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Chargers look like champs

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Editor's Note: Don't forget to pick up Stephen Nover's expert NFL selections for the upcoming season. Click to win!

It’s always dangerous making a Super Bowl prediction in August. But right now it sure looks like the San Diego Chargers are the team to beat.

New England has concerns in its secondary, old linebackers and Tom Brady might not be 100 percent. Peyton Manning isn’t 100 percent right now either for Indianapolis. The NFC doesn’t have any teams the quality of the Chargers, Patriots or Colts.

So why not grab 6-1 on San Diego winning the Super Bowl, or better yet take the Chargers to go ‘over’ their regular-season win total of 10 ½.

The Chargers are loaded with nearly all their starters back. They have the great combination of superstars and depth plus their schedule lays out well. If you made pointspreads on all of them games right now, the Chargers would be favored in every contest.

Like with every team, there are negatives. Inside linebacker Stephen Cooper is suspended the first four games. Center Nick Hardwick probably won’t start the season because of foot surgery and superstar tight end Antonio Gates may not be 100 percent returning from toe surgery.

I’m also not a big fan of head coach Norv Turner or his defensive coordinator, Ted Cottrell. But these aren’t big enough factors to get me off proclaiming San Diego as the team to beat.

The Chargers actually came together under Turner. They won 12 of their last 15 games and gave a gallant injury-plagued effort in the AFC title game road loss to New England after upsetting Indianapolis as a double-digit away ‘dog the week before.

A team usually has to go through various stages to win a Super Bowl. The Chargers finally showed they could win in the post-season, something they hadn’t accomplished since 1995. They enter this season having covered in their last nine games.

San Diego can withstand not having Cooper, Hardwick and possibly Gates during the first month because their first four games are home against Carolina, at Denver, home to the New York Jets and at Miami.

Both the Panthers and Broncos have to meet the Chargers without their top wide receivers. Steve Smith and Brandon Marshall are each suspended for the first two weeks.

Philip Rivers is an emerging quarterback with outstanding accuracy. He has a number of dangerous targets, including Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson and Gates. LaDainian Tomlinson is the best running back in football. The Chargers have depth at running back, a solid backup quarterback in Billy Volek in the unlikely case Rivers’ knee acts up and an outstanding offensive line.

The defense is tough with difference-makers nose tackle Jamal Williams, linebacker Shawne Merriman and cornerback Antonio Cromartie. It’s going to be hard for Cottrell to screw up with this kind of talent.

If this isn’t enough, San Diego also has excellent special teams. Darren Sproles is one of the best return men and Mike Scifres is a top punter.

The Chargers should be at full strength when, bent on revenge, they host New England in Week 5. San Diego then faces a potential flat spot traveling to Buffalo to face the Bills in an early start time. The weather shouldn’t be bad, though, in mid-October.

The following week, the Chargers have another road game. But this one is in London, a neutral site, against New Orleans. Then the Chargers get a bye at the perfect time, the mid-point of the season.

San Diego’s final eight regular-season contests are home to Kansas City, at Pittsburgh followed by three straight home games against Indianapolis, Atlanta and Oakland. The Chargers then travel to Kansas City and Tampa Bay before closing at home versus Denver.

The Chargers catch a lot of breaks with their schedule. First off, they’re in a very easy division. San Diego figures to win all six of its AFC West games. That means they just need to break even against the rest of their non-division foes to exceed 10 ½ wins.

The Chargers’ two toughest games – New England and Indianapolis – are both at home. They have only one potential late bad weather game and that’s against the punchless Chiefs of Herm Edwards.

San Diego also catches a break with just two early East Coast/South road starts. Those games come against Buffalo and Miami. Oakland, by contrast, draws six early starts.

One of San Diego’s road games is at a neutral site, London.

The Chargers have averaged 12 ½ regular-season victories during the past two seasons. This could be their finest team yet.

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