There are so many reasons not to pick the San Diego Chargers as Super Bowl contenders. Teams that rely so heavily on offense, and fall apart so easily on defense, just don't win league championships. But there is something about the Chargers that says forget logic. Go with pizazz.
Certainly, San Diego is a team constructed for pro football, 1980s version. So perhaps it would be appropriate that the Chargers become the NFL's dominant team, considering they have adapted better than anyone else in the league to more liberal rules governing offense.
But will that porous, laboring defense, which is short on linebackers and backs, play well enough for the Chargers (7-4) to win the AFC West, much less the NFL title? For the first time under Don Coryell, San Diego used the draft to help the defense, getting lineman Billy Ray Smith and cornerback Gill Byrd. If both can help right away, that may be enough to allow Dan Fouts, Chuck Muncie, Kellen Winslow and Co. to end Coryell's quest for the championship.
Of course, Coryell first must get by the Los Angeles Raiders (9-2). Most of the Raiders' hopes depend on quarterback Jim Plunkett, who has come back more than the film "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." An accurate Plunkett, complemented by Marcus Allen's running and a defense led by Ted Hendricks, can be good enough to bother even San Diego. One problem: the Raiders' offensive line is hurting.
The quarterback of the Raiders' dreams is in Denver and goes by the name of John Elway--he of the large contract and even larger reputation. Elway's play in preseason games has done little to belie his billing. If Elway performs more like a veteran than a rookie once the season begins, the Broncos should be much better than their 2-7 record last season. They have good speed in the backfield (Gerald Willhite), adequate receivers (Rick Upchurch, Steve Watson) and a defense that has to be better than it showed last season, when it ranked 26th against the pass.
In this competitive division, it will be difficult for Seattle (4-5) and Kansas City (3-6) to show much improvement in the standings, even if their on-field performance is better. Chuck Knox brings a solid coaching reputation to Seattle, where he will restore Jim Zorn as starting quarterback and rookie Curt Warner will give the team its first bonafide speed back. Minuses include poor offensive and defensive lines and little depth.
John Mackovic, an advocate of passing, brings excitement to Kansas City, where attendance decreased the more former coach Marv Levy decided to run the ball. He just needs a quarterback; his choices are Bill Kenney, Bob Gagliano and No. 1 pick Todd Blackledge. Even with so-so linebacking, the Chiefs have a good defense. It will take time with the offense.