Sports

Week 2 déjà vu in title games

Both championship games Sunday will be rematches from Week 2 this season.

The last time the San Diego Chargers went to New England, they had Philip Rivers, LaDainian Tomlinson and a healthy Antonio Gates. They lost anyway, 38-14.

Like the Patriots and Chargers, the Packers-Giants matchup wasn't close. That one was at Giants Stadium and Green Bay won 35-13 before New York understood the defense installed by Steve Spagnuolo, its new coordinator.

The Chargers may have beaten the Indianapolis Colts 28-24 on Sunday without their top players, but they'll have a hard time keeping up with the unbeaten Patriots in the AFC title game if they're still out. The same thing seems true in the NFC, where the New York Giants will head to Green Bay after upsetting Dallas 21-17 with a banged-up secondary missing its top three cornerbacks.

Back on Sept. 16, a Sunday night game in the second week of the season, the Patriots were just getting started on their 16-0 run and blowing away anyone in their path. Their margin of victory dropped markedly in the second half of the season, but New England will still be 17-0 when it plays host to the Chargers on Sunday.

"A lot's happened since then," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the Chargers beat the Colts to qualify for a trip to Foxborough and the AFC title game. "We'll definitely start all over on the preparations. It's like it's a new team."

The first question for San Diego, an early 15-point underdog, is the health of Rivers and Tomlinson, its starting quarterback and star running back, who was the 2006 NFL MVP. Both injured their knees against the Colts and their status isn't yet known for the conference championship. Gates played with a toe injury, but clearly wasn't at full speed.

Both Rivers and Tomlinson said they hope to play. Coach Norv Turner said they both were questionable.

Belichick thinks they will.

"We're prepared for everybody. As we saw today, any number of players could be in the game," he said. "If they're on the 53-man roster, we'll prepare for everybody."

The Packers opened as a 6½-point favorite, which seems a little low.

Consider that Eli Manning's revival -- eight touchdown passes, just one interception and passer ratings of well over 100 in his last three games -- all came in good weather. And he has attributed his problems in the four previous games to wind and cold.

Attention Eli: The long-range forecast for Sunday in Green Bay is a high of 4 degrees.

If it turns into a ground battle, there's the matchup that probably will be second only to Brett-Eli in the pregame hype: Ryan Grant, who rushed for 201 yards against in the 42-20 win over Seattle in the snow Saturday vs. the Giants running backs.

Grant, who played high school football less than 20 miles from Giants Stadium, was signed as an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame by New York in 2005. He spent that year on the practice squad, then last season on injured reserve.

He was impressive in the preseason but was fifth on the depth chart behind Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, Reuben Droughns (Merced College) and Ahmad Bradshaw. The Packers, knowing he would be cut, gave the Giants a sixth-round pick for him before some other team could claim him on waivers.

Now Grant stands between his old teammates and the Super Bowl.

FALCONS GET GM -- Tom Dimitroff was hired as general manager of the Atlanta Falcons, leaving his job as director of scouting for the unbeaten New England Patriots.

Dimitroff, who has been with the Patriots since 2002, will direct the Falcons' football operations, including working with a new head coach on draft decisions, free agency, trades and other personnel decisions.

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