(CBSLA/CBS Local) — Philip Rivers has never beat Tom Brady. The Rivers-led Los Angeles Chargers are 1-7 against the New England Patriots, with that one win coming in 2008, when Matt Cassel was starting for the injured Brady. Rivers will get another chance this Sunday, when the Chargers play the Patriots in Foxboro, in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. It could very well be his best chance.
The Chargers-Patriots is just one of the four interesting matchups on tap for football fans this weekend. The others — Indianapolis Colts vs. Kansas City Chiefs; Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Rams; Philadelphia Eagles vs. New Orleans Saints — all offer their own intriguing storylines.
NFL on CBS and Inside the NFL analyst Boomer Esiason looks at each of the four games. You can catch Boomer along with fellow analysts Phil Simms and Ray Lewis, guest analyst Brandon Marshall and host James Brown this Tuesday night at 9 Eastern Time on Showtime.
CBS Local Sports: A lot of credit has been given to Nick Foles for this Eagles run, but the lines on both sides of the ball have really made an impact as well in this win streak. Going up against a Saints defense that dominated them in the regular season, how important will it be for those groups to have a big day once again?
Boomer Esiason: Going into the game against the Chicago Bears, I felt like the Bears and the Eagles had the best two combinations of offensive and defensive line personnel in the NFL. When you see their teams getting off the bus, getting ready to go to the game, these are ginormous human beings… and some of the best in the league. So the reason the Eagles are where they are is not just because of Nick Foles, and whatever magic he’s bringing to them.
When you take a look at Fletcher Cox and Jason Peters and Michael Bennett and Lane Johnson, you realized there is substance behind this football team. And I don’t care what anybody says. You can talk about throwing the ball. You can talk about running the ball. But you have to always start by controlling the line of scrimmage. For me, the Eagles’ success, last year and up to this point this year, starts right there at those two positions.
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CBS Local Sports: For the Cowboys, they have shown the ability to shut down high-scoring offenses this year. With a test against the Rams in Los Angeles this week, how do you think they’ll look to slow down Sean McVay’s squad?
Boomer Esiason: For me, it’s how do slow down Aaron Donald. As a former quarterback, I want to make sure that that guy is taken care of. If there’s a group of guys in this league that should be able to go toe to toe with them, you have to believe it’s Zack Martin and the offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys. The way that you slow the guy (Donald) down is you run and you make him chase. And that’s where Ezekiel Elliott comes into it.
Now, if you are Dallas, and you are on defense, between Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch, those guys seem like they’re in on every tackle. And the beauty about them is that they’re speed players. They have the speed to stay with Todd Gurley. The big question mark coming into this game would be the health of Todd Gurley. How stable is his knee, and how effective can he be long-term over four quarters against a very active defensive front seven?
CBS Local Sports: Philip Rivers has struggled against the Patriots in his career, going 1-7 against Belichick and company (0-7 when Tom Brady is quarterback). What’s the biggest key this weekend as Rivers and company look to beat the Patriots for the first time in the postseason?
Boomer Esiason: The only time they beat them was when Matt Cassel was playing quarterback for the Patriots.
I think Philip is going to be in a totally different situation this week than he was last week against the Ravens. Against the Ravens, it was get rid of the ball quickly, make quick decisions, count on your wide receivers, running backs and tight ends to make plays for you, to win their battles down the field. The Ravens pressure the opposing quarterback. They blitz, they give you a lot of scheme looks, and they try to put you in the position to make mistakes.
The Patriots are a little bit different. They’re 30th in the League in sacks, so they are more about dropping back into zones, a little bit more man coverage on third down. At the end of the day, I do believe it’s going to be about Philip going toe to toe with Tom Brady. He’s going to attempt at least 35 passes in this game. This should be a high-scoring game. And as long as his offensive line holds up, and Melvin Gordon is able to control the line of scrimmage a little bit with the running game, this could be Philip’s best opportunity to finally break through against Tom Brady.
CBS Local Sports: For Patrick Mahomes, this will be his first career playoff start. Plenty of great quarterbacks have struggled and many have lost in their first foray into the postseason. If you’re Mahomes, or Coach Andy Reid, how do you look to get the young QB off to a good start against a Colts defense that shut down Houston last week?
Boomer Esiason: Well, you want to get early completions. You want to make sure he’s not too revved up. I don’t expect that from Patrick. I think Patrick’s going to be fine. He’s handled every single one of these tough games, even the ones that they’ve lost… it really isn’t because of him. It’s more because of their defense. And that’s what would worry me the most. Is Indianapolis going to come in here with this massive offensive line and control the football and keep the ball away from Patrick Mahomes, making those guys a little impatient on offense? Damien Williams has been a good replacement, but he’s not Kareem Hunt. I just hope that Patrick doesn’t get overzealous and try to be a hero and try to do too many things. But I guess if there’s one player in the NFL who is capable of doing too many things, it’s probably him.