In what could easily be a preview of this year's AFC championship game, last year's passing leader Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers head into Gillette Stadium to take on living legend Tom Brady and the New England Patriots this Sunday.
You won’t want to miss two of the best quarterbacks in the game going toe-to-toe in a huge game for both teams.
The Patriots will want follow up their destruction of Miami last week with a win at home against a Chargers team that can actually play some defense. The Bolts will want to prove they are a team to be reckoned with by traveling across the country and coming away with the victory against the NFL’s best team of the last decade.
The Chargers and the Patriots are no strangers to each other, having met six times in the regular season since the turn of the millennium with each team posting 2-1 records at home. In that same time-span the two teams have also met twice in the postseason with the Patriots winning both times.
In fact the last time the Chargers beat the Patriots in a postseason game was all the way back in 1963 when San Diego destroyed the Boston Patriots 51-10 to win the AFL Championship—their one and only title.
If you are thinking of penciling in a “W” for New England before the game has even been played, though, think again. It’s true that Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been the proverbial thorn in San Diego’s side, but the Bolts have all the tools necessary to come away with a road win.
There will be no need for motivational speeches this week in the Chargers locker room. The Bolts should be as pumped up and hungry to face the Pats as a pack of wolves in winter.
There are many aspects of this game that will come into play, but the key matchup will be which team’s defense can stop the other team’s offense.
It’s clear that Brady is the best passer in the game and the offensive unit he leads clicks like clockwork. To a slightly lesser extent, you can say the exact same thing about Rivers and the Chargers offense.
The difference in this game will be the Chargers defense. On paper, it looks like the Bolts will have a much easier time moving the ball against the Pats secondary than New England will against a very stingy San Diego pass defense.
Of course, the games aren’t played on paper.
When it comes to the intangibles, the nod must go to the Patriots and their head coach. Belichick has a well established reputation of lying, cheating and stealing his way to victories.
Outside of the greater Boston area and national sports media pontificators, does anyone really like the Patriots? To me, they are the quintessential team you love to hate.
Jacques Cesaire will be taking over for the injured Luis Castillo at right defensive end. Cesaire is an adequate backup who played in all 16 games for the Chargers last year. He recorded 31 tackles (two for a loss) and 1.5 sacks. I expect to see both third-year pros Vaughn Martin and Ogemdi Nwagbuo help pick up the slack as well while Castillo recovers from knee surgery.
The Chargers signed place kicker Nick Novak to replace Pro Bowl regular Nate Kaeding who is gone for the season with a torn ACL. Novak brings a total of 19 NFL field goals on 30 attempts for a troublesome 63.3 percent average.
The way punter Mike Scifres belted his one and only NFL field goal attempt 40 yards through the uprights against Minnesota last week with plenty of room to spare, I have to hope that he will get the majority of the place kicking duties while Novak remains his backup.
On a positive note, at least Chargers fans will not have to worry about Kaeding choking in the playoffs this year.
Norv Turner will have his coaching prowess tested once again as he faces off with his nemesis, Bill Belichick. More than ever, Turner needs to come out with a game plan other than run, run, pass to open the game.
If I could be the voice that whispers into his ear while he is sleeping, I would be telling him to come out guns-a-blazing and leave the conservative and hackneyed “establish the run early” game plan on the coffee table when he leaves his home and heads for the airport to catch the flight to Boston.
Another major question for Turner will be his ability to keep up with Belichick’s no-huddle scheme—a tactic that left the Dolphins gasping for air on their home turf. If Turner can’t anticipate what Belichick is going to do and compensate, I can see the Patriots racking up the yards and points for a second week in a row.