AFC Championship Betting Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 01/17/2008
Stay classy, San Diego.
That is my advice to the San Diego Chargers this weekend as they matchup with the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game at 3 p.m. on Sunday in Foxboro, Mass. And I think that the most important intangible that any gambler should consider in this matchup is which team is most likely to pop off come game time and will these teams respond to the extracurricular activities that come with a playing in such a Big Game.
If you recall, last year after the Patriots decapitated the Chargers in the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs certain Chargers seemed to take exception to the way the Patriots reacted after their "upset" win in SoCal. Well, one year later these teams are meeting again in the postseason and this time around it isn't about pride or revenge. It's something much, much more resounding than that. These two clubs are tussling for the right to go to Arizona and represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.
San Diego will wander into Foxboro on Sunday as 14-point underdogs against the overwhelming favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy. The Patriots - in case you haven't heard - are undefeated and are looking for their second W of the season over San Diego, with the first coming via a 38-14 thrashing at home back in September.
I bring up last year's game, and the bout of whining that came from the Chargers' sideline, because I think there is clearly some bitterness still lingering between these clubs. Forget the fact that San Diego was acting like a bush league bunch of rabble last week when they upset Indianapolis in the RCA Dome. Forget the fact that New England has been the epitome of classless while on their march toward Perfection. The bottom line is that when these two line up on Sunday their cheap, dirty, low-rent tactics are going to be focused on one another. And I feel that the team that covers this spread will be determined in part by which team stoops the lowest.
The Patriots have proven that they are at their fighting best when an opponent challenges them, verbally and emotionally. They devastated the New York Jets in Week 1 after an offseason full of bickering. They controlled Cincinnati after a few Bengals had hinted at a Monday Night Football upset. And they punished Pittsburgh the week after Anthony Smith declared that the Steelers would be the team to end New England's run. The average margin of victory in those games was 22 points and they covered all three lines.
To me this is a critical intangible because it proves that if the Patriots are threatened then they will unleash a fury that nearly no one in the NFL can handle. If San Diego players start running their mouths early or show even a hint of swagger then this one will be over by halftime. The Patriots are 13-6-2 ATS in January. They are 8-3-1 ATS as a home playoff favorite. They thrive as the bully and the intimidator. If San Diego feeds that then the Pats become invincible.
However, the teams that took New England to the wire - Baltimore, Philadelphia, and the New York Giants - all played it straight. They didn't talk trash and they didn't take the bait of dirty play that was dangled by the Patriots and scumbags like Rodney Harrison. If San Diego can stay focused on being physical and executing their game plan then I do think they could hang around in this contest. The Chargers are 14-3-1 ATS as an underdog and 43-20-2 ATS in their last 65 games overall. They are a strong back-to-the-wall team and if they can keep their heads then I have no doubts that they can stay within two touchdowns of the Patriots.
The trouble is, I don't think they can keep their heads.
I don't trust guys like Shawn Merriman and Philip Rivers not to become completely rattled when the officials are giving the home Patriots every call. I don't think they can stay focused amidst a raucous crowd of Boston a-holes. I don't believe they can keep their cool after three or four cheap shots by Patriots defenders or linemen. And I am positive that if things start to go askew Norv Turner is not going to be able to control his team of trash talkers and misfits.
You know the matchups. You know the injuries. But I don't think that Xs and Os alone are going to determine which team cashes at the window in this one. I believe that if the Chargers can keep their wits about them they have the sheer talent to play with a New England team that is not as Great as they may appear. But if San Diego shifts its focus to all of the wrong things - celebrations, trash talk, cheap hits - then this one could get real ugly, real quick.