SAN DIEGO (AP) -This could have been the Super Bowl matchup in February, the Chicago Bears against the San Diego Chargers.
``We felt it should have been, but we didn't do the things necessary to make that happen,'' Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
These teams had the best records in their respective conferences. The Bears made it to Miami. The Chargers stumbled around like drunk sailors on shore leave in losing their playoff opener at home against New England.
``That's why we're so disgusted with the loss,'' Rivers said. ``That was kind of our expectations. We're getting to play them six, seven months later.''
Consolation or not, it'll be a marquee matchup when Rivers, reigning NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and the rest of the Chargers host the Bears in Sunday's season opener.
It could even be a Super Bowl preview for next February.
``It'd be just fine,'' Rivers said.
Whether they're still playing five months from now, the Bears and Chargers are looking forward to this matchup.
``What a great way to start the season off,'' new Bears strong safety Adam Archuleta said. ``We feel good about ourselves, but we can't rest on what we've done.
``I think there's a lot of energy and enthusiasm,'' Archuleta added. ``Guys are ready to play ball. Guys are hyped up and can't wait for it to get here. I think it's been that way all year, but now, it's just a little bit more focused.''
The Chargers were an NFL-best 14-2 last year before flaming out in a shower of miscues that let New England rally for a 24-21 divisional-round win. The Bears topped the NFC at 13-3 before losing to Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.
The Bears are looking to make a statement, with their tough defense facing a talent-laden Chargers offense that scored an NFL-high 492 points last year.
``I know we can,'' cornerback Charles Tillman said. ``I think it'll be a good challenge for us to see where we are and what we need to do and what lies ahead of us for the rest of the season.''
San Diego has won 10 straight regular-season games and was undefeated at home in 2006.
For sheer star power, the Chargers had five players make the elite All-Pro team last year and Chicago had four. San Diego topped the league with 11 Pro Bowlers, while Chicago had eight, although not all played due to injury.
There are a handful of subplots, too.
- San Diego's Norv Turner begins his third stint as an NFL coach, taking over for the deposed Marty Schottenheimer. Turner's first two gigs didn't end well; he was a combined 58-82-1 with Washington and Oakland.
- Turner will be facing his younger brother, Ron, the Bears' offensive coordinator. Dating to 1996, the brothers Turner are 1-1 against each other.
- Ron Rivera, whose contract as Bears defensive coordinator wasn't renewed, was hired as Chargers inside linebackers coach after being beaten out by Turner for the top job.
- The Chargers have already beaten the Bears once this year. Oh wait, that's just a shoe commercial featuring Tomlinson slashing and spinning through the hapless Bears for a game-winning TD.
That commercial has led to a bit of banter between SoCal and the Windy City.
Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris, who's in the commercial, squashed the notion that the ad - in which the defenders miss tackle after tackle - would motivate Chicago.
``That's a joke to us,'' Harris said. ``We'll go out there, we'll play. Tell Ron Rivera I said hello. We'll go out there and have a good time. Hopefully, we'll start the season off right, and I wish the San Diego Chargers well.''
The Bears get to see the real Tomlinson, the one who set 13 NFL records last year, including 31 touchdowns - 28 rushing - and 186 points. He won his first rushing title with 1,815 yards.
``He's supposedly the best back in the business. I think he is,'' Tillman said. ``He's their poster child. He does everything. He's a soon-to-be Hall of Famer. He's explosive, he's hard to tackle, hard runner, quick, very elusive - he's the best.''
While Chicago led the league with 44 takeaways in 2006, the Chargers have a pretty good defense, too, one that led the NFL with 61 sacks. Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, who forms a bookend rushing tandem with All-Pro Shawne Merriman, said the defense is looking at this as a game within a game.
Besides winning, ``we want to outplay their defense, also,'' Phillips said. ``Like they create a turnover, we need to create a turnover. They score on defense, we score on defense. That's just how we're going about this game.''
Chargers fans can debate forever whether their team should have been playing in Miami last February.
``That's neither here nor there. That can never be determined,'' Phillips said. ``Maybe that can be determined this year, around February.''
Bears wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad agrees.
``They came up just a little bit short against New England, but definitely could have been a representative in the Super Bowl,'' he said. ``I think they feel that way. We're definitely one of the better teams in the NFC, so this is going to be a clash of the titans. It could be an early preview of what's going to happen in the playoff run. You never know what can happen, but we're excited about it.''
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AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago contributed to this report.

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