KICKOFF: Sunday, 3:00 ET
TV: CBS, Greg Gumbel, Phil Simms
SERIES: 36th meeting, if counting playoff games, with the Patriots leading the series 19-14-2. It's the second time they have met this year and the second time they have squared off in the playoffs in the past two seasons. The most historic game between them capped the 1963 season when the Chargers defeated the Boston Patriots, 51-10, for the franchise's only league title.
PREDICTION: Patriots 34-24
WR Vincent Jackson battles for yards against Tennessee
AP Photo/Chris Carlson
KEYS TO THE GAME: Regardless of the health of QB Philip Rivers, RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TE Antonio Gates — although they certainly are major storylines — the Chargers' game plan shouldn't change. Yes, WRs Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers have become a very effective tandem in the playoffs. But to help protect the defense, the Chargers must use the ground game to control the clock, wear down the Patriots' front seven and set up the vertical passing game. ... The softness of the Chargers' defense is defending the pass, with the secondary only a strength when the pass rush forces opposing quarterbacks into mistakes. San Diego only got to Patriots QB Tom Brady twice in the first meeting, both times by OLB Shawne Merriman. If OTs Matt Light and Nick Kaczur hold up, Brady should be able to move the ball at will through the air and not have to test the Chargers' strong run defense.
KEY INJURIES: Chargers: Rivers (sprained right knee) and Gates (dislocated toe) could be game-time decisions; Tomlinson (sprained left knee) and DT Jamal Williams (ankle) might be limited, but are expected to play. Patriots: RG Stephen Neal (shoulder) and WR Donte' Stallworth (knee) have been limited in practice but are expected to play.
FAST FACTS: New England has joined the 1972 Miami Dolphins as the only teams to reach 17-0 in a season. ... Jackson has 207 receiving yards in two playoff games this year.
— TE Antonio Gates (toe) sat out another practice and he might not test his injury until a couple hours before kickoff on Sunday.
— FB Lorenzo Neal (leg) continued to work and it looks like he will be active on Sunday.
— OLB Shawne Merriman (ill) was able to get in some limited work after taking Wednesday off.
— NT Jamal Williams (ankle) didn't practice but is convinced he will be fine for Sunday and could work on Friday.
— LT Matt Light (flu) and S Mel Mitchell (biceps) were the two players not present for the media access portion of Thursday's practice.
— QB Matt Gutierrez and OL Dan Connolly wore black jerseys, indicating they were practice players of the week.
— G Stephen Neal (shoulder) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Neal has been battling a shoulder injury all season but is expected to start this week against San Diego.
— WR Donte' Stallworth (knee) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Stallworth played last week against Jacksonville, catching a big pass in the fourth quarter. The injury isn't thought to be serious.
— QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Brady will be in the starting lineup on Sunday when the Patriots host the Chargers.