GOLD JACKET DOUBLEHEADER
L.A. CHARGERS @ NEW ENGLAND, 1:05 p.m. (EST)
The line: Patriots by 4
The weather: Cloudy, high of 29
The story: There is so much against the Chargers here that’s easy to dismiss them. Philip Rivers is 0-7 vs. Tom Brady, the Patriots haven’t lost at home this season … or in their last 15 starts at Foxboro … and it’s a 10:05 start Pacific time – never good for West Coast teams. Prior to this season, teams playing in Mountain and Pacific time zones were outscored 202-56 in the first halves of games since 2002. So the odds are against the upset … except, well, except that the Chargers have better personnel up and down the roster. In fact, they might be the most complete team in the AFC. And it doesn’t seem to matter where they play … as long as it’s outside of L.A. The Bolts haven’t lost any of nine games (that includes last week’s playoff game and their “home” game in London) away from there. Plus, they have Melvin Gordon, and he … not Rivers … could be the difference here – provided, of course, he’s healthy. Reason: The Patriots can’t tackle, and rewind the videotape to last month’s Miami game for proof. So this may be more of a toss-up than it seems. Of course, there’s something else we haven’t mentioned: Tom Brady is 19-3 at home in the playoffs, and the Patriots have been to the past seven conference championship games. Meaning? Meaning they know how to take the next step. And the Chargers? Not so much. They haven’t been to a conference championship game since 2007 … and it was here, with a predictable result.
Something to consider: New England is 21-1 in playoff games when it has a positive turnover ratio.
PHILADELPHIA @ NEW ORLEANS, 4:40 p.m. (EST)
The line: Saints by 8
The weather: Dome
The story: By now, you know the story: Saints’ coach Sean Payton this week walks into the locker room, sets down the Lombardi Trophy, attaches a pile of cash ($250,000 to be exact) next to it, and says, “Y'all want this? Win three games.” If the Saints didn’t know what was in front of them before, they do now. Except they really don’t. There’s no way of manufacturing what Nick Foles and the Eagles are doing these days. Foles is 4-0 in the playoffs the past two seasons and 9-1 in starts from December on. In short, he’s everything St. Nick should be. Granted, the Saints destroyed Philadelphia here in November (48-7), but that was then and this is now … and now the Eagles are angry, defiant and red hot. They’ve won six of their last seven since that loss to the Saints and haven’t lost since Foles returned to the lineup. The smart money is on New Orleans because … well, because Brees hasn’t lost a playoff game here ... ever … and because he threw 21 touchdown passes and one interception at home this season. But the Saints sputtered to the finish line; the Eagles did not. They accelerated. So it’s physics, Foles and fantastic finishes that New Orleans combats, and good luck. The Big Easy this ain’t.
Something to consider: Nick Foles is 3-0 the past two years in the playoffs when trailing in the second half. All other quarterbacks are 4-15.
BEATING THE ODDS
(Picks are made vs. the spread)
RON BORGES – Chargers (+4). As long as they have to fly to the game, they're unbeatable.
CLARK JUDGE – Eagles (+8). I don’t care if it’s January. I still believe in St. Nick.
RICK GOSSELIN – Chargers (+4). They're the most complete team in the AFC bracket.
THE SUNDAY OMG I
Nick Foles has the highest playoff passer rating (105.2) in NFL history, ahead of Green Bay’s Bart Starr (minimum 25 attempts).
THE SUNDAY OMG II
Bill Belichick has won 74 percent of his regular-season games. With a win Sunday, he will have won 74 percent of his playoff games, too.
THE SUNDAY PLAY LIST
CHARGERS RB MELVIN GORDON. In his lone appearance vs. New England he ran for 132 yards, including a franchise-record 87 yarder, and averaged 9.4 yards per carry.
NEW ENGLAND TE ROB GRONKOWSKI. He has 12 career touchdown catches in the playoffs, tied with Hall-of-Famer John Stallworth for second all time. Only Jerry Rice (22) has more.
NEW ENGLAND CB STEPHON GILMORE. He had a career-high 20 deflected passes this season, the second most in the league, and had two in each of his three playoff games a year ago.
NEW ORLEANS RB ALVIN KAMARA. He scored 18 times this year and has a TD in each of his only two playoff games.
PHILADELPHIA WR ALSHON JEFFREY. He has three TDs in three playoff games and in three career starts vs. New Orleans he has 18 catches for 329 yards.
NEW ORLEANS DE CAMERON JORDAN. He has 3.5 sacks and two deflected passes in his last four playoff games.
PHILADELPHIA DE MICHAEL BENNETT. He aims for his fourth straight playoff game with a sack.
FIVE THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO REMEMBER
Tom Brady (41) and Philip Rivers (37) have the oldest combined age of quarterbacks facing each other in a playoff game in NFL history.
New England has won eight straight playoff games in Foxboro.
The Chargers converted six two-point conversions this season, tied for the second-most in NFL history.
Drew Brees’ 74.4 completion percentage this season was the highest in NFL history.
Nick Foles is 4-1 in the playoffs. His only loss was to … New Orleans.
Follow on Twitter clarkjudge@TOF