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The Road to the Super Bowl runs through San Diego. Sound funny?

Such labels are more commonly used at the start of the season for a dynasty like the Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s. But for the purposes of the AFC playoffs this season, the 2006 Chargers have mapped out home-field advantage throughout the tournament with Sunday‘s 27-20win over the Arizona Cardinals at before 66,492 fans at Qualcomm Stadium.

We all know the primary reason the Chargers are 14-2 and earned a bye for the Wild-Card round next weekend is running back LaDainian Tomlinson. He won the NFL rushing title with 1,815 yards and set NFL scoring records with the season for the ages he put together.

But there are a few more reasons the Chargers are 14-2 instead of 10-6 and 11-5 and facing the possibility of a winter playoff game at the New England Patriots or a game inside the Indianapolis Colts’ dome.

  • Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman recorded 17 sacks in 12 games (despite his four-game suspension). He can speed rush or bull rush. In other words, there is no way to consistently block him. How did this guy last until the 12th pick of the 2005 draft? Merriman is the major reason for the Chargers are a plus-11 in takeaway-giveaway stat.
  • Fullback Lorenzo Neal has not only blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher for the 10th straight year, one of the NFL’s all-time great blocking backs has a streak of 107 consecutive carries without losing yardage. The streak dates back to the 2000 season.
  • Cornerback Quentin Jammer has always been one of the league’s top corners against the run, and now he’s one of the best against the pass. He had four interceptions in the first half of the season before teams stopped throwing his way.
  • Eric Parker has become one of the league’s most under-rated possession receivers. As a route runner, he makes quarterback Philip Rivers’ job as a first-year starter easier to find open receivers when under pressure. Parker, who has missed time down the stretch with a neck injury, caught passes for 62 yards (all in the first half) against the Cardinals.

— TOM SHANAHAN

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