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Air & Ground matchup of Week 14
New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC) -- This AFC playoff-shaping showdown caps what promises to be a monumental day in American sport. In addition to the everlasting intrigue of Week 14 in the NFL, Sunday marks the big day for the College Football Playoff selection committee and the first-ever four-team FBS playoff, as well as climax of the American soccer football season with the MLS Cup.
For the second consecutive week, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady finds himself going up against one of the premier passers in the pro game. Last week, Brady and the Patriots succumbed to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, 26-21. This week, Brady squares off against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who'd likely be an MVP frontrunner if it weren't for the otherworldly seasons currently being produced by Brady and Rodgers.
Brady is 5-0 when facing the Rivers-led Chargers (this includes two playoff games). Perhaps working in the Chargers' favor Sunday night is that all three of the Patriots' defeats this season have come on the road. This season, Brady is considerably better when at home (though, aren't we all?), with clearly better completion percentage (67.2 vs. 61.9), passing yards per game (303.8 vs. 236.7), TD-INT ratio (17-2 vs. 11-4) and passer rating (107.8 vs. 92.8).
Each quarterback will look to get help from patchwork backfields. Injuries to Chargers running backs have forced undrafted rookie Branden Oliver and vagabond runner Donald Brown into action. The Patriots have utilized a host of running backs with Stevan Ridley out for the season, with Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden and recently acquired LeGarrette Blount helping carry the load.
One month of dominance
Brady has the best record of any active starting quarterback in the month of December (45-7 for a .865 winning percentage). Rivers has the second-best such record (30-6, .833). Peyton Manning sits third -- but a distant third -- at 46-20 (.467).
Great Moments in Air & Ground History
Chargers 51, Patriots 10 (1963 AFL Championship Game) -- Long before the Patriots and Chargers met in the 2007 AFC Championship (a 21-12 win for the Patriots, who went to 17-0 that day) and the 2006 AFC divisional playoffs (a soul-crushing 24-21 defeat for a San Diego team that finished the regular season 14-2 but wound up firing coach Marty Schottenheimer following this setback), the Boston Patriots and San Diego Chargers squared off in the fourth AFC Championship at San Diego's Balboa Stadium. It was the Chargers' third AFL title game appearance and was the team's first (and only) championship victory (the franchise did win the 1994 AFC Championship only to lose in Super Bowl XXIX). Chargers running backs Keith Lincoln (206 yards) and Paul Lowe (94 yards) combined for 300 yards on the ground, while quarterbacks Tobin Rote (173 yards) and John Hadl (132 yards) went for a combined 305 yards in the air. San Diego gained 610 yards of total offense in the title game. It was a devastating offensive onslaught and resulted in one of the most lopsided playoff games in the history of pro football.