NFL: AFC Wild Card-Los Angeles Chargers at Baltimore Ravens

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers celebrates while leaving the field after the Chargers' game against the Baltimore Ravens in a AFC Wild Card playoff game on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Chargers won 23-17 and will visit New England this coming Sunday in a divisional round playoff game.


Twitter was ablaze over the weekend with folks picking who they wanted the Patriots to face in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs on Sunday.

It was noted that none of the quarterbacks of the three — Philip Rivers, Andrew Luck and Patrick Mahomes had ever beaten Tom Brady in a head-to-head matchup. Rivers is 0-7, Luck 0-2 and Mahomes 0-1.

One thing almost lost in all the looking ahead was one basic fact: The Chargers were the best of the three teams that had a chance of coming to Foxborough, Mass.

Now we’ll spend the days heading into this game examining the game from every angle. Some of the stuff — like the Chargers flying back to the West Coast after winning in Baltimore, as well as the chance of significant snow Sunday — can be important.

But some make no sense.

Like the fact Rivers lost to the Patriots in the 2006 and ’07 AFC title games.

Or that Brady didn’t play well in those two games.

Both of those games were a long time ago.

Take either seriously? Why stop there? Why not worry about the Chargers bringing Lance Alworth or Keith Lincoln back? Or, as column pal Jonny Miller said Monday, let’s wonder if the Patriots are still smarting from a 51-10 AFL championship game loss to the San Diego Chargers on Jan. 5, 1964, at Balboa Stadium.

This is about NOW — and the Chargers are pretty darn good.

They’re 13-4.

They’re 9-1 away from home, counting a win as the home team in London.

The road wins include trips to Kansas City, Seattle, Baltimore and Seattle. The London win was over Tennessee, one of the five teams to defeat the Pats this season.

On the flip side, the Patriots are 8-0 at home. They are seeking their eighth straight trip to the AFC title game. They are the standard.

“Is it special to just go to New England against a Hall of Fame coach and arguably the best quarterback ever to play and get another shot at them? Heck yeah. Heck yeah it is. It is special,” Rivers said after his team hung on for Sunday’s win.

“I’m not playing those guys, but I have a great deal of respect, fan of those guys. So to get an opportunity to go against them 11 years after we had that opportunity in that 2007 season, yeah, it’s awesome. I’m looking forward to it.”

Brady said he got right to work on the Chargers Sunday night into Monday morning.

Sunday night, Duron Harmon, appearing on WBZ-TV, said, “The good thing for us is we get a head-start. “They’re traveling back to L.A., so we need to use this time we have to an advantage.”

Kind words

As expected, the Patriots, who never say ANYTHING negative about any opposition at ANY time, started their week having nice things to say about this latest foe.

“They’re a good football team, good defensive-line, very explosive, and they have a good defense to hold,” James White said Monday on WEEI. “They cause a lot of turnovers, we have to be at our best. We have to come ready to play. They’ve won a playoff game already, so they have some energy and momentum and they’ll come in here ready to go on Sunday.”

White could be a true X-factor in this game. The L.A. defense has allowed 973 receiving yards to running backs, worst in the league.

Ben Volin, breaking it down in the Boston Globe, wrote, that the “Chargers are the most complete team in the AFC, as they proved in throttling the Ravens on the road. They have a tough, veteran quarterback in Rivers, a top-10 scoring offense and defense, and dynamic returners on special teams. The Chargers have their flaws, but less so than any other AFC team.”

The Chargers are good, and they’re big. But can they win in Foxborough?

The Patriots appear to be 4½-point favorites to advance.

The Chargers, meanwhile, are trying to end a five-year run of wild cards not being able to advance to the conference title game.

According to CBS Sunday, nine teams, including the ’07 and ’11 Giants (we know what happened to them, right?) made it from the wild card to the conference championship game. None has made it in any of the last five postseasons. Remember, wild cards have to play all games on the road.

The other wild cards to play through were the 2000 Ravens, the ’03 Jaguars, ’05 Steelers, ’06 Colts, ’08 Cardinals, ’10 Packers and ’12 Ravens. Seven of the nine, counting the Giants (twice), won the Super Bowl.

McDaniels gone?

The Pats thought they had lost their offensive coordinator to the Colts last offseason, but talked Josh McDaniels into staying — apparently with guarantees he would be the guy when Bill Belichick retires. Now, McDaniels’ name is hot again and this time the Patriots appear to be gearing up for actually losing him.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk says McDaniels has already interviewed for the Packers job and there have been multiple reports on Cleveland.

Brady has said he plans to keep playing beyond this season — and there’s no reason whatsoever to doubt that. As far as how far into the future the TEAM is thinking, Jonathan Kraft didn’t make that very clear in an interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

“Tom is under contract for next year, and I think hopefully people have seen that there’s a real understanding between all of us about how that situation is going to work into the future,” Kraft said, in a rather confusing comment.

Youth be served? Brady and Rivers are a combined 88 years old, the oldest playoff quarterback matchup in postseason history.


The Patriots aren’t the only locals in the news.

…The Bruins host the Wild tonight and it appears Tuukka Rask has regained his No. 1 spot in goal. “He’s seeing the puck better and for the most part, his saves looked comfortable,” Bruce Cassidy said after Saturday night’s win over the Sabres. “He’s getting more reps in net and certainly earning them. Guys have confidence in him, it’s his time of the year and he’s feeling it. We’re going to ride it.”

The Rask rebound comes at a great time. The Bruins have only two more road games the rest of the month, with Patrice Bergeron saying, “The timing is great also. It’s the midway point, and we’re able to spend more time at home . . . It’s going to help the body to rest and whatnot. And then we have the bye week at the end of month (prior to All-Star Weekend), so all that put together it’s a month that we have to take care of business, obviously, and be sharp.”

…The Celtics on Monday night played the first of three Monday night games in four January Monday nights against the Nets. The Celts remain a puzzle as we go forward in the NBA season.

Terry Rozier, whose role has been tabbed as one of the reasons this team has been so inconsistent, sounds like he’s tired of all that talk.

Tom Westerholm of MassLive writes: “It’s a debate that’s carried into this season and his return to a reserve role. In 34 games off the bench, Rozier has averaged 8.1 points on 36.8 percent shooting (34.8 percent from 3). In four games as a starter, though, he’s averaged 14 points on 48.7 percent shooting (41.7 percent from 3).”

Rozier, asked by Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald if he doesn’t have fun coming off the bench, said, “Lot of people think that. That’s why they make blogs about me. It’s not about me. I’ll be alright.”

Marcus Morris on the team: “We’re still a young team. I think people tend to forget that because of the names and how much talent we have. But we’re still very young. As the season goes, we’ll get better. I think the second half of the season is going to be our better half.”

…As the days march on toward spring training and relievers continue signing elsewhere — Zach Britton to the Yankees and Kevin Herrera to the White Sox as the latest — we have to be getting the feeling Craig Kimbrel will return to the Red Sox, right? It just makes too much sense; and the feeling here is a three-year deal with a vesting option on Year 4 makes all kinds of sense.


Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is Follow him on Twitter @mscotshay.