Long time AFL rivals meeting this weekend as the Los Angeles Chargers take the long trip east to meet the New England Patriots in a major AFC battle. This this will be the 41st meeting of these two original AFL franchises that dates back to 1960. New England leads the all-time series 23-15-2 and have won 6 of the last 7 meetings including the 2006 Divisional round and the 2007 AFC Championship Game.
At 0-4, it looked like the Anthony Lynn era in Los Angeles was not going to last more than a season. Since that time, Lynn has led the Chargers to three straight victories including wins against division rivals Oakland and Denver. While the season is still early and LA may still have a chance to make a run at the Wild Card, losses to bottom of the barrel teams like the Dolphins may come back to haunt the Chargers.
For the Patriots, injuries continue to mount and it looks like what could have been a season with a deep playoff run has turned into a dog fight just to stay in the division lead.
Both teams enter this week looking to extend their Conference leading win streaks so in yet another futile attempt to be non-bias and analytical, both teams were broken down in key areas to see how they will match up against each other and which one may have the key to victory.
Quarterback – PATRIOTS: Even though Philip Rivers is 5th in the NFL in passing yards, his completion percentage is near the bottom of the league and his QB Rating is middle of the pack. Tom Brady, however, leads the league in passing yards and is tied for 2nd in QB Rating and TD Passes.
Running Backs – PATRIOTS: The Chargers’ Melvin Gordon has been a dual threat in LA’s offense leading the team in rushing yards and 5th on the team in receiving yards. However, the return of the Patriots’ Rex Burkhead has made New England four running backs deep with plenty of versatility in their backfield.
Wide Receivers – PATRIOTS: While the Chargers may have some more physically gifted Wide Receivers, the Patriots Wide Receivers are out performing their LA counterparts with more catches, yards, touchdowns, and catches for 1st downs.
Tight Ends – PATRIOTS: Several seasons ago, a Gates/Gronkowski matchup would have been a top story line leading up to this matchup….However age has caught up with Antonio Gates and while injuries have slowed down Gronkowski, he still has more catches, yards, and TD catches than every tight end on the Chargers’ roster.
Offensive Line – PUSH: While the Chargers have protected Philip Rivers much better than the Patriots have protected Tom Brady, New England’s Offensive Line is doing a much better job than their San Diego counterparts at run blocking.
Defensive Front Seven – CHARGERS: While the Chargers’ rushing defense has been near the bottom of the NFL, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram have been giving fits to opposing quarterbacks racking up 16 sacks between them. The Patriots, on the other hand, will most likely be without Malcolm Brown and have lost Dont’a Hightower for the season…….Not very helpful for New England’s already suspect defensive front.
Secondary – CHARGERS: While the Patriots secondary is coming off in impressive performance in Week 7, until they can string together a few solid games it’s hard not to give the Patriots’ opponents the edge in this area.
Special Teams – PATRIOTS: While the Patriots return game is still a bit suspect with the revolving cast of characters, New England’s kicking game has been much stronger than the Chargers’ this season.
Coaching – PATRIOTS: While Anthony Lynn has done a nice job with keeping the Chargers season alive after an 0-4 start, the Patriots Bill Belichick has coached his team back into their rightful 1st place spot in the AFC East while managing several key injuries and retooling his defense on the fly.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) Protect the QB: It’s no secret that Tom Brady has taken a lot of hits this year. With Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram lurking around for QB meat, the Patriots need to take advantage of the Chargers suspect run defense to slow down LA’s pass rush.
2) RUN THE DAMN BALL!!!: Did anyone mention LA’s suspect run defense? While everyone likes to see Tom Brady throw up the ball 50 times a game, this might be a good opportunity to utilize all the running backs and pound the rock.
3) Someone Step Up in the Front Seven: Well….we know Willie McGinnest, Mike Vrabel, and Teddy Bruschi are not walking through that door….and if they are they will be in wheelchairs. This means that someone…anyone…in that front seven needs to step up and show some leadership in a wafer thing defense.
The devastating news about the loss of Dont’a Hightower will certainly put a tremendous amount of pressure and scrutiny on Patriots defensive squad that is still on a pace to give up a historic amount of yards. As the Patriots continue to lean on Tom Brady and the offense, it is important for them to control the clock to protect themselves from their defensive issues.
Look for another frustratingly close game that will come down to the last possession to determine the victor.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 30 – Chargers 24