Friday, December 25, 2009

Chargers Wrap Up a First Round Bye

The game's not over yet but the Chargers are mauling the Titans 42-10 in the 4th quarter. The loss will ensure that the Titans remain dead for the decade, and the Chargers will host a game in the 19th week of the NFL season.

The 2009 Chargers are considered by themselves to be the best Chargers team of the decade. Considering the 04, 07, and 08 Chargers didn't get byes, I'd agree. The 2006 Chargers on the other hand had what the 2009 Chargers lack, and will likely need in the playoffs; a defense and running game.

If things hold out the way we assume they will, the Chargers are going to host the Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC Playoffs. Though it's hard to argue the Patriots are more talented than the Chargers, it's also hard to argue that the Chargers are more talented than the Patriots. In other words, these two teams aren't that far apart.

One thing the Patriots can do that a lot of the teams on the Chargers '09 schedule could not is produce touchdowns. In 2006 we saw a (much weaker than now) Patriots offense move the ball against a (much better than now) Chargers defense that was considered one of the best in the league. The Chargers lost that game because of youthful mistakes, the Patriots dominated the Chargers in the 2007 regular season, and again outplayed them for 60 minutes in the 07 playoffs. The Chargers finally got the better of the Patriots in 2008 when Matt Cassell filled in for an injured Tom Brady.

The 2009 Patriots haven't done well on the road, but traditionally San Diego hasn't been as daunting of a place to play as Indianapolis, the Meadowlands, Denver, or New Orleans; places New England have lost in 2009.

If the well rested Chargers can get past the Patriots they'll likely have to travel to Indianapolis to play the team they've ejected from the playoffs the past two seasons; the Colts.

Before you automatically qualify the Chargers for the Super Bowl based on this match up remember a few things; the Colts and Chargers games have never been decided before the five minutes of the game;

In the 2007 regular season, Manning lead the Colts back (playing without Clark, Harrison, Addai, amidst others) from a 21 point deficit and put the Colts in position to win on the road in San Diego before Vinatieri missed a go ahead chip shot.

In the 2007 playoffs, mistakes by Marvin Harrison and Kenton Keith (players no longer on the Colts) allowed the Chargers, lead by Billy Volek and Michael Turner (players no longer on the team) to score a game winning drive (which featured a Dwight Freeney-less opposing pass rush).

In the 2008 regular season, Adam Vinatieri made up for his 2007 mistake by hitting a game winning field goal in the 4th quarter against the Chargers in San Diego. The Colts would win the game en route to a 12-4 record, but because of the leagues playoff set up they'd have to travel to 8-8 San Diego come playoff time.

In the 2008 playoffs, the game was decided by a great punting game by San Diego, and a poor rush defense from Indianapolis. In 2009 the Chargers punting game has dropped back to the pack, the Colts rush defense has caught up to the pack, and the Chargers rushing attack has fell drastically to the middle of the pack.

What else is different between these two teams? How about a new head coach and a new defensive coordinator in Indianapolis?

In other words, these are two different teams. The 2007-2008 Indianapolis Colts aren't the 2009 Colts. Unlike the Patriots and Chargers (who have kept most of their coaching and player personnel from the 2007 season) the Colts are an entirely different, much younger, team then they were before that.

I'm not saying the Colts win the game, I'm just saying it's not going to be as easy for the Chargers as the media are making it out to be.

But what matters now is the Chargers have gotten back to the divisional round of the playoffs for the fourth year in a row. No other team in the NFL can say that.

Not even the Patriots or the Colts.

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