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Philip Rivers' San Diego Chargers: A serious Super Bowl threat

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Quick: Name the three best teams in the NFL over the first five weeks of the 2014 campaign.

Now name the handful of teams that truly can make a Super Bowl run.

I hope you have the 4-1 San Diego Chargers on both lists. Shame on you if you don't.

I can't get enough of the 2014 Bolts. In so many ways -- the players, the coaching staff, the toughness, the character -- they represent everything right about the NFL.

I loved the Chargers all offseason. Back in May, I wrote a column stating San Diego was the most under-the-radar team from last season's playoff field (despite the fact that the Bolts did indeed log a postseason win). I declared that this bunch would be poised to make noise in 2014.

Five months later, I'm even more bullish on this team.

What are the makings of a legit Super Bowl contender? Allow me to go through the checklist and explain why San Diego fits the bill:

Star quarterback/great head coach

A necessary combination -- and the Chargers have it. Mike McCoy has done wonders since taking over the Chargers after a losing 2012 campaign. He's changed the culture and fostered accountability. McCoy is a fantastic head coach who has surrounded himself with a fine staff. And with McCoy's expertise in the quarterback department -- and offensive football in general -- Philip Rivers has thrived. The man who appeared to be a rapidly declining veteran under Norv Turner is now a reborn star topping the 2014 MVP race in the early goings.

I talked to McCoy this week on my SiriusXM Radio show, "Schein on Sports," and the second-year coach said he's not surprised Rivers is playing at this level, because it is a direct reflection of the QB's work ethic, talent, competitive fire and desire to learn.

"We all first got here learning the system -- that's No. 1," McCoy said. "And then just adapting to this was completely new for him, but he bought in from Day 1, never looked back, asked great questions. He prepares every day; he comes in, he's one of the first ones in, last ones to leave. He's just a true professional and he's a great guy to work with -- even a better person. We have a lot of fun working together, and we're very fortunate to have him as a leader of our organization."

When you start talking about the QB/coach tandems that should frighten opposing teams in the postseason, this one stacks right up with the best of the best.

Ability to deal with adversity? Check!

San Diego's offensive line is a M.A.S.H. unit right now. Following Doug Legursky's season-ending injury, the Chargers have moved on to their fourth center. Yet the offense continues to put points on the board, as the Bolts rank eighth in scoring (26.6 points per game).

In that May column, I raved about this team's depth at running back. Unfortunately, Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown have all suffered injuries since. Enter undrafted rookie Branden Oliver, who caught McCoy's eye in training camp with his speed and work ethic -- and because the youngster was constantly picking Rivers' brain. Sure enough, Oliver stepped in and tormented the New York Jets on Sunday, providing 182 total yards and two touchdowns in a 31-0 romp.

I loved McCoy's response when I asked him about dealing with adversity and the team's character.

"(When) we first got here last year," McCoy said, "I talked to the coaches, and I told them there's no excuse on Sunday and that's the way it's going to be. We're going to play with who we have.

"I said, 'Listen, you know we're going to ... over time, we're going to bring people in and everything. The roster's going to change week to week, through the offseason programs, training camp and all this and that. There's going to be injuries during the season. But our job as coaches is to do what our (active) players do best.' And from there, it stems to the players, all last year telling them everybody has an important role on the football team, some bigger than others. Some have some small role. 'Hey, this is your role on the football team.' And it's not even just a football team -- it's the whole entire organization. Making sure everyone understood that their role is important."

McCoy then talked about the importance of giving everyone reps in OTAs and training camp, concentrating on having everyone prepared to contribute.

"We give everyone an opportunity -- 'You're one snap away' -- and when they all believe that, and you talk about the importance of special teams, the way they have to contribute, then it's your job as a coach, once an injury happens, you got to put the next guy in and it's that guy's responsibility, it's his job to perform," McCoy said. "That's what we try to emphasize to everybody here."

It's a formula and an attitude and a way of life that's worked brilliantly for coaches like Bill Belichick, Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh. Chargers fans have to be thrilled to hear this -- and to see the results.

Defense wins championships

I'm not ready to call this defense elite. But it's certainly strong -- ranking first in scoring defense and third in total defense -- and getting better.

"We see 11 guys flying around the field," McCoy said. "We saw it last weekend with the dominating performance they had, the way they all played, whether it was stopping the run, good pass rush, good coverage -- just 11 guys doing what they're supposed to do."

Defensive coordinator John Pagano does an excellent job. Just ask McCoy.

"I think it all comes down to the preparation part of things," McCoy told me. "Coach Pagano and the rest of the staff (have) done a great job of putting plans together. And when you master the plan and understand pre-snap, you understand what's coming before it happens. It all starts with the preparation."

Ability to win while playing any style, anywhere? Double check!

Remember, San Diego marched into Cincinnati last postseason and beat a Bengals team that had gone undefeated at home in the regular season. That's a big deal.

The Chargers opened this season with a tough road loss to a physical Cardinals team. They bounced back by beating the defending Super Bowl champions -- also a big deal. And I was impressed with their ability to follow up that game by traveling across the country and beating up the Bills in a hostile environment.

If Denver wins the AFC West, as I anticipate, San Diego will have to go on the road in the playoffs. It won't be easy to beat someone like Andrew Luck or Tom Brady in such circumstances, but the Chargers' ability to play any style -- with their overall talent and coaching -- puts them in a position to match up favorably with the likes of the Colts, Patriots, Bengals, Ravens and, yes, the Broncos.

Crystal ball

The AFC is wide open. The season is a long way from being done. I picked the Broncos to win the conference in the preseason, and I still stand by that take.

But the Chargers have put the league on notice.

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They have a star quarterback with diverse weapons in the passing attack (don't write the epitaph on veteran tight end Antonio Gates quite yet). And the defense makes plays that change games.

In the past, San Diego would get "Norved," losing to inferior teams in unfathomable fashion. No longer. The Bolts impressively blasted the Jaguars and Jets -- by a combined score of 64-14 -- over the past two weeks.

This head coach is great. The team's confidence is sky high.

And the scary part is the Chargers should only get better, as injured players return to health and young players gain experience.

It's going to be a fun ride.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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