even at players.

He had to deal with continual quarterback turnover with the Redskins. … The Raiders’ defense only intercepted five passes in his final season. … The Washington long snapper botched the possible game-winning field-goal snap in a playoff game. … Veterans in Oakland – are you listening, Jerry Rice and Warren Sapp? – didn’t buy in. … The Redskins’ owner (Jack Kent Cooke) died and the new owner (Daniel Snyder) didn’t understand the situation or football in general.

On and on and on it went. There was no responsibility taken – even when it came to No. 3 overall pick Heath Shuler bombing out as one of the worst quarterback draft busts in NFL history.

Turner certainly was overly helpful to get some of his boys – Troy Aikman, Dan Fouts, John Robinson to name three – in touch with me so they could crow about how Turner is one of the best coaches in the history of football.

With that backdrop in mind, I was expecting Turner’s fingers to be pointing in all directions upon being fired by the Chargers and good ol’ Norval met those expectations.

“Somebody wrote three weeks ago that this team is not that far away from being a playoff team,” Turner was quoted as saying by the Associated Press. “I would disagree. I know the things that have to get done for that to happen.”

Turner alluded to how powerful the Chargers were when his six-year tenure started. He made it clear that wasn’t the case over the final half of his stint.

“For the first three years I was here, I think we were the most talented team in the division,” Turner said. “The last three years, I don’t think we’ve been that.

“We’ve had too many changes. We’ve lost too many people.”

So what happened those first three years when the Chargers were loaded with Pro Bowl talent? How come Norval doesn’t have a Chargers’ Super Bowl ring on his finger?

The Chargers went 13-3 in the 2009 regular season under Turner and guess what happened? An epic one-and-done playoff collapse that was just as brutal as the one in 2006 that ultimately cost Marty Schottenheimer his job.

San Diego came within one victory of the Super Bowl after the 2007 season due to the fact the Schottenheimer toughness was still a powerful component throughout the roster. By the middle of 2008, Turner softness had permeated the roster and only a late-season sprint to win a very weak AFC West with an 8-8 mark got that squad into the postseason.

After that, the Chargers played one measly playoff game in Turner’s final four seasons. The general manager was certainly a problem with the decline – Drew Brees, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles and Vincent Jackson leaving for merely compensatory draft picks sounds like something only an absentee fantasy football GM would allow – but the head coach definitely wasn’t a difference-maker himself.

The funny thing about Turner taking shots at Smith is that A.J. was the only NFL executive dumb enough to give Turner a third chance to be an NFL head coach.

But that’s Norv Turner in a nutshell. You can expect him to wear his Cowboys’ Super Bowl ring to his upcoming interviews. He’ll also have his list of excuses updated, too.

But you will never hear him take responsibility for anything. Turner has lost 122 regular-season games as a head coach and you don’t even need a second hand to count the times he’s placed the blame on himself.

Norv is not a winner, he’s not a leader and he’s not somebody who takes responsibility. But at least he won’t get a fourth chance to be an NFL coach.

And perhaps someone like Indianapolis Colts interim coach Bruce Arians will get a first head-coaching job. Will  be interesting to see the direction Chargers president Dean Spanos chooses in a new leader.

The first hint that Dean Spanos didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to fire coach Norv Turner and/or general manager A.J. Smith was when Monday morning turned into afternoon and both men were still employed.

Another was that Turner held his Monday game follow-up press conference as if everything was business as usual.

By nightfall, it was clear that Tuesday would bring some news Chargers fans wanted no part of – Turner back as head coach and Smith remaining the team’s general manager.

And now it’s official that the two men responsible for the Chargers missing the playoffs in back-to-back years while playing in the weak AFC West are back.

Perhaps the plan is to see if they can stretch the streak to three and create even more hatred toward them in San Diego.

So much for getting the populace behind the bid for a new downtown football stadium when you continue to keep the most despised coach in Chargers history in place to mess up more game-management situations.

