Los Angeles Chargers vs New England Patriots

Los Angeles Chargers vs New England Patriots: The New England Patriots can reach their eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game with a win Sunday over the Los Angeles Chargers in the NFL divisional round. The Patriots’ divisional matchup with the Chargers kicks off at 1:05 p.m.

One of the dominating storylines heading into today’s divisional round playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers is quarterback Philip Rivers’ record against his opponent: a Rivers-led team has never beaten the Patriots when they had Tom Brady under center, losing all seven meetings dating back to 2006. However, past performance has little impact on today’s matchup between the two clubs.

Rivers, after all, is having a tremendous season by all standards. The Pro Bowl selection completed 347 of his 508 regular season pass attempts (68.3%) for 4,308 yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions before also playing a key role his team’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens and their outstanding defense in the wild card round last week. All in all, the 37-year old is in the middle of one of his best seasons to date.

In order to find out more about Rivers and the unit around him, we spoke to Jamie Sewell who works as an assistant editor for our sister site Bolts From the Blue. And for him, Rivers’ excellence so far this season has one primary reason. “I think there’s a lot of little factors that come into play, but I think the biggest thing for Rivers this year is that he finally trusts in his team enough to not try and play what Chargers fans refer to as ‘Hero Ball,’” said Jamie about the quarterback.

Jamie then went on to explain what exactly he meant by this description of the NFL’s 2013 comeback player of the year. “In the past, Rivers has had a tendency to make some incredibly ill-advised throws, and that usually came down to him trying to put the team on his back and drag them to victory himself,” he said. “In reality, he’d usually end up throwing a terrible pass into double coverage and costing the Chargers any chance of a comeback.”

“This year, be it because of the talent around him, the coaching staff in place or because of Philip himself, he’s been far more comfortable in playing smart football and putting the ball in the hands of other players, and it’s been rewarded with one of his finest seasons yet,” Jamie continued. “He’s still got an errant decision in him when he thinks he sees something that isn’t there, but I’d distrust any list that doesn’t have him in the top three quarterbacks this year.”

As Jamie mentioned, the talent around Rivers is also a factor in the quarterback’s performance this season. “He’s got a legitimate, healthy number one wide receiver for the first time in a while in Keenan Allen, excellent #2 and #3 targets in Mike and Tyrell Williams, his old buddy (and I do mean old, because that dude is SLOW) Antonio Gates, and the best running game the Chargers have had since LaDainian Tomlinson was in town,” he said.

“Obviously, an offense having that many weapons is always going to be dangerous, but I think that it’s really helped Rivers decision making this year,” Jamie continued. One part of this is the veteran’s ability to correctly read and react to defensive alignments, and play the mental game on as high a level as any other passer in the league: Rivers has seen it all over the course of his 15-year career, and it shows.

“One thing that I don’t think gets spoken enough about with Rivers is his football IQ,” said Jamie about Rivers. “Outside of your own Tom Brady, I don’t think there’s another quarterback in the league who comes close to mastering Philip’s command of the offense and the way he dictates things at the line of scrimmage — again, that factors into the whole ‘putting the team on his back when the chips are down’ thing.”

“That can be a weakness in itself, however, as the playcalls from offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt take a while to arrive, and by the time Rivers has assessed the defense, sorted out the protections upfront and possibly checked into a different look or a new play, there’s usually only a couple of seconds on the play clock left,” the Chargers writer continued about the operations within Los Angeles’ offense.

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