The Baltimore Sun

Sunday's NFL playoff results increased the already great likelihood that the New England Patriots will go 19-0.

The conventional wisdom had been that the two teams with the best chances to keep the Patriots from running the table resided in Indianapolis and Dallas.

Well, they're both on vacation now. The San Diego Chargers and New York Giants, respectively, helped them pack.

On paper, the Patriots' toughest opposition would come from the Green Bay Packers, who play at home against the Giants in the NFC title game Sunday (although I'm not forgetting that New York had that 12-point third-quarter lead over New England in the last game of the regular season).

Meanwhile, the Chargers are expected to mount merely token resistance.

Frankly, I was surprised to see yesterday that the Chargers were only 14 1/2 -point underdogs in Sunday's AFC championship game against New England, considering they came limping out of their gallant effort against the Colts with their three top offensive players nursing injuries.

And as if they needed it, the Patriots get the benefit of an extra day of rest because they advanced Saturday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

What the Chargers accomplished was phenomenal. Tight end Antonio Gates (toe) was severely limited going into the game but, among the San Diego offense's big three, he's the only one who made it four quarters.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson missed most of the game with a knee injury, and a knee injury sent quarterback Philip Rivers to the sideline in the fourth quarter.

So that left it to as unlikely a couple of heroes as any NFL fan could have imagined: San Diego coach Norv Turner pulling the strings and backup quarterback Billy Volek pulling the trigger.

For Turner -- considered the NFL's classic example of the Peter Principle (terrific assistant, lousy head coach) -- it was an improbable redemption after miserable tenures running the show in Washington and Oakland.

Now, the AFC title game becomes a win-win for Turner. Beat the Patriots and he's forever beyond criticism. Lose and so what? Who isn't supposed to lose to New England?

Yep, it would seem that nothing can stop the Patriots now. Wonder whether the other three teams got the memo.

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