OLB Shawne Merriman (Jack Smith/AP)
Consider week eight the best case scenario for the Chargers. In addition to picking up an uplifting win over the Texans, the Chargers saw the Broncos and Raiders lose tightly contested games. The league’s attention now turns to week nine and a Colts-Patriots game that may or may not showcase the two most talented teams in the NFL.
The Chargers entered the 2007 season inspired by a recent Super Bowl trend. In 2004, the Pittsburgh Steelers went 15-1 before losing their first playoff game. The Steelers bounced back to win the Super Bowl the next season.
The Steelers’ Super Bowl march included a round-two win over the Indianapolis Colts, who had the best regular season record that year at 14-2. In fact, the Colts nearly went undefeated that season, starting 13-0 before falling to the Chargers, 26-17, at the RCA Dome. The Colts learned from their early playoff exit and bounced back to win the Super Bowl the following year.
The message this trend sends is twofold: 1) regular season success does not always translate to the postseason; and 2) teams that suffer the indignity of a one-and-done postseason are all the more motivated to redeem themselves the next time around.
So, you’ll have to excuse the Chargers if they aren’t ready to concede the Lombardi Trophy just yet.
“We feel like the only team that can beat us is us,” Antonio Gates said.
True, the Chargers have already endured a humbling 38-14 loss to the New England Patriots, a team most experts have pegged as champions in waiting. However, is the talent differential in this year’s Chargers-Patriots rivalry any more slanted than it was in 2006?
The '06 Chargers were a much better team than the '06 Patriots. Were it not for a litany of fluke plays (Marlon McCree’s fumbled interception, Eric Parker’s botched punt return, etc.) the Chargers would have won going away.
“If we played those guys 10 times, we’d probably win nine of them,” said LaDainian Tomlinson afterwards.
Of course, it only takes one upset to derail a storybook season. The Patriots taught the Chargers that lesson the hard way; now, the Chargers hope to return the favor.
The Patriots and Colts will capture the attention of the nation next week in what is sure to be an epic duel. However, to call the game a preview of the AFC Championship is premature. One or both of those teams may have to host the Chargers en route to Super Bowl XLII.
The Chargers will be a tough out for any team. They are talented, motivated and -- as notable underdogs -- have nothing to lose.
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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.