By Arnie Leshin
If there’s one team in the National Football League playoffs with a genuine chip on its shoulder, it’s the Los Angeles Chargers.
A long- time resident in San Diego, when their contract expired and the picturesque city by the sea did not offer to build a new stadium, they made a deal with Los Angeles for a new stadium and settled for now into the LA Coliseum.
With that move, they didn’t have much of a season there, but on the road they won seven of eight starts, and now they happily take to the road, with the first stop Sunday in Baltimore. Except it’s not what they desired after compiling a 12-4 record and finishing second in the NFC West behind No. 1 seeded Kansas City Chiefs.
What bothers fiery quarterback Phillip Rivers and company is that they had the same top conference record as KC, but gets the No. 5 seed, and packs their gear to face a resurrected Baltimore team thatowns a 10-6 record. Sounds good only because of the Chargers’ excellent road record.
Now this doesn’t seem like a tough test, but they’d much rather had a home field game, now the only way this can be done is if LA and the 6th seeded, soaring Indianapolis Colts win at 3rd seeded Houston Saturday.
This all came about because the Chargers lost the tiebreaker to the Chiefs and dropped them to second place behind four other playoff teams with lesser records.
“Doesn’t matter now,” said Rivers, “we hit the road with confidence and have something to prove. We figure as one of the better teams in the playoffs.”
Rivers longs for an appearance in the Super Bowl. He was drafted by the New York Giants as their number one pick, while the Chargers chose Eli Manning as the next pick. But Manning and family didn’t want to play in San Diego, so both teams made a deal that traded Rivers to San Diego and Manning to New York.
Now, after his 14th season (playing in New Jersey), Manning has won a pair of Super Bowls over the New England Patriots and was the Most Valuable Player both times. Now Rivers wants his chance.
Indy (10-6) has won six of its last seven behind quarterback Andrew Luck, while the Texans (11-5) have lost three in a row and don’t look like the team that was once 3-0. Still, they won the AFC South a game ahead of the Colts.
“We’re excited to be in the playoffs,” said Luck, who spent an entire 2017 season on the injury list before healing and leading his team to an impressive stretch run. “I’m happy for this team and for its fans.”
Meanwhile, Baltimore’s win in the final minute over the visiting Cleveland Browns kept the Pittsburgh Steelers (9-6) out of the post-season, as a tie game in the season opener against Cleveland did not help them, and they finished a half-game behind the 10-6 Ravens in the AFC South.
The night game on Saturday sends the 5th seeded Seattle Seahawks (10-6) to Dallas (10-6), which won the NFC East on the final play of the two-point win at the Giants. The way it appears, both these teams were just happy to keep playing
The defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) snuck in by blanking the Washington Redskins in D.C. while the Colts eliminated the Tennessee Titans. Maybe Philly doesn’t have a good a team as last year, but at least it gets another chance to win two-straight.
It will play the final game of the first round in Chicago Sunday night, and the Bears (12-4) have been impressive in winning the NFC North. The Eagles has got to be at their best when they tackle the big, bad Bears.
Sitting this one out will be the top two seeds in the AFC, Kansas City (12-4) and New England (11-4)and the same in the NFC, with the Los Angeles Rams (13-3) and New Orleans Saints (13-3) as the one-two seeds.
The Saints have been awesome at home, same as the Patriots who lost in the Super Bowl to the Eagles. The Rams have been consistent in their new home after departing St. Louis, and the Chiefs have not looked good in recent games.
One thing that is not a sure thing is that having to go through New England might instead have the Pats traveling to Kansas City. As for Philadelphia being the 6th seed, it will not play a home game this time.
Some pre-playoff picks. Indianapolis, Dallas, Chargers, Chicago. No more picks until the following weekend.