As the Los Angeles Chargers try to keep their run going, this may be the best chance for Philip Rivers to win a Super Bowl.
The first round of the 2004 NFL Draft yielded three future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, in Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Manning and Roethlisberger each have two Super Bowl rings, while Rivers hadn’t made the playoffs since 2013 before this year and does not have a ring.
The Los Angeles Chargers went 12-4 during the regular season, but fell to a Wild Card spot thanks to the Kansas City Chiefs winning the AFC West with a better record in the division. So it’s in line to take three road wins for the Chargers to reach Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, with recent history working against that kind of a run. But they are now 8-1 on the road this season after beating the Baltimore Ravens in the Wild Card round, with the one loss coming to their crosstown “rival” Rams.
Playing home games in a soccer stadium in front of a mix of indifferent fans and the opposing team’s fans has made the Chargers somewhat immune to playing on the road. That’s good, since they’ll go back east to take on the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round on Sunday.
The Patriots have looked vulnerable quite a bit this year, but they still finished 11-5 and earned a first-round bye. Rivers has played an AFC Championship Game in Foxboro after the 2007 season, when he notably played through a torn ACL, so the environment will not be too much for him.
The playoffs are a different animal, but with a top-10 scoring offense and a top-10 scoring defense during the regular season the Chargers are arguably the most across the board talented team in these playoffs.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley authored a terrific game plan against the Ravens in the Wild Card Round, emphasizing speed over size in shutting down Lamar Jackson and what had been a prolific ground game. He’ll surely have something for Tom Brady this weekend, with the pieces to make it work.
His awkward throwing motion, avoidance of profanity and southern drawl makes it easy to dismiss Rivers, and out-dueling Brady on a playoff stage will be a tall task. But the Jacksonville Jaguars and Blake Bortles were on their way to diminishing the Patriots’ playoff mystique in last year’s AFC Championship Game, as they carried a lead into the fourth quarter. So it’s not out of the question the Chargers and Rivers can do the same on Sunday, but finish the job.
In order to win on Sunday, the Chargers won’t necessarily need Rivers to throw for 300 yards. But he will have to avoid mistakes and come through in critical situations, or what looks like his best, and perhaps last, chance to win a Super Bowl will go away under the weight of Brady, Belichick and the lingering aura of the Patriots.