The Los Angeles Chargers are trying to do it the old-fashioned way. They are trying to earn their way to their first Super Bowl championship.
As the No. 5 seed in the AFC and the top wild-card team, they could have gone into the playoffs feeling sorry for themselves. They had the same record as AFC West winner and the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs, but they were not rewarded because the Chiefs won the tiebreaker as a result of a better divisional record.
That forced the Chargers to go to Baltimore for the AFC Wild Card Game, and they got the best of the top defense in the league and advanced to the divisional playoffs.
The second step is getting the opportunity to play the perennial AFC powerhouse New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium Sunday. The assignment is a difficult one, and they will be rewarded with another trip to Kansas City if they are successful. The Chiefs picked up a 31-13 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional playoffs.
The Patriots have not had the dominant season they have enjoyed in previous years, but they earned the No. 2 seed in the AFC and have Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, James White and Rob Gronkowski.
They also have the confidence that goes with being the league's most dominant team over the last 15 years. The Patriots are not likely to beat themselves, while the Chargers can look at their lineup and realize they belong on the same field as Bill Belichick's team.
Philip Rivers, Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen form a terrific offensive trio for the Chargers. Rivers threw for 4,308 yards with 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Gordon ran for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns in 12 games, while Allen caught 97 passes for 1,196 yards and six scores.
The Chargers have enough firepower to stay on even terms throughout the game with the Patriots and then find a way to pull it out in the late stages of the fourth quarter.
Sunday, January 13
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
When: 1:05 p.m. ET
Odds and Over/Under: NE -4, 47.5
Prediction: Chargers 30, Patriots 24
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
When: 4:40 p.m. ET
Odds and Over/Under: NO -8, 51.5
Prediction: Saints 35, Eagles 22
Point spread information courtesy of OddsShark.
Philadelphia at New Orleans
The Saints were the best team in the NFL during the regular season, winning the NFC South title and gaining the No. 1 seed in the conference with a 13-3 record.
The Eagles are the defending Super Bowl champions, but they played like a team destined to miss the playoffs well into the second half of the season.
They bottomed out in Week 11, when they were overpowered 48-7 by the Saints and their record slipped to to 4-6. However, Doug Pederson's team rebounded in an impressive manner, winning the last three regular-season games to earn a spot in the playoffs. The Eagles took advantage of that opportunity by winning their wild-card matchup on the road against the Chicago Bears.
Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles is hoping to rekindle the magic he had a year ago when he led the Eagles to a Super Bowl victory. If that is going to happen, the Eagles are going to have to raise their level of play dramatically.
New Orleans can light up the scoreboard with Drew Brees at quarterback, Alvin Kamara at running back and Michael Thomas dominating at the wide receiver spot.
Brees has completed 74.4 percent of his passes this season, and he has an impressive 32-5 TD-to-interception ratio. Kamara is one of the most versatile running backs in the league with 883 rushing yards and 709 receiving yards. Thomas has had a remarkable year with 125 receptions for 1,405 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Eagles will try to counter the Saints' offensive power with tight end Zach Ertz and wide out Alshon Jeffery. Ertz had a powerful season with 116 receptions for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns, while Jeffery caught 65 passes for 843 yards and six touchdowns.
The Eagles should make it much closer than their Week 11 blowout loss, but they are going to come out on the short end of this game.
That will allow the Saints to host the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC title game. If the Eagles pull of the major upset, the Rams will host Philadelphia in the NFC title game.
We go to the Chargers-Patriots divisional playoff game for our prop bet.
OddsChecker offers handicappers the opportunity to bet on the first touchdown scorer in this game. New England rookie running back Sony Michel is the favorite to score the first touchdown at 6-1, while Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is the second choice at 7-1.
James White and Julian Edelman of the Patriots follow at 8-1, while top Chargers receiver Keenan Allen follows at 10-1.
We are not going with any of these obvious choices.
The pick here is Los Angeles wideout Mike Williams, who has odds of 12-1. Williams had 10 touchdown receptions in the regular season, and that was four more than Allen. We are not saying we think Williams is a better all-around receiver than Allen, but he does have a nose for the end zone, and he will score the opening TD in this playoff game.