AFC Championship: Redemption or Repeat?
Comparisons between the Chargers and Patriots are quite noticeable. Nobody seems to like either team, collectively, throughout the NFL. For New England it has to do with winning a number of championships and illegally taping opposing teams (1st game of season vs. Jets). For the Chargers, it has to do with an obsession over flapping their jaws about how good they are. More than anything though is the fact that they don't like each other.
When last season's version of the Patriots dynasty (then a wild card team) upset San Diego, lots of crying was heard coming out of Southern California. Ladamian Tomlinson was outraged at the lack of "class" showed by New England after they stomped on the Chargers logo. Turf wars are for losers to cry about. The main issue for LT was that his team lost despite looking like the far superior team all season. Tomlinson and the Chargers get their shot at becoming "those guys" this year as they look to shock the world. Given the competitiveness or the playoff thus far perhaps "shock" is taking it too far.
If either RB Ladamian Tomlinson or QB Phillip Rivers are not playing at full strength (or not at all) than the Patriots will likely hold a considerable advantage. Rivers and LT suffered knee injuries in the win against the Colts. That's too bad because without either of them, the Chargers are considerably worse. Their backups: not good enough to get the job done so let's just leave it at that. For the sake of a great game, everyone should be on the "get healthy soon" side of things.
If they are healthy, San Diego actually matches up quite well. Remember, before the season many people were predicting the Chargers could win it all.
Wide Receiver Chris Chambers was acquired from the Dolphins during the season and it was a great move for a struggling team looking to turn the corner. Chambers is a Terrelle Owens type of guy who is big and can beat you deep. Add in an improved Vincent Jackson and the New England secondary could have a tough time.
The Pats come with the leagues best receiver, Randy Moss, a very good underneath solution and many more options for a boy named Brady to throw to. San Diego led the NFL in interceptions this season largely because of CB Antonio Cromartie emerging as one of the best in the league. A couple of Tom Brady interceptions could be just what the doctor ordered for a San Diego surprise. However, Moss is dealing with other issues as well...
The realist points to the injury of Antonio Gates as to reasons why the doctor can put his drugs away. Doctors can prescribe whatever they want but they are not miracle workers. While the emergence of Chambers has been great, Gates is still the top receiving threat. You can clump Gates in with Tomlinson and Rivers; without these guys their odds of winning are bad. (Check your NFL betting odds).
The line of scrimmage will likely be won by New England on both sides of the ball. Limiting Laurence Moroney and Kevin Faulk in the backfield is a tough task unless you decide a victory is possible despite giving up over 400 yards to Tom Brady.
Both defenses run a 3-4 scheme and an argument could be made that the Charges Linebackers are better. Perhaps they are, but you can't discount the Patriots experience.
How it plays out
To win the Chargers need their leading receiver, passer and runner to be healthy. The status of all three guys is questionable. Even when assuming that all three of them are in perfect health they would still have to play at their best to keep up with the Patriots attack. San Diego has been an opportunistic defense all season and they will need to continue this to win.
In the end, their are just too many unknowns to believe the Charger will win. Sure, they can win but stars will not only need to align, but muscles and tendons will need to heal. It's a tall task that San Diego has asked for all season. Now is the time to prove their worth, on crutches or not.