This Sunday, the Patriots welcome the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) to Gillette Stadium for their AFC Divisional Round matchup. There’s no doubt that the Chargers will be a formidable opponent for the Pats, and in order for New England to reach their 8th straight AFC Championship Game, they’ll have to be at their best.
Here are some things to consider entering this playoff game.
1. Will history repeat itself?
As the title of this article suggests, Philip Rivers has never defeated Tom Brady, with Brady and the Pats emerging victorious during all 7 of their matchups (including 2 postseason games in 2007 and 2008). The last time these two teams faced off was last year in Week 8 when the Pats fended off the Chargers for a hard-fought 21-13 victory.
Let’s hope that history is on Brady’s side this week.
2. Road warriors vs Dominant hosts
The Chargers have been one of the NFL’s best road teams throughout the season, as they’ve gone 8-1 away from the Dignity Health Sports Center, with their only road loss coming against their brethren, the LA Rams. Hence, the Chargers have been undefeated outside of Los Angeles, with victories at historically tough venues such as Arrowhead Stadium, Heinz Field, and CenturyLink Field. The Chargers’ dominance outside of LA can be matched by the Pats’ record at home, as they went 8-0 this season at Gillette Stadium.
It’s going to be interesting to see which team triumphs and extends their respective record.
3. How will the Pats account for Ingram and Bosa?
The Chargers had a masterful defensive performance during their Wild Card Weekend victory against the Baltimore Ravens, with Melvin Ingram leading the way in clamping down on rookie phenom Lamar Jackson. The Chargers had 7 total sacks in the game, and forced 3 total turnovers (2 fumbles and 1 interception). Los Angeles was able to throw the Ravens off course by stifling their time-consuming rushing attack. Luckily for the Pats, they are not as dependent on one particular phase of the offense, which will make it tougher for the Chargers to catch them off-guard if they are able to have success on defense. If the Pats do want to have success on offense, it will be absolutely imperative for them to account for the duo of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa at all times, because they will make life hard for Tom Brady if they’re able to get after him. Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and the rest of the receivers/tight ends are going to have tough individual matchups this week, as they go up against the vaunted Chargers secondary, which includes some of the NFL’s best defensive backs in Derwin James, Desmond King, and Casey Hayward. Based on last year’s matchup between these two teams, I believe that the Pats will have to channel the crux of their offense through their stable of running backs (whether it be through rushes or passes), as they can win matchups against the Chargers’ linebackers due to their speed and agility.
If the Pats want to advance, the offense will need to be a well-oiled machine on Sunday.
4. Will the Pats slow down Rivers and company?
The Pats defense is going to face one of its toughest tests of the season this week, as the Chargers possess one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. Throughout the season, the Pats have struggled to stop the run, which does not bode well for Sunday, as the Chargers have a great stable of running backs in Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, and Justin Jackson. One of the highlights of last year’s meeting between these two teams was a 87-yard rushing touchdown for Gordon, where he simply outran every Patriot defender in sight. Fortifying the line of scrimmage will be important, as it will allow the Pats to rely on the strong half of their defense, which is definitely their secondary. I would expect Stephon Gilmore to have the assignment of shadowing Keenan Allen, with J.C. Jackson and Jason McCourty being the ones guarding Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, respectively. The Pats will also have to account for the veteran tight end Antonio Gates, who continues to have an impact at the age of 38. It will be interesting to see if the Chargers’ other tight end, Hunter Henry is active tomorrow, because he could pose a problem for the Pats’ safeties, who have struggled to cover tight ends effectively. Getting after Rivers also has to be a priority, because giving him a comfortable pocket is not a strategy for success.
The Pats’ defense needs to be at its best tomorrow to have a good chance of winning this game.
- Deatrich Wise (knee) – Questionable
- Brandon Facyson (concussion) – Questionable
- Derek Watt (shoulder) – Questionable
- Kyle Wilson (concussion) – Questionable
- Hunter Henry (knee) – Questionable
Prediction: Patriots 30, Chargers 28
Here are my picks for the rest of the NFL’s Divisional Round games.
Last week: 2-2
Colts at Chiefs: Chiefs
Cowboys at Rams: Cowboys
Eagles at Saints: Saints