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New England all charged up for San Diego
The San Diego Chargers probably expected to see the New England Patriots somewhere in the AFC playoffs. It will happen next Sunday, when the AFCs best team this season hosts the NFLs best team this decade.
The Patriots secured their trip to San Diego on Sunday with a convincing 37-16 victory over their division rivals, the New York Jets. Tom Brady guided three long scoring drives and threw two touchdown passes, and Asante Samuel had a 36-yard interception return for a score with 4:54 left.
That set up the matchup between New England (13-4), winner of three of the last five Super Bowls, and San Diego (14-2), which had the best record in the NFL and LaDainian Tomlinson, the leagues Most Valuable Player, Offensive Player of the Year and leading rusher.
Its a huge challenge, the best team in the NFL this year, the MVP, linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. Its a huge challenge.
It always is against New England since Bill Belichick became coach. The Patriots are 11-1 under him in the post-season, and they manhandled the Jets (10-7) late in Sundays game.
They arent likely to do that against a Chargers team that has won 10 straight games, went 8-0 at home and scored 492 points, 65 more than anyone else.
Then again, these are the Patriots, the most resilient team in football. They have lost only one of their last eight games and went 7-1 on the road.
Theyre good on defence, Belichick said about the Chargers. Theyre good on offence. Theyre good on special teams. They can score. They can stop you. They had a weeks rest. Im sure theyre going to be ready.
The other AFC divisional-round game will have Indianapolis at Baltimore next Saturday. The Colts beat Kansas City 23-8 on Saturday.
In the NFC, Philadelphia beat the New York Giants 23-20 on a last-second 38-yard field goal from David Akers. That sends the Eagles to New Orleans next Saturday night.
Seattle edged Dallas 21-20 on Saturday and will visit Chicago next Sunday.
All four home teams won this weekend.
Colts (13-4) at Ravens (13-3)
Indianapolis (13-4) showed some staunch defence for once in beating the Chiefs (9-8). The lowest-ranked run defence in football held Kansas City to 44 yards on the ground and 126 overall.
A similar defensive effort might be needed at Baltimore (13-3). The Ravens have the top-rated defence in the league and it certainly will pressure Peyton Manning and his stable of superb receivers.
But in rookie Joseph Addai, who rushed for 122 yards 90 more than Kansas City star Larry Johnson the Colts have balance.
Indianapolis also lost its last four road games after winning the first four. And Baltimore was 7-1 at home.
I think it is a fine line, Colts coach Tony Dungy said. We have struggled lately, but what weve got to do is find a way to duplicate what we did yesterday and play better.
Eagles (11-6) at New Orleans (10-6)
Philadelphia won its sixth straight game in dramatic fashion. After the Giants tied it, Philly marched 46 yards and used up the remaining 5:04. Akers won it just a few hours after Dallas blew a similar opportunity when holder Tony Romo couldnt hang onto the snap.
The Eagles got a terrific performance from Brian Westbrook, who rushed for 141 yards, including a dazzling 49-yard TD run in the second quarter. His 65-yard punt return for an apparent score in the third quarter was nullified by a penalty.
New Orleans beat Philadelphia 27-24 at the Superdome in October, when Eagles QB Donovan McNabb still was healthy. Veteran Jeff Garcia has stepped in since McNabb got hurt and has performed brilliantly to turn around the teams season.
Now, the Eagles face the Saints high-powered offence led by quarterback Drew Brees, running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, and receivers Marques Colston and Joe Horn. Theyll do so without cornerback Lito Sheppard, who dislocated his elbow against New York.
Some have dubbed the Saints a team of destiny, but the Eagles have looked like a charmed squad recently, too.
Seattle (10-7) at Chicago (13-3)
The Seahawks are fortunate to be heading to Soldier Field after Dallas threw away the first-round match. Or maybe not so fortunate, considering they are banged-up on defence, particularly in the secondary, and they lost 37-6 there on Oct. 1.
At least this time, star running back Shaun Alexander will be available. He was sidelined with a broken foot back then.
While the Bears havent been quite as overwhelmingly late in the year and have gotten inconsistent quarterbacking, their defence is elite. Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are playmakers who must make up for the absence of tackle Tommie Harris.
The best defence in the NFL. You might have to be crazy to want to play them, I dont know, Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.