Of course, community outrage and fewer fans showing up for games sure will make it easier for Spanos to move the team to Los Angeles. Guarantee you that Turner would have been shown the exit if the Chargers were already located there.

They like competent powerful coaches in Los Angeles. Not insecure ones who don’t inspire.

I’ve already been asked a few times today what Spanos could possibly be thinking by letting Norv Turner stand on the Chargers’ sidelines again next year.

So what we will do here is let Spanos describe his decision to you.

“Bottom line, I believe these two men give us the best chance to get back to the playoffs,” Spanos said via the team Web site. “A.J. Smith is the best man to improve our roster, and Norv Turner is the best man to lead that roster on the field.

“Together, we have stability and experience that’s hard to find in the NFL. They’ve both been in this league a long time. I don’t think there is anything they haven’t seen or experienced. They’ve led us through some difficult situations.

“As we’ve seen throughout Norv’s tenure and particularly this past season, the players believe in him, respect him and play hard for him. When we went through that tough stretch, no one quit. The team kept playing hard, and that’s a tribute to Norv’s leadership and the respect the players have for him.

“Now we will take a hard look at everything, from player evaluation to coaching to the rash of injuries we’ve suffered in recent years. Injuries have killed us. And no one is ever perfect in this business. Player evaluation isn’t an exact science. We need to improve across the board and I’m going to make sure we do.

“We all have our quirks and faults, but I want A.J. and Norv on my side. They are the right men to help us win a championship.”

What it comes down to is that Dean Spanos wants both A.J. Smith and Norv Turner on his side. Doesn’t matter to him that few of his paying customers do.

But when he says they are the right men to help the Chargers win a championship, he’s dead wrong. They have worked in tandem together for five straight years and couldn’t do it when San Diego had the most-talented roster in the league.

Turner and Smith have ZERO chance of winning a Super Bowl crown next season with the many holes the club now has throughout the roster.

The Chargers haven’t even won a playoff game in Turner’s past three seasons and went 8-8 this season. Their star-studded offensive line is in shambles with the future of former Pro Bowlers Kris Dielman and Marcus McNeill in jeopardy to serious injuries and center Nick Hardwick also might have his played his last game.

The defense is now an ordinary unit with few playmakers and nobody that scares the opposing offenses. Cornerback Quentin Jammer has lost a step and former first-round pick Antoine Cason has been a disaster. The defensive line and linebackers are also average at best.

So Norv Turner is suddenly going to lead a team to a world championship next season when he couldn’t even win a playoff game following a 13-win campaign in 2009?

Only thing Norval will lead the league in is uttering “the biggest thing” in press conferences more than any coach in pro football history.

Poor Philip Rivers looks destined to have a career like Dan Fouts — one with no ring.

If you are a die-hard San Diego Chargers fan, you learned today where you rank.

Dean Spanos made it clear he doesn’t care about your feelings. And that winning certainly isn’t the most important thing.

So what do you suppose Dean will do when Los Angeles finally has its new football stadium ready?

He didn’t stand up for his fan base today and he won’t do so then, either.

If somebody had told me five months ago that two NFC North teams would be meeting in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, I would have had to spend some time figuring out which team the Minnesota Vikings would be playing.

Obviously, I would have deleted the Detroit Lions from the possibilities immediately with full apologies to terrific defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

But Brett Favre and the Vikings are nowhere to be found either as the NFL’s best day of football arrives. Instead, the quarterback Green Bay fans weren’t so keen about three short years ago is playing with a Super Bowl berth on the line.

In fact, I see Aaron Rodgers and the Packers defeating the bitter rival Chicago Bears at Soldier Field to advance to the Super Bowl in Jerry Jones’ mega playtoy facility in Arlington, Texas.

Chicago may be regretting it lost to the Packers in Week 17 now that Green Bay is the hottest team in football. A Bears’ win in that final week would have made the Packers spectators for the playoffs.

The Packers have notched consecutive playoff road wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. The 48-21 drubbing of top-seeded Atlanta was particularly impressive.

