Being a No. 1 seed is a blessing and a curse.
Home-field advantage comes with great pressure. Although it's better to have the home-field advantage than not, fans and critics of the home team can't accept anything less than a trip to the Super Bowl. Bill Cowher endured the criticism of three No. 1 seeds that didn't produce Super Bowls. He finally silenced critics by winning the Super Bowl last season.
Marty Schottenheimer had the AFC's No. 1 seed in Kansas City in 1995 and 1997. The Chiefs lost in the divisional playoffs each year, and the label of not winning the big one has stuck with him. Thanks to a 14-2 season in which the Chargers were the class of the league, Schottenheimer once again has home-field advantage as he prepares for Sunday's game (4:30 p.m. ET) against the Patriots.
But is it a curse?
Like Cowher last season, Schottenheimer has done more delegating to his assistants in terms of devising a game plan. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron calls the plays and is considered one of the hottest assistants up for head coaching jobs. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips leads the Chargers' 3-4 defense, which has been one of the most physical for the past three seasons.
The Chargers appear to have all the advantages. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson was the league's MVP. Quarterback Philip Rivers didn't make Chargers fans forget about Drew Brees, but he matched Brees' success by having a Pro Bowl season. From nose tackle Jamal Williams to defensive end Luis Castillo to linebacker Shawne Merriman, the Chargers have three of the most dominating front-seven defensive players in football.
Marty Schottenheimer has been criticized for his conservative ways in past playoff games.
Nine Chargers were selected for the Pro Bowl (with five alternates). Rookie offensive tackle Marcus McNeill was one of the best offensive rookies this year. The Chargers were blessed.
But the matchup against the Patriots could be a scary one. First, New England head coach Bill Belichick is a master of finding the right defenses to frustrate an offense. Rivers is the only quarterback in the AFC's final four without playoff experience. He has to show he can compete and succeed in the company of fellow QBs Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Steve McNair.
Having a Pro Bowl season is one thing. Winning in the playoffs is another. Belichick will try different ways to disrupt Rivers' timing routes. Plus, Brady will try to spread the field with receivers and neutralize the Chargers' dominance in the middle of the field.
Despite the losses of receivers Deion Branch and David Givens, the Patriots have evolved into more of a three-receiver team that also relies heavily on the pass-catching abilities of whichever tight end is on the field.
The temptation will be there for Schottenheimer to play "Martyball" and just run Tomlinson until the Patriots stop him. Going too conservative cost the Chargers a loss to Baltimore earlier this season and allowed a bad Raiders team to stay in the game too long in Week 1.
Expect Schottenheimer to let Cameron call his offense and mix the passes with the runs. Still, Tomlinson is the key to the game. Cameron knows he needs to find ways to get Tomlinson past the Patriots' talented defensive line so the talented back can make his moves on the linebackers and defensive backs.