One by one, ClevelandBrowns.com is breaking down each of the Browns' 2016 regular season opponents as the dog days of the offseason unfold.
Today's preview pits the Browns against an AFC West opponent looking to bounce back after a disappoiting season
Who: San Diego Chargers
When: Week 16 (Dec. 24, FirstEnergy Stadium)
Series History (last meeting): 8-15 (Chargers 30, Browns 27 in 2015 at Qualcomm Stadium)
The coach: Mike McCoy — fifth season
The stakes: The Browns' final home game of the year comes on Christmas Eve as Cleveland hosts a San Diego team looking to bounce back from a disappointing campaign in 2015. This should prove to be an interesting matchup as former Browns WR Travis Benjamin makes his return FirstEnergy Stadium after parting ways with the team during free agency,
Offseason storyline: After a 4-12 finish last season, San Diego looks to improve under fifth-year coach Mike McCoy, veteran QB Philip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates and cast of young, but talented, players such as second-year running back Melvin Gordon, fourth-year linebacker Manti Te'o and rookie DE Joey Bosa, whom the Chargers drafted in the first round this past spring.
Matchup to watch: Bosa vs. Joe Thomas — The battle of the Joes — provided both players can stay healthy — pits arguably the league's best left tackle and nine-time Pro Bowl selection against a rookie who's expected to grow into an impact player.
Biggest addition: Bosa — The Chargers drafted Bosa — a unanimous All American at Ohio State — at with the third-overall pick for a reason. As such, he's expected to start on a defensive line in need of pass rushers and depth.
Biggest loss: S Eric Weddle — The veteran parted ways with San Diego for Baltimore in free agency, leaving a hole in the Chargers' secondary.
The star: QB Philip Rivers — Rivers has been a mainstay in the Chargers offense for more than a decade and remains one of the league's top quarterbacks. In 2015, he completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,792 yards and 27 touchdowns.
The X-Factor: RB Melvin Gordon — The 2015 first-round draft pick had a decent rookie season, totaling 641 yards rushing on 184 carries while splitting carries with Danny Woodhead. Now, Gordon — who was a Heisman Trophy finalist at Wisconsin — has a chance to emerge as one of San Diego's top playmakers in his second season.
What makes this game tough: Save for last season, the Chargers have been a postseason contender for just about every year Rivers has been under center. In fact, before last season, San Diego had finished no worse than 7-9 since 2003. As such, perhaps the disappointment of 2015 was an anomaly as rumors of moving the team elsewhere swirled throughout the season. And with Rivers and a host of young playmakers looking to make names for themselves, the Browns could catch the Chargers in the mix for another playoff berth come December. What makes them beatable: San Diego didn't do much to shore up the offensive line, which has struggled to protect Rivers in recent years, and it could leave it vulnerable against a Cleveland defense looking to attack the QB from the get-go. The Chargers will also rely on the play of unproven rookies like Bosa, and TE Hunter Henry (among others) to address some of the issues that plagued them in 2015.