In my view, the only thing that can derail the Packers would be frigid conditions and wind from nearby Lake Michigan that cripples Green Bay’s passing game. The Packers can’t run the ball – they know it too – so they will be putting everything on the powerful arm of Rodgers and a defense led by cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams and linebackers Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk.

I can’t think of Matthews and his long hair without picturing San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith. You may recall the 2009 NFL Draft was littered with top-flight USC linebackers Matthews, Brian Cushing and Rey Maualuga and the Chargers were positioned perfectly to nab one of them with the 16th overall pick.

But perhaps there was no alternate plan when Cushing went 15th overall to the Houston Texans. Instead of grabbing Matthews or Maualuga, the Lord of No Rings went for Northern Illinois linebacker Larry English. You know English, he’s the guy who scares nobody and had three whole sacks this season.

Or in more specific terms, 10 1/2 fewer sacks than Matthews, who was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year by The Sporting News.

The Bears have some stellar defensive players of their own in linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and rejuvenated defensive end Julius Peppers. But Chicago needs quarterback Jay Cutler to avoid meltdown mode to win this contest.

Another thing that would help is forcing a lot of Green Bay punts. Devin Hester may only be the second-best returner in Bears history – Gale Sayers still holds that honor – but Hester is still the top returner in the NFL. You don’t want to give Hester more than two or three touches on punt returns.

And if Chicago wins – we’ll be subject to hearing something over and over that none of us want to hear for two weeks until Super Bowl Sunday: That offensive coordinator Mike Martz is once again a genius.

Just more reason right there to predict the Packers.

AFC Championship Game

There’s a smiling player on the New York Jets that I don’t quite recognize.

I know the face and the Texas twang in his voice sounds familiar. I know I’ve dealt with the guy before.

Woah! Is that really LaDainian Tomlinson lining up in the backfield of the AFC Championship Game?

Obviously, that wouldn’t have occurred if Tomlinson was still playing for the underachieving Chargers. But there he is just one victory away from that elusive Super Bowl appearance as the New York Jets venture into Pittsburgh to meet the Steelers.

Tomlinson has obviously proven that there was still tread on the tires even though A.J. Smith was adamant the wheels could no longer turn. Can you imagine the anger at the Chargers’ Murphy Canyon facility if Tomlinson were to play in this season’s Super Bowl during a campaign in which San Diego didn’t even qualify for the postseason?

But sentiments don’t come into play when a Super Bowl berth is on the line. If they did, San Diego’s “Air Coryell” trio of Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner and Kellen Winslow would have made the big game at least once during the early 1980s.

I see the Steelers edging the Jets in a close hard-fought battle to be the AFC representative. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seems to avoid the big mistakes – too bad he can’t seem to do that in the offseason – and big-play receiver Mike Wallace has added a game-breaking dimension to the Steelers’ offense.

Heard a lot of chatter about the Jets being concerned with Hines Ward’s whereabouts. Why spend so much time worrying about Ward when he’s not the guy who can hurt you most?

The Jets had Darrelle Revis shadow Ward in the regular-season contest and if they go that direction again, it leaves Antonio Cromartie covering Wallace. If there’s a big play to be had, it will be Roethlisberger and Wallace taking advantage of Cromartie’s infatuation of going for the ball instead of maintaining his technique in coverage.

You certainly can’t discount the Jets’ chances of leaving Pittsburgh as the AFC’s top team after beating the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning and the New England Patriots and Tom Brady in back-to-back weeks. But you legitimately have to wonder whether second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez can get the job done against star safety Troy Polamalu and the NFL’s top linebacking group.

That foursome of James Harrison, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley is one stellar crew of linebackers and Polamalu appears destined for the Hall of Fame.

Hey, didn’t A.J. Smith pass on Polamalu too? Yeah, you betcha. Smith chose some cornerback named Sammy Davis in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft instead of Polamalu. Makes you wonder what the Lord of No Rings has against USC defenders.

Oh yeah, Davis has been out of football since 2007.

