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2019 NFL playoffs: Against the Patriots, is it finally Philip Rivers’ time to shine?

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Philip Rivers has been endlessly ridiculed for never being able to win big games. Can he finally overcome those demons on Sunday against the Patriots?

Wild Card Round - San Diego Chargers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

It’s safe to say that Philip Rivers is one of the most polarizing figures in the NFL.

He’s considered to be one of the best quarterbacks in football, roughly in the top five, maybe six, in the league right now. The only guys you could reasonably put ahead of him are Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Roethlisberger and Wilson.

But what’s the difference between Rivers and all of those quarterbacks I just listed? I don’t even need to say it, because you already know. But I’ll say it anyway.

Rings.

Brady has five, Roethlisberger has two, and Brees, Rodgers and Wilson all have one. Fifteen seasons in the league, and Rivers still has zero. And it’s not just a simple case of him failing to win the big game. Rivers has never even come close to winning a ring.

The 37-year-old has never sniffed the Super Bowl. He was fortunate enough to reach the 2007 AFC Championship Game, where his then-San Diego Chargers were halted by the then-undefeated New England Patriots in Foxboro. The score was 21-12 — the last game the seemingly invincible ’07 Pats would win before the Eli Manning stunner in Glendale, Arizona.

Eleven years later, Rivers, now of the Los Angeles Chargers, has another opportunity to make up for that AFC title game defeat. A win over Tom Brady and the Patriots at Gillette Stadium would put the Chargers, once again, in the AFC Championship Game, and Rivers would finally have a chance at achieving the goal that has eluded him for 15 years: making it to the Super Bowl.

I’m intrigued to watch this Divisional Round playoff game between Los Angeles and New England, not just because I’m a Patriots fan, but because I truly want to see if Rivers has it in him. As I wrote in my wild card picks column last week, Rivers has been one of my all-time favorite punching bags in sports, and he has been for as long as I’ve been watching football.

I’m not sure why. It sort of just became a reflex every time somebody said something complimentary about Rivers to speak right up and say, “Philip Rivers is the most overrated quarterback in football!”

And it’s true. I still believe that he is the most overrated quarterback in football. That’s not to say he isn’t talented. He can be a fantasy football owner’s dream, and he pretty much was in 2018 (with the exception of my guy Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, who won me my first ever fantasy football championship this year. Thank you, Patrick).

Rivers can put up stats with the best of them. For his career, he has 374 touchdowns and just 178 interceptions, and an overall record of 118-90. During regular seasons, Rivers has never been too shabby.

But then you come to the postseason, and suddenly, you don’t hear much about Rivers anymore. In the playoffs, there has never been much to talk about.

Coming into the 2018 playoffs, Rivers was 4-5, and hadn’t picked up a playoff win since 2013. Over this past weekend, he brought his playoff record to .500 with a 23-17 win in Baltimore. Rivers outdueled rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, but that’s not really saying much. The 21-year-old Jackson played what was probably the worst game of his very young NFL career, though it can’t be held against him because he’s, obviously, a rookie and had only played half a season. He’ll get many more opportunities.

Now, in what could potentially be his final chance to make a serious playoff run, Rivers faces a real test. He must go into New England in the thick of the postseason race, and find a way to outperform the Patriots in January. That’s no easy task, but if he can do it, then his legacy might just be validated.

If Rivers can pull it off — which I don’t think he will — he would be just one win away from finally reaching a Super Bowl, and just two wins away from finally winning that coveted ring and joining the ranks of the NFL’s elite.

But only if he can first beat Tom Brady at Gillette Stadium in the playoffs, which hasn’t been done in six years.

As mentioned earlier, I can’t wait to watch this game. I’m fascinated by it because I’m so curious to see if Rivers can finally silence the haters like myself and win a big game on a very big stage. As a Patriots fan, I hope he doesn’t.

But if there was ever a time for Rivers to come up huge and prove that he’s a winner, and not just this generation’s Dan Marino (an all-time great quarterback that could never win the big one), this is it. This could very well be his last opportunity, as Rivers has made it clear that he doesn’t plan to keep playing for many more years. He has about 37 kids, with most likely another eight or nine coming in the next few years, and he wants to be able to coach them in football as they grow up.

Rivers is two wins away from reaching the Super Bowl, and he has to treat it like he will never have this chance again. Is this finally the year that he steps into the playoff spotlight and delivers the goods? We’ll find out on Sunday afternoon.

And by the way, go Pats.