Sunday's divisional matchup between the Patriots and the Chargers pits two of the AFC's most talented teams against each other. The teams look evenly matched in most areas on paper. However, coaching is one area where the Patriots seem to have a distinct advantage.
Bill Belichick has been part of an NFL staff since 1975. He spent 12 seasons with the Giants, working various assistant jobs before being named defensive coordinator. Belichick then became the Head Coach of the Browns for five seasons, finishing with one winning record and one playoff victory. After an awkward few years flirting between the Jets and the Patriots, Belichick became New England's head coach in 2000 and the rest is history.
Anthony Lynn entered the NFL as a player in 1993, playing for the Broncos and the 49ers from 1993-1999. He became an assistant coach for Denver in 2000 and has since also worked for the Jaguars, the Cowboys, the Browns, the Jets, the Bills, and the Chargers. Lynn has worked in a variety of assistant positions such as special teams assistant and running backs coach. He was also an assistant head coach for both the Jets and the Bills, as well as an interim head coach for Buffalo. The Chargers hired Lynn in January of 2017. He brought the Chargers from fourth to second with a 9-7 record in his first season as head coach and nearly won the AFC West this season with a 12-4 record.
Lynn has clearly been a creative coach who inspires confidence amongst his players with a cool, calm, and straight forward attitude. However, there is a drastic difference in the level of experience between these two coaches. For perspective, Belichick has been an assistant in the league since Lynn was seven years old.
As of right now, Lynn may be one of the better head coaches in the league. But the real question is going to be whether he over-prepares for his first big playoff moment. One of the most common mistakes that the Patriots' playoff opponents have made over the years has been an over-preparation that focuses more on emotion than fundamentals (the exception being Rex Ryan who had the benefit of two regular-season matchups to build on). New England has routinely come out on top because they find a way to prioritize the X's and O's over emotions.
For example, Belichick spent this week reviewing what to do on a potential fumble. Last week, Bears receiver Anthony Miller dropped the football after making a catch and being tackled by an Eagles defender. What most thought was an incomplete pass turned out to be a fumble on review. However, no one picked up the ball, meaning that the Bears retained the ball either way.
Belichick devoted significant practice time reviewing plays like this, making sure each of his players understood the rules of the game.
When asked about it he said:
"...we went through some of those things again today just to make sure everybody understands what we want to do and how important it is to do the right thing in situations like that or other game-type situations." - Bill Belichick
Now, this might seem like an obscure rule or situation that doesn't deserve practice time because it isn't likely to occur. But it is this focus on rules and fundamentals that have been pivotal to the Patriots success.
Lynn is a good coach who hasn't seemed too caught up in ra-ra moments. If he can focus on the fundamentals, he will put his team in the best position to win. If he focuses too much on the size of the moment, his team may overlook the little things that could earn them a victory.