Ok, it can’t just be me. Who else has caught themselves – several times, by the way – saying this Sunday’s Divisional Playoff game is against the San Diego Chargers?
Yes, it’s the Los Angeles Chargers coming to Foxboro. Old habits, somehow, are hard to kick. And perhaps, that’s in New England’s favor this weekend.
As in, old habits will still be hard to kick?
To begin with, let’s start with the fact that whether they’re in San Diego or L.A., the team is still in Southern California. It’ll be in the 60’s there this week, while we brace here for a winter blast that looks to have game-time temps in the 20’s at Gillette Stadium. Plus, there’s a chance of snowfall, maybe three-to-five inches according to some early reports.
Straight from Patriots.com a year ago:
“Over the last 24 (now 25) years, the Patriots have posted a 42-10 record in games where the kickoff temperature is 34 degrees or colder and are 12-2 in postseason cold-weather games. When snow is in the forecast, the Patriots are virtually unbeatable. New England has never lost a snow game in Foxborough in the history of its franchise, posting an 11-0 record in those games and outscoring their opponents by a margin of 257-77.”
That can’t sit too well in sunny SoCal now, can it?
While the advantage may sound like a tangible one for New England, let’s consider what the Chargers have plowed through themselves in order to get to this point? On their way to a 12-4 record overall (plus a playoff win), this team has managed to stay unbeaten outside of the State of California this season.
That’s right. Three of their four losses have been at home, and the fourth loss came at the hands of the now-crosstown rival Rams at the LA Coliseum. That means these Chargers are a stellar 8-1 on the road this season, including 8-0 outside of the Golden State border.
This includes a win in London and their 23-17 Wild Card win at Baltimore. A few snowflakes and a dip in the temps may not knock these guys much off their stride. Matched up with the NFL’s only unbeaten team at home (the Patriots) this season, something or someone will have to give.
What about the travel? These Chargers had to play on the road at Baltimore this past weekend, returned home after the win and then will return to the east coast for the Patriots. It’s a tough stretch, sure. A tip o’ the cap to @BostonSportsInfo for this nugget – but the Chargers will be just the 6th team in the Super Bowl era to travel three time zones in back-to-back playoff games.
The then-San Diego Chargers played in two of the previous instances, back in 1982 and ’83. Both times they won the first game, went home, returned east and lost the second game. Overall, teams are just 1-4 in bicoastal back-to-back playoffs.
Finally, let’s also consider the Chargers’ own venerable veteran at quarterback in Phillip Rivers. The 37-year-old Rivers has had great career numbers, threw for more than 4300 yards this season and owned a passer rating of 105.5. His energy and enthusiasm for the game haven’t waned, just like a certain 41-year-old QB we also know.
Even if he’s never won a Super Bowl in his 15 years – he lost the 2008 AFC title game (’07 season) to New England playing with a partially torn ACL – Rivers compares favorably to similar historical QB’s in the “never won the Big One” category – Warren Moon, Dan Marino, Fran Tarkenton and ex-San Diego-QB-turned-CBS-analyst Dan Fouts.
His incentive here should be obvious. Rivers though, is 0-7 in his career against a Tom Brady-led Patriot team, and 0-4 in Foxboro. His only career win against New England came in 2008 with Matt Cassel subbing-in for an injured TB12.
You know he is relishing another special opportunity.
“Now I’m not playing Tom by any means but is it special to go to New England to go against a Hall of Fame coach and arguably the best quarterback ever to play?” he said to Chargers.com. “(To) get another shot at them? Heck yeah. Heck yeah it is special.
“(I’m a) fan of those guys,” Rivers added. “So to get an opportunity again to go against them 11 years after we had that opportunity in the 2007 season, yeah, it’s awesome. I’m looking forward to it.”
The weather, the travel and the record? All obstacles standing in the way of a San Diego – um, make that Los Angeles – Charger trip to the AFC Championship.
We’ll see if old habits are still hard to kick, soon enough.
Give thanks, Indy
I don’t know about you, but shouldn’t the Indianapolis Colts be thankful right about now?
Sure, they won at Houston to advance to the AFC Divisional Round against top-seeded Kansas City. But considering where the Colts began the year – even before their 1-5 start to the season – being thankful should be a major understatement.
Caught this from Twitter in the aftermath of their victory over the Texans, from BostonSportsJournal.com’s @GregABedard:
“Josh McDaniels hired Colts DC Matt Eberflus, o-line coach (Dave DeGuglielmo, and DL coach Mike Phair.
Most-improved units on the team. Colts should send McDaniels a fruit basket.”
It’s true. Colts’ GM Chris Ballard was apparently in lock-step with McDaniels on the hiring of Eberflus to run the defense, even before McDaniels ultimately spurned Indy at the hiring altar. The defense finished 11th in the league overall, forced a turnover in 15 of 16 regular season games, didn't give up 100 yards rushing to any player this year and had the NFL's leading tackler in rookie linebacker Darius Leonard.
They also allowed just 16.4 points per game from Week 7 onward, which were the fewest given up in the league. That was also the point in time where the Colts began their now 10-wins-in-11-games stretch, after a 21-7 win over the Texans.
Frank Reich has certainly been no slouch as a head coach either, to be completely fair. So the Colts made the right choice for them, at the time. But this season does come as a result of some building blocks in place that preceded Reich’s arrival.
You’re welcome, Indianapolis.
Coming through in the clutch
No, it wasn’t placekicker Cody Parkey coming through in the clutch for the Chicago Bears against the Philadelphia Eagles. Even though Parkey split the uprights before Philly’s Doug Pederson called an “icing” timeout, Parkey double-doinked the 43-yard attempt that counted.
He still was responsible for nine of Chicago’s 15 points on the day, if you look at the bigger picture.
The biggest picture, however, probably belongs to Eagles’ QB Nick Foles. He still plays for them. Starts, too, in the wake of Carson Wentz’ injury troubles. He was only the Super Bowl MVP last year (sorry, Pats fans) and yet he was second-string to Wentz all season before the injury bug bit.
But there was Foles again, ready to rescue his Eagles at just the right moment. He led Philly on a 12-play, 60-yard drive that erased a 15-10 Chicago lead late in the game, including a successful 4th-and-2 conversion from the Bears’ two-yard line for the go-ahead score.
Pretty odd situation they have there in Philadelphia. Backup QB wins Super Bowl MVP, loses his job to the “heir apparent,” then gets it back on an injury and wins a playoff game. What happens if these Eagles get back to the big game, or maybe even win it, with Foles at the helm?
Fun to think about, right Lane Johnson? Because you do know fun.
John Rooke, an author and award-winning broadcaster, is in his 26th season as the Patriots' stadium voice. Currently serving in several media capacities - which include hosting "Patriots Playbook" on Patriots.com Radio - Rooke has broadcast college football and basketball locally and nationally for more than 30 years and is a member of the Rhode Island Radio Hall of Fame and RI's Words Unlimited Hall of Fame.