by Chris Corbellini


Wild-Card Weekend picks: A Rivers Runs Through It

He’s thrown for more yards than John Elway, boasts a higher completion percentage than Steve Young, has just as many career comebacks as Joe Montana, has a better career passer rating than Kurt Warner, was named to the Pro Bowl more times than Troy Aikman, and has thrown for more than 2,100 yards in postseason play.

That’s not just a career. That’s a bust in Canton.

So, why don’t we give a sh-t about Philip Michael Rivers?

Couple of guesses, and in no particular order: Norv Turner, Martyball, his frowny Twitter meme, his famous Brady Bunch-ish family photo on the beach, the fact that life is too sunshine-y in Southern California to live and die with the Chargers in the postseason, the undisputable fact that his franchise made a mistake leaving San Diego and he’s the face of that mistake, the crosstown Rams always on the verge of something special, his WTF shotput release, the Belichick-Brady Patriots dynasty tap-dancing through his entire career (more on this in a moment), he had LaDainian Tomlinson’s god-like fantasy season in 2006 and they never got past the divisional round, and finally, he swiped the offense from Mr. All-American, Drew Brees.

Strangely, maybe the climate has the most to do with it. For eight games a year, plus the occasional playoff game, Rivers has been letting it rip under sunny skies and a slight breeze. Now, I don’t agree with this theory, but I can’t dismiss it entirely. Example: I once interviewed former Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown about being a semifinalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame but not getting the final call, and with his Heisman Trophy perfectly positioned in the background for my shot, Brown explained that the HOF writer who championed him (he wouldn’t say who) told him other voters thought playing in the LA sunshine was a knock against his career. The thinking went he had it too easy for half his season, every year. Later, off camera, the typically level and almost-stately Brown added a four-letter word to his explanation. (Later that week, I had a similar run-in about the same topic with former linebacker Kevin Greene, who I thought was going to tackle me off my chair while we discussed his candidacy. It should be noted they BOTH were finally inducted into Canton).

But I digress (for the second straight week). Not that you are really looking for it, but when was the last time you heard an NFL star, past or present, say something about Philip Rivers besides the rote “He’s a great player?” Brees and Rivers are actually buddies and neighbors in SoCal, but that’s about it. Maybe there’s a blasé attitude towards Rivers because he looks blandly competitive at best, and whiny and uptight at worst. True story: A day after the Chargers-Patriots AFC Championship Game in January 2008, I was sub-clipping sound footage from that game for NFL Films, and sure enough my camera caught Rivers midfield, a little stunned and petulant after the loss. Surveying the dancing Patriots that circled him, he screamed “ACT LIKE YOU’VE BEEN HERE BEFORE!” In response, naturally, the New England players then hollered and hooted even louder. I always think of that moment when I think of Rivers. He was just 25 at the time, but I can’t help myself.

That can change, of course. Rivers still has the power to change those perceptions. These days his career has reached the Bettis/Elway/Bourque/Drexler level in terms of “c’mon, can’t we get this guy a ring?” It’s a rallying cry for the Chargers to get behind, and they’ve had some fantastic moments getting to this point, with the rally in Pittsburgh on Sunday Night Football being the most memorable. Quietly, oh so quietly, Rivers and the 12-4 Chargers have been constructing a Super Bowl contender, perhaps hoping the Belichick wouldn’t notice this time.

If the Colts get past the Texans on Saturday, and Rivers claws his way out of Baltimore a day later, the Chargers will indeed face BB’s Patriots in the second round. Which is exactly what I predict will happen. What the “other” LA team does at that point is really up to Rivers and Rivers alone. IMO, it’d be fitting to see him celebrate in Foxboro at midfield.

But before we get there, here are my Wild-Card Weekend picks. As always, the home team is in caps, with William Hill odds.

Indianapolis (+1) beats HOUSTON

Take the over, too (O/U: 48.5). Deshaun Watson is gonna put on a show at home, and Andrew Luck will match him, lightning bolt for lightning bolt.  I’ve been to Houston for an NFL playoff game, and as one would expect from a football-mad town, the city reaches apex batsh-t when it’s a pre-snap third and long and their defense is about to hunt. But I also see Luck converting in those situations, even with JJ Watt at full Grizzly Bear, and that’ll be just enough.

DALLAS (-2) beats Seattle

The Seahawks offensive line is mediocre, and of all the Wild-Card Weekend teams, Seattle is weakest against the run. So yeah, I think Zeke Elliot has a nice fantasy football day ahead, and the Cowboys D will run down Russell Wilson eventually, despite his ridiculous, change-of-direction scrambling ability. This one feels like a 17-13 finish. In fact, both of these Saturday games could be instant classics, though Indy-Houston should be more of a barnburner.

LA Chargers (+2) beat BALTIMORE

Get him a ring, Chargers. Overwhelm Lamar Jackson, and force the rookie to throw downfield.

CHICAGO (-6) beats Philadelphia

My quantitative analysis, thanks to the PFF player grading tool: There’s an 8.6-point differential when comparing the Bears defense against the Eagles offense (about .782 points per man). That’s the biggest discrepancy of the weekend, and it’s not a good thing for Philly. Not a single Bear graded below a 65, and seven of 11 starters graded above an 80 (most teams have 1-2).

My qualitative analysis: Chicago’s defense should grind these birds into hamburger helper.

Last week: 0-4. Ow.

Season: 24-37

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