Picking Davis ahead of Polamalu would be like choosing Norv Turner as coach over Rex Ryan. Oops, Smith did that too.

But I see Steelers coach Mike Tomlin advancing to the Super Bowl instead of Ryan so pencil me in for Pittsburgh to be seeking its seventh Super Bowl title two weeks from today.

The NFL playoffs begin Saturday and I just can’t find what time the San Diego Chargers play.

Oh, I get it – they must have a first-round bye. Oops, wrong there too.

So the Chargers didn’t make the playoffs? How could that be?

San Diego coach Norv Turner pronounced this team as the best in his four years as coach prior to the season.

I see the Chargers finally had an unblemished January record. Sure it was only 1-0 but I bet Norval spends half the offseason boasting about beating Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in Week 17.

Unfortunately, there were seven weeks where the Chargers couldn’t beat their opponents. A 9-7 record against the soft schedule they had is pretty embarrassing.

Got to give Turner and the Chargers credit for this dubious distinction: San Diego went 0-5 against the Oakland Raiders (two losses), Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals.

That is pretty tough to do – you really have to be an underachieving team to pull that off.

Turner also has another streak going – the Chargers won two playoff games his first season, one playoff game in his second year, zero playoff games in his third season and missed the playoffs in his fourth.

That is one horrible decline. What’s next for Year No. 5?

A losing record?

Turner isn’t the only person to blame for the Chargers spending January the way the Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills annually do. Look upstairs to the second-story balcony and find silver-haired general manager A.J. Smith.

Smith was more interested in defeating two of his better players in contract negotiations – receiver Vincent Jackson and offensive tackle Marcus McNeill – than giving his below-average head coach the best talent possible to beat the teams on the schedule.

The Chargers started 2-5 with poor special teams play and running back fumbles being the two biggest factors. But who says they don’t start 4-3 – remember, their early-season schedule was very weak – if they had settled the disputes with Jackson and McNeill in August?

That two-game swing is the difference between playing this weekend and watching eight other teams play on television.

Smith also has a ridiculous habit of putting players on the Roster Exempt List – a move that means the player has to sit out three games once he reports. He did that with tight end Antonio Gates in 2005 and the Chargers ended up missing the playoffs by one game.

He did it again this season with McNeill and Jackson and the Chargers again missed the playoffs by one game. Hmmmm.

Other teams don’t operate in this fashion. They work out their difficulties with the player, immediately welcome him back into the fold, and get back to focusing on how to beat their opponents.

In San Diego, every player in the locker room is reminded for three weeks that the general manager upstairs will try to break your career if you don’t bow down to him. When marginal players see Pro Bowlers treated in such a manner, it leaves an indelible impression. (Hint – not a good one).

It’s too early to predict whether or not the Chargers rebound in 2011 (I’d prefer to wait and see if we are going to have an NFL season first). But I did have San Diego winning the division in 2010 and the Kansas City Chiefs overtaking the Chargers in 2011.

I see the Chiefs had a different timetable. Kansas City is playing in the playoffs this weekend. Yeah, the Chiefs are AFC West champs.

The other two AFC West teams that missed the playoffs – the Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos – will have new coaches next season. Raiders coach Tom Cable lost his job despite going 6-0 in divisional games.

Meanwhile, Turner isn’t under the slightest bit of heat from the organization after his self-described best team failed to make the playoffs. He did pull out the scapegoat card – predictably – by firing special teams coach Steve Crosby.

But all that production from quarterback Philip Rivers went for naught in 2010. You have to start wondering if Rivers is destined to be the next Dan Fouts, the Hall of Fame quarterback who never played in a Super Bowl during 15 seasons with the Chargers.

The Chargers are heading in the wrong direction and it’s hard to have any confidence that Turner and Smith will get things back on the upswing. That AFC title game appearance from three years ago suddenly feels like a long time ago.

Particularly with the playoffs starting Saturday – and the Chargers ranking among the NFL’s 20 also-rans.

Deservedly so.