20 January 2008

AFC Championship Game: Ridiculously Specific Preview

3 PM: Chargers/Patriots

The Pats are prohibitive favorites in this game. USA Today lists them as 14-point favorites. ESPN's Accuscore software projects them winning 32-15.

And there's really no concrete reason to pick against them, while there are a plethora of reasons to pick for them - LaDainian Tomlinson's injury, Antonio Gates' injury, Phillip Rivers' injury, Norv Turner's lack of injury.

Here's what I predict. The weather (24 degrees and mostly cloudy at the moment, with a chance of snow) and the Chargers' defense (Antonio Cromartie and Shawne Merriman, especially) will slow down the Patriots' passing game, limiting Brady to 20-29 passing for 265 yards, 2 touchdowns (one to Wes Welker on a 6-yard slant, one to Jabar Gaffney on a 17-yard fade) and an interception.

Unfortunately for the Chargers, they won't be able to slow down the Patriots' running game. Laurence Moroney will run for 132 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown, while the rarely-mentioned Kevin Faulk will deliver a fatal blow with a 53-yard touchdown scamper off left tackle.

The Chargers' offense will be hampered by injuries, but not stopped. LaDainian Tomlinson will play, and play reasonably well - running for 68 yards on 11 carries, though fumbling once when Rodney Harrison - but will not be the main ball-carrier for the Chargers. In an attempt to slow the game down and prevent the Patriots from scoring, the Chargers will hand the ball to Michael Turner 21 times for 112 yards, and Turner will score 3 touchdowns in a performance that will earn him a significant free-agent contract this offseason.

Phillip Rivers will play, but will not pass the ball very much - he'll finish 7-16 for 93 yards, and will be sacked three times and throw an interception. Vincent Jackson, with 3 catches for 81 yards, will be the leading receiver for the Chargers, but will display the same frustrating inconsistency that has dogged him all year when he drops a crucial fourth-down pass with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter and the Chargers down 24-21.

With Maroney tired and on the bench, and the Chargers having two of their timeouts remaining, the Patriots will run Faulk off left tackle, and he will score the clinching touchdown. The Chargers will drive downfield (using their timeouts) and kick a 41-yard field goal with 35 seconds left, but the Patriots will recover the ensuing onside kick and Tom Brady will kneel to end the game. Final score: 31-24, Patriots.

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