The Ravens have played every AFC team in the postseason except Cleveland, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Buffalo, New York (Jets), and San Diego. Of those six teams, only one has sustained a level of play (and quarterback) to keep them in the playoffs as often as not during the previous decade.
During the 2000s, the San Diego Chargers were one of the NFL's elite teams. They drafted LaDainian Tomlinson in 2001 with the fifth overall pick during the days when a workhorse running back was viewed as a central component to a championship team. The pick would work out well as Tomlinson is destined for the Hall of Fame.
Less heralded but no less pivotal to their success was their second round pick: Purdue quarterback Drew Brees. Brees would have an up and down career in San Diego but appeared to be more or less suited to a full-time starting role. San Diego appeared to disagree. With the first overall pick in the 2004 draft, they selected Eli Manning who would later find himself in New York after a convoluted trade that netted the Chargers Philip Rivers. The Chargers embarked on two fantastic drafts in 2004 and 2005 which was the true genesis of their run of dominance for the next five years. Still with Drew Brees at the helm, the Chargers would turn in two winning seasons.
After the Chargers and Schottenheimer soured on Brees (who then went on to New Orleans where his offensive output improved dramatically under Sean Payton) and installed Rivers, San Diego turned in one of the most dominant seasons in years.
Behind LaDanianian Tomlinson's all-time great 2006 season, the Chargers went 14-2 capturing the #1 seed. The Ravens turned in a slightly better year by Pythagorean wins (measured by points for and allowed) but their head to head regular season victory over San Diego in a fondly remembered comeback was not enough to get them ahead of San Diego in the playoff seeding.
Somewhat infamously, both their seasons would end prematurely in the divisional round to two all-time great quarterbacks. Neither fanbase would like to relive that but it was the one year where it seemed these teams might play each other for the rights to go to the Super Bowl.
San Diego continued a string of dominance thereafter, appearing in the 2007 AFC Championship during a Ravens down year. In 2008, the Chargers knocked off the Colts once again (who by this time undoubtedly felt the Chargers were their kryptonite). San Diego lost to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field thus negating an opportunity for our teams to meet again.
In 2009, Baltimore and San Diego played a tightly contested game that ended with Ray Lewis' stuff of Darren Sproles on fourth down with San Diego threatening to take the late lead. San Diego finished the season on a magnificent 11-game winning streak which catapulted them into the playoffs as a #2 seed. They would (perhaps not too shockingly in retrospect) be deposed by the New York Jets who fielded the #1 defense in the NFL that year under rookie coach Rex Ryan who had lost out on the Chargers head coaching job to Norv Turner in 2007. Small world, this NFL.
The Chargers would be mired in mediocrity thereafter until 2013 where they managed to find their way in and take down a division leader and scare the Denver Broncos in the next round.
It is unusual that two teams who sustained as much success as Baltimore and San Diego would never meet in the postseason but that is the case.
Baltimore has played the following AFC teams in the playoffs:
- Pittsburgh: 3x
- New England: 3x
- Indianapolis: 3x
- Denver: 2x
- Kansas City: 1x
- Oakland: 1x
- Tennessee: 3x
- Houston: 1x
- Miami: 2x
This year, it appears that one team's chances of making the postseason are mutually exclusive to the other's as another conference loss would prove very detrimental to both in addition to the head to head breaker. Many AFC teams sit at 7-4 making the competition for the Wild Cards (and Division) fierce. Today's game will prove very consequential in sorting out that logjam.