This isn’t your typical divisional round home game for the Patriots.
No team quarterbacked by Brock Osweiler or Tim Tebow is trekking to Gillette Stadium for the second weekend in January. The Los Angeles Chargers aren’t just the real deal, they might be the most complete team left in the entire AFC. LA is 12-4, only the No. 5 seed based on a tiebreaker it lost out on to the AFC West champions, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Which is why it’s so puzzling the Chargers are giving the Patriots yet another built-in advantage for Sunday’s 1 p.m. contest, on top of home field: rather than setting up shop on the east coast in the aftermath of a 23-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens on wild-card weekend, Los Angeles flew back to Southern California.
“I don’t think it has anything to do with it,” New England offensive tackle Marcus Cannon said of any perceived disadvantage the Chargers might have based on travel. “This is the NFL; everyone’s ready for whatever they’ve gotta do. They’ll be ready.”
Logistically, it wouldn’t have been the easiest thing to pull off. But it would certainly be doable.
The Patriots stayed in Colorado following a regular season game last year vs. the Broncos before departing for Mexico City to take on the Raiders. Granted, the team had months to plan that out rather than days. But what good are the higher-ups in the organization if they don’t have contingency plans?
This will be the third week in a row the Chargers have changed time zones, following their Week 17 contest in the altitude of Denver and the playoff game in Baltimore. The travel will amount to over 10,000 miles by the time all is said and done; during the same stretch, the Patriots played a home game vs. the Jets and had last weekend off, for a grand total of zero miles.
If this sounds like a whole bunch of nitpicking, shaming the Chargers for not knowing how to operate their Expedia or Hotel.com apps, that’s kind of the idea. Los Angeles seemingly has an edge – however slight – on the Patriots in almost every facet; why give the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick tandem even an inch?
“That’s just the way the playoff system worked out,” New England offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle said. “We got our seed and we got the home game and this is how it works. I don’t think they’ll use travel as an excuse; I know we wouldn’t.”
“I try not to think like that,” New England defensive tackle Adam Butler said. “Regardless of how they get here, they’re going to come in ready to play. We’ve gotta be ready to play with them.”
Tom Brady has never lost a postseason game at home to a team traveling in from another time zone (8-0). The Patriots haven’t lost a home playoff game, period, since 2012, and haven’t lost in the divisional round since way back in 2010 – the first of their now-record nine consecutive first-round byes.
Searching elsewhere for a New England edge, the latest NBC10 Boston forecast for Sunday calls for a high of 28 degrees, with morning clouds giving way to afternoon sun. Currently, there’s no calls for snow.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, coming off one of his best seasons ever as a starter, is 1-4 in his career playing in below-freezing temperatures, including a loss in Foxboro in the 2007 AFC Championship Game.
You want to ignore history? Fine, but the Patriots are 8-0 in Foxboro this season. Then again, the Chargers are 8-1 away from their farce of a “home field” in Carson, California, a 27,000-seat soccer stadium known as the StubHub Center.
Bill Belichick described the Chargers as “outstanding in every area,” on Wednesday morning.
“They make big plays, play good defense, got an explosive group, strong in the kicking game,” he said. “They just challenge you on every play.”
Los Angeles poses as big a challenge for New England at this juncture of the postseason in recent memory. Minimal as it may be, the traveling exploits of Los Angeles could have a factor in Sunday’s game.
Which means the Patriots will undoubtedly exploit the misstep by the LA brass and use it as a springboard for another postseason run.