Originally Published: September 2, 2010
Donald Miralle/Getty Images JOHN CLAYTON QB RANKING (7): Philip Rivers' consistency has helped the Chargers stay on top in the AFC West. His 104.4 QB rating in 2009 was the third best in the league.

Expert Picks (Consensus: 1st)

Intelligence Report

Five things you need to know about the Chargers:

1. The offense will be balanced: Last season, the Chargers had a powerful offense, but it was all generated by the passing game. The Chargers ranked No. 31 in rushing. San Diego cut legend LaDainian Tomlinson in February and constructed a trade to draft Ryan Mathews at No. 12. The Chargers will unleash Mathews with the hope that he can bring balance to the offense. Expect the offense to be particularly dangerous because of this addition.

2. The Chargers are set up to survive holdouts: If Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson and standout left tackle Marcus McNeill end up holding out for the whole season or most of it, the Chargers will clearly not be as strong as they could be. But it won't be a disaster. They are very deep and prepared to succeed without those two players. San Diego had a very productive training camp without Jackson and McNeill. The team believes in receivers Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis. At left tackle, Brandyn Dombrowski will not be as stout as McNeill was, but he is a solid player.

3. Philip Rivers is an elite player: San Diego will be in good shape because of Rivers' presence. He's the type of player who can carry a team. He has gotten better in each of his four seasons as an NFL starter and I expect that trend to continue in 2010. He throws the prettiest deep ball in the NFL and he is a terrific decision-maker. Don't be surprised if Rivers makes a strong MVP push in 2010.

4. The secondary will be better: The Chargers' secondary is a very cohesive group. The team traded cornerback Antonio Cromartie and the unit seems relieved that he is gone. Cromartie was unreliable on and off the field. He was replaced by 2008 first-round pick Antoine Cason, who should be steadier in coverage and better against the run than Cromartie was.

5. Cam Thomas is a key: The Chargers' 3-4 defense is built on powerful play from the nose tackle. For years, Jamal Williams was the tone-setter for the defense. The premier run-stopper in the NFL, Williams, who missed all but one game last season, is in Denver now. It would be unfair to expect Thomas, a rookie, to be the dominant nose tackle that Williams was in his prime. But Thomas can be a strong presence for this team. He had a good training camp and the game does not seem too big for the fifth-round pick. Expect him to play a major role this season.

-- Bill Williamson, ESPN.com

Scouts Inc.'s Fabulous Five

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