The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs are on us. College Football is over, finally. And what remains now is the march to Super Bowl XLI. New England travels to San Diego in the final game Sunday. And let’s stack the teams up and see how they compare in a battle of the AFC’s one and four seeds.
|Philip Rivers||Advantage Pats||Tom Brady|
Philip Rivers makes his first ever post-season start after a solid first season as a starter. Rivers throws a nice ball, hits receivers well and is a solid if unspectacular whose steady competence is overshadowed by the more well known talent on offense for the Bolts. There are starting two quarterbacks in the AFC who had better seasons than Rivers, Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. But he goes against the best playoff quarterback in the NFL. However, Brady’s one playoff loss came last year in the Divisional round, on the road, to the AFC West Champion. But that was last year in Denver. And Brady is still Brady and he has led teams through the playoffs before. Something Rivers has not learned to do, yet.
|Advantage Bolts||Corey Dillon
LaDainian Tomlinson. LaDainian Tomlinson. LT. LT. Whoa big fella. New England’s two headed back solution, Lawrence Maroney and Corey Dillon, is good. But LT is the best in the league. His game has few weaknesses, if any. He has a quick burst of speed, he powers for tough yards. He does a great job even on blocking. The gap between Tomlinson and Dillon-Maroney is large, but not overwhelming.
|Advantage Pats||Reche Caldwell
Jabar Gaffney’s career game came at a great time as he became Tom Brady’s favorite target in last week’s game against the Jets. This is an unsung bunch on both teams. Solid, capable and competent, but not flashy or spectacular. The edge to New England is slight and relies much on the overall skill of the quarterback delivering the ball.
|Antonio Gates||Advantage Bolts||Ben Watson
Another strong but not overwhelming advantage for the Bolts. Gates is the class of the AFC at Tight End. If healthy Ben Watson is a very good tight end. The Patriots have two good understudies behind Watson, who is again questionable for this game. If Graham and Thomas get an overwhelming number of snaps, the advantage for San Diego is greater. Brady likes throwing to his tight end, but Watson’s fumbles have been a source of worry. Gates on the other hand has been surehanded and his athleticism gives defenders fits in trying to cover him. With Rodney Harrison out, the Patriots old linebacking corps will have to manage a receiver who can out run them. This is a matchup San Diego will want to exploit, often on Sunday.
|Advantage Pats||Richard Seymour
Merriman missed four games with a steroids suspension, the only blot on an outstanding season spent mostly in the oppositions backfield. Edwards was the rock of the defense though, recording 98 solo tackles and assisting on another 44. The Chargers depth on defense is a little questionable, and their front three are good not great. The Patriots are again with a makeshift secondary, an aging linebacker corps and a dynamic, and stifling D-Line. Richard Seymour is the anchor and the frequent double coverage he draws frees up Vince Wilfork, Ty Warren and Jarvis Green. Roosevelt Colvin continues to be a speed rush threat on the outside. These defenses are both very good. New England’s is slightly better at both rush and pass defense and notably better at tightening up in the Red Zone. That’s where the slight edge to New England goes.
In the kicking game both Gostkowski and Kaeding have missed a few kicks. Kaeding is a Pro Bowler and Gostkowski is a rookie. Two of Kaeding’s three missed field goals came in the games lost by the Bolts by three points. Neither kick was under pressure, but that record makes one a little nervous. As does Gostkowski’s six missed field goals. Four of which came on the road. Neither team wants this to be a battle of the field goal kickers. Punting is about average for both. Both teams have good returners. New England’s squad has the only TD return, a 93 yard kickoff return against Houston in week 15. If I were to call an edge it would be New England’s kick return game, but it’s really too close to call. Neither team will win on teams, but both could lose because of them. One thing to note about, the place kickers, Gostkowski was perfect in his first postseason appearance. In San Diego’s last playoff appearance, Kaeding missed wide right from forty yards in overtime against the Jets in 2005 – his first NFL playoff game as a rookie. Just something to keep in mind.
|Marty Schottenheimer||Advantage Pats||Bill Belichick|
Here is the most damning statistic for the Chargers. Marty Schottenheimer’s playoff record 5-12 in 12 post season appearances. There have been some horrors for Schottenheimer along the way. Belichick’s 12-2 record is almost the reverse.
The last time New England played the Chargers, San Diego wrecked New England in Foxboro, last season. Don’t think that either Tom Brady or Bill Belichick has forgotten that. The Patriot’s defensive schemes will key on stopping Tomlinson, as he has been the force that most frequently has wreaked havoc with New England, running for 351 yards in the teams last two meetings. New England kept Tomlinson in check in 2001, and won, and the Pats know that is the key. San Diego’s 14-2 record is impressive. Their string of victories to close out the season is reminiscent of New England’s 12-game winning streak to end 2003, not many blowouts, win by a touchdown here, a field goal there. Winning 11 straight is hard to do in the NFL, but so is taking a game on the road against the number one seed in the playoffs.
New England 27 San Diego 21 – Schottenheimer’s playoff nightmares continue
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