Monday, January 21, 2008

No respect

It's been kind strange being a San Diego Chargers fan the last three Sundays. In their first playoff game, the Chargers beat the Tennessee Titans 17-6. The consensus of the nation's sports punditry, though, was that the Chargers won because the Titans suck.

So the Chargers went into their second playoff game as a big underdog against the Indianapolis Colts. And when they beat them 28-24, despite having several key players out with injuries, the same sportswriters and announcers called it shocking, a huge upset, a miracle, a giant choke job on the part of the Colts.

Finally, the Chargers lost yesterday to the New England Patriots, 21-12. And all the sports pundits have been saying how poorly the Patriots played.

Well, here's the thing (three things, actually): The Titans aren't that bad, there was nothing shocking about beating the Colts, and the Patriots didn't play poorly, the Chargers played well. The Chargers are simply the second best team in the league right now. I'm not kidding.

First, the Titans were good enough to win 10 games this year. They earned a spot in the playoffs. But the Chargers handled them without all that much trouble. Because they're the better team by far.

Second, everyone talks about how good the Colts are, well, the Chargers are better. Period. At quarterback, Rivers isn't as good as Manning, obviously, but if you look at the two team's other starters unit-by-unit, running backs, receivers (including tight ends), offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, and secondary, there isn't a single unit where the Colts are superior. Not one. Plus, the Chargers reserves are the best in the NFL, and their special teams are far better than the Colts'. The Chargers expect to beat the Colts whenever they play, and they usually do. Even when they were sucking earlier this year, they still beat the Colts. There was nothing surprising about the outcome of the playoff game to anyone who follows the Chargers closely. It was expected.

Third, the Patriots played poorly because the Chargers made them. The Chargers are almost as good as the Patriots. The Pats are better at quarterback, deeper at receiver, and maybe a little better on the offensive line, but the Bolts have a better defense, as well as more depth and better special teams. They still almost won despite having four of their most important players either hobbling or out with injuries.

The difference in the game was coaching. Belichick is unquestionably a better coach than Norv Turner. He completely crossed up the Chargers in the second half by going to two- and three-tight-end sets, and the Bolts couldn't adjust. All credit to the Pats for that, but it wasn't a case of a superior team playing poorly and letting an inferior team stay in the game; it was two evenly matched teams playing evenly until better coaching and a couple of key plays won it for the best team, though not necessarily the team with the best players.

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