It’s a tradition unlike any other.
No, we’re not talking about The Masters.
We’re talking about Philip Rivers’ annual analysis of the Bolts’ schedule.
Simply put, no one breaks down the schedule like number 17, who memorizes every aspect of it within minutes of finding out the full slate of games.
Well, as always, Rivers looks for certain things right off the bat.
“I sound like a broken record, but as I say every year, we know the opponents, but when you put a date on it everything seems a little more real,” he said. “Football is getting close. But the first thing I look for is the opener. We open with the Colts at home, and shoot, that’s a team that had a heck of a run last year. From an offensive standpoint, we know them well and they’ll know us well with (our former coaches) Frank (Reich) and Nick (Sirianni) (being there). I also like opening at home at 1:05. That’s kind of awesome.”
The next thing Rivers looks for are division games. A first glance shows the Bolts don’t play an AFC West opponent until Week 5. Rivers also notes that the divisional slate of games are backloaded toward the end of the year.
As he points out, it’s a pretty weird year when it comes to playing the AFC West.
“I always look for division games, and not having one the first month of the season is a little different,” he explains. “That just means it’ll be backloaded, which it is. Five of seven in the division at the end, and those two Chiefs games mid-to-late November and then the last game of the year. It’s just going to be different because I feel like we’ve had a couple of division games early in the year (the past few years). So it’s going to be different, but what it’s going to do is whether a team has a little lead, or they are a little bit behind, either way you’re going to have to be ready to roll in those division games. Like we’ve always said, those games kind of count as a game-and-a-half. If you are a couple ahead or a couple behind, it can close either way in a hurry. We always talk about finish, and that’s going to be paramount either way regardless of our start. It’s not going to be one of those schedules where you have a big lead and you are not playing many games (down the stretch) in the division. No, if you had a lead, you better keep it. And if you don’t have one, shoot, you’re going to have an opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Rivers isn’t the only member of his family with a keen eye for details.
Philip points out how his oldest son, Gunner, was first to realize the Chargers will go several weeks without home games for the second-straight season. In fact, after Week 9’s game against the Green Bay Packers, the Bolts won’t play at ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park until Week 15 when they host the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s a funny thing that Gunner pointed out that’s similar to last year, we don’t play at home for over a month again. We play home against Green Bay, and then we’re not home again until late December. Shoot, it’s just like last year! Now, it gets kind of skewed because there’s a bye in there and a home game in Mexico City. We handled it well last year, and I think we will again. Shoot, at some point you’re going to have a stretch like that, and I think being home-away, home-away early, and not having back-to-back away games early, hopefully we can get off to a good start.”
Another weird anomaly?
The Bolts play only two games in a 24 day stretch midway through the year.
“It’s kind of a good mid-to-late season bye,” Rivers said. “Obviously the bye is late, but we have that Thursday night at Oakland. I’ve always counted that Thursday night as a mini-bye. But then we’re not (playing again) until that next Monday night in Mexico City, and then we have our actual bye. It’s kind of a weird stretch there with two games in 24 days.”
Like anyone, Rivers wants to know when the Chargers play their cold-city games. This year features two in December with visits to Denver and Kansas City.
“I look at the cold weather, and see when some weather factors could (come into play). You never know. It could be pouring rain in any game with the wind blowing, but you always look for when you play those games. It looks like other than December 1 in Denver and the last one in Kansas City, you don’t see any you anticipate being a big issue. But if it is, it is. We deal with it when we do.”
Finally, like every fan, Rivers wants to see when the Bolts play in primetime.
Fresh off a 12-4 season, the Chargers are set to play at least four night games in 2019 – Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh, Week 10 at Oakland, Week 11 vs. the Chiefs in Mexico City and Week 15 vs. Minnesota.
“Playing Pittsburgh and Minnesota at home will be (fun),” Rivers said. “Last year’s Pittsburgh game was unbelievable, and it was a Sunday Night game as well. Minnesota, we only cross every so often, but they’ve been a heck of a team in that NFC North the past few years.”
The NFL assigning the Chargers four primetime games is also a sign of respect following the team’s strong 2018 campaign.
“It’s the first time (we have four) since 2014, well what happened in ’13?” Rivers reflected. “We made a late season push, made the playoffs and won a playoff game. So in 2014, that’s kind of how it shook out. Last season, we had a heck of a season, won a playoff game, and I think it’s a little bit based on what you’ve done the previous year and what expectations are (for the following year). They’re probably high on the outside and they’re certainly high on the inside. It’s exciting.”