Some thoughts on this titanic matchup... Tomlinson faced 3 defenses ranked in the top 12 against the run all season (according to footballoutsiders.com). In those 3 games, week 4 vs. Baltimore (98 yards on 26 carries, 3.8 YPC), week 5 vs. Pittsburgh (36 yds on 13 carries, 2.8 YPC), and week 17 vs. Arizona (66 yards on 16 carries, 4.1 YPC before leaving with a minor injury), his production was mediocre. The Pats have the #10 run defense in the NFL. Of concern is the fact the Pats' run D has declined since Junior Seau's injury vs. Chicago. There are mitigating circumstances: relearning run fits with Vrabel and Banta-Cain in the starting line up, the injury to Wilfork vs. Miami, and several fluke plays. However, the Pats have developed a habit of giving up big plays on the ground down the stretch (Jones-Drew's fluke, Sammy Morris run after Wilfork's injury and the game decided, Travis Henry's scamper with Marquise Hill in the line-up). Still, with Wilfork back in the line-up, Banta Cain and Vrabel acclimated, and the team focusing on the run, the Pats are closer to a top 5 D than what they have shown recently. Interestingly, rb Michael Turner destroys top run Defenses, when given an opportunity. In the same games in which LT struggled, Turner rushed for 46 yards on 7 carries vs. Baltimore, 56 yards on 11 carries vs. Pitt, 58 yards on 11 carries vs. Arizona. Turner may be a bigger threat to the Pats in this game than Tomlinson. He runs harder, breaks more tackles, and punishes defenders. However, because Tomlinson is the MVP, and jealous of his carries in so important a playoff game, Schottenheimer will want to stick with the "best rb of all-time" (so Marty claims). Therefore, Turner will probably be stuck on the bench. Rivers is better than people think. In 8 games against top 15 pass defenses, he had an 88.6 passer rating with a 2.4% interception rate, numbers which suggest he may be an ideal playoff qb, since avoiding INTs is the single most important trait for Qbs come playoff time. In 6 games against top 10 pass defenses, he had an 87.8 passer rating, with a 2.8% INT rate, showing great consistency and mistake free play. In 4 games against pass defenses inside the top 10, he had a 74.9 passer rating, and a 2.1% INT rate. Mediocre, but not disastrous. The Patriots' pass defense is ranked #7. The Chargers have very few weaknesses. They have the #1 running game in the league, the #1 O-line, the #2 passing game, the #3 special teams squad, a top 5 TE, a top 5 rb, the best pass rushing defense. The WR duo of Parker and McCardell is effective if unspectacular. 2nd year Wr Vincent Jackson is beginning to show the huge talent that got him drafted in the 2nd rd in 2005, despite playing for a small college (the Pats were scouting him closely). However... the Chargers' run D is surprisingly mediocre, as is the pass D, other than the pass rush. The Chargers are going to come out stronger, faster, and more violent than the Pats on both sides of the ball to begin this game. Early on they are going to stop the run, it will take time before their inconsistency against the run begins to show. Their early physical/emotional advantage is the natural result of an extra week of rest and home-field. Fortunately, the SD homefield edge is nothing like the Denver homefield edge. The Pats must weather the early storm, counterpunch and stay in the game until the energy levels even out. I believe the Pats will contain, but not stop Tomlinson. I believe Rivers is a gamer and will not lose the game (a la Roehtlesberger 2004) as some expect. I believe Gates will damage the Pats in the red zone. Chris Baker of the Jets, who played very well last week, is only a poor man's Gates. Vincent Jackson at 6'5'' will make some plays down field against the Pats' smaller corners. We cannot simply expect Marty to lose this game with in-game decision making. To count on that is whistling past the graveyard. Marty will probably turn this game over to his coordinators under the advice of protege Bill Cowher, who learned his lesson last year after repeated post-season spankings by BB. The Pats have 4 intangible advantages: (1) Compared to Brady, Rivers is a hyper, super-emotional hot-head. Sometimes this can come across as charismatic, and other times as BIZARRE. His emotional instability can throw him into deep funks, but his character usually rescues him at some point, so that even in his bad games he can recover to make big throws at crunch time. If Rivers goes into such a funk early, the Pats must take advantage, because he will not stay that way for a full 60 minutes. When Rivers gets on a role, he is unstoppable. (2) The Chargers have 9 Pro-Bowlers, 5 All-Pros, and an MVP/Offensive Player of the Year. Post season honors breed complacency and a premature sense of accomplishment among players, the enemy of championship play. 3) The Chargers have not faced a team as physical or as disciplined in the trenches as the Pats in 3 months. They may be shocked at first when they are unable to dominate as easily as they have come to expect. The lack of confidence may creep into the coaching staff, especially if Rivers begins the game in a hyper emotional funk. The Pats may then run out to an early lead, and neutralize the Charger run game to some extent. Still, the Chargers have a history of big come-backs so an early deficit will not doom the Chargers. (4) Schottenheimer often infuses his team with his own anxiety... his job is on the line in this game, as is his legacy. A tight coach often makes for a tight team... Prediction: For the 1st time this year I am struggling to pick the Pats in this game. My heart says 27-24 Pats. My wallet is trying to disagree with me, but I'm ignoring it. Sometimes it's best to go down with the ship!!!