A trip to the AFC Championship Game is on the line as the Los Angeles Chargers take the long trip east to meet the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs. . This this will be the 42st meeting of these two original AFL franchises in a series that dates back to 1960. New England leads the all-time series 24-15-2 and have won 7 of the last 8 meetings. This includes both the 2006 Divisional round matchup and the 2007 AFC Championship Game.
Tied for the best regular season record in the AFC, Los Angeles (12-4) enters Sunday coming off of a hard fought game against the Baltimore Ravens in last week’s AFC Wildcard Round. With one of the more complete teams, both offensively and defensively, that is left in the playoffs, the Chargers look to exercise some playoff demons having reached the post season for the first time in five years.
Coming off a bye week, the New England Patriots (11-5) stand one game away from their 8th consecutive trip to the AFC Championship Game. While this team has certainly showed its age and flaws, they have gone this season without losing a game at home and hope to continue their dominance in Foxboro this year.
Both teams enter this Sunday looking to extend their season 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: While the Chargers’ Philip Rivers has a slight edge statistically, the Patriots’ Tom Brady has much more experience in big game situations like this and has the advantage of playing at home.
Running Backs – PATRIOTS: Both teams’ running back groups have been virtually identical in the amount of yards produced from scrimmage this season. However, the Patriots’ group have a statistical advantage with the amount of times they have found the end zone and have had a week to rest while the Chargers’ main running back, Melvin Gordon, has been slowed by knee and ankle injuries that were aggravated last weekend.
Wide Receivers – CHARGERS: Without a doubt the Chargers’ Keenan Allen is one of them most under rated skilled players in the NFL. Add in the timely playmaking abilities of both Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams (no relation), Los Angeles has a clear advantage in this matchup. For New England, the loss of Josh Gordon is a potential deathblow for the Patriots’ offense. While Julian Edelman still remains the Patriots’ best go to option, New England can only hope that either Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, or Cordarrelle Patterson can step up and make some plays.
Tight Ends – PUSH: Several years ago, a matchup featuring Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates would have been a tremendous story. However, thanks to age and injury the luster is pretty much gone. Los Angeles will activate TE Hunter Henry, but it’s difficult to predict how he will perform having had ACL reconstruction about seven months ago.
Offensive Line – PATRIOTS: While the Chargers and Patriots are statistically even rushing the ball, New England’s line has done a much better job than their Los Angeles counterparts protecting the passer.
Defensive Front Seven – CHARGERS: Statistically, the Chargers and the Patriots are relatively even stopping opponents’ running games ranking 9th and 11th respectively. Additionally, from a sack perspective, the Chargers only have 8 more sacks than the Patriots so for the season. However, Los Angeles does get the edge in this matchup because of the playmaking ability of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram who can be very disruptive to opposing offenses.
Secondary – CHARGERS: The Patriots’ defensive backs are holding opposing passers to a much lower QB Rating and have created more interceptions that the Chargers’ group. However, there is a significant difference in the amount of yards that New England surrenders versus what Los Angeles gives up.
Special Teams – PATRIOTS: Even though the Patriots Stephen Gostkowski has not been his usual self this year, he is still out performing the Chargers’ kicking unit which has used two different kickers this season. Additionally, Los Angeles has been a bit of a revolving door for punters as well.
Coaching – PATRIOTS: In his second season as head coach, the Chargers’ Anthony Lynn has done a great job with the Chargers keeping them competitive last season after starting 0-4 and of course this year having Los Angeles one game away from the AFC Championship game. However, he is facing arguably the best head coach in modern NFL history in the Patriots’ Bill Belichick who has had two weeks to prepare his team.
If we assign 2 points for every category (1 point per team for draws) this is how it lines up:
Betting Line: Patriots -4
Key’s to a Patriots Victory:
1) RUN THE DAMN BALL!: As crazy as it seems, the Patriots’ strength on offense is their ability to run the ball in two back sets. New England needs to focus on establishing the run, sticking with run when it’s working, and use that to set up timely play action passing plays to create some space for their pass catchers. Here is another idea….GET JAMES WHITE INVOLVED EARLY!
2) Special Teams, Special Teams, Special Team: With the weather playing a possible factor in Sunday’s game, the Patriots need to come up with a few key plays on special teams to help shift momentum or, at the very least, flip some field position.
3) Someone Step Up in the Front Seven: While it’s true that the Patriots are rated in the upper part of the NFL with the ability of getting pressure on opposing QBs, they have not ‘gotten home’ and collected sack numbers. This week they are facing a quarterback in Phillip Rivers that actually has less rushing yards than Tom Brady this year. That means someone…anyone…in that front seven needs to step up and get in the face of Rivers to disrupt his timing.
While just about every “expert” has labeled the Patriots as being the most vulnerable that they have been in years, the truth of the matter is that they are about as healthy as they have been all season, are coming off of a bye week which is only going to help their veterans, and are playing at home. That being said, they are facing a Chargers team that has been 8-1 on the road this season and, by all accounts, a very solid team from top to bottom.
Look for a very close, nerve destroying game that will have you nauseous with anxiety all the way until the last snap.
The Knuckles Prediction: Patriots 24 – Chargers 23
We will run CK’s article until Monday am, so that this becomes GameDay Article.
Luciano’s Playoffs Predictions
Last week 3-1
The Colts run ends here, Luck has had a great comeback year, and this team finally has a OL to protect him as well as a D, but they will simply not be able to outscore the Chiefs.
The Cowboys are good defensively, but not in Rams’ class offensively.
Yea, I am daring! I have said it all year, this Patriots team doesn’t win the way they did in the past, they struggle, and this D is not that good. Rivers knows that this maybe his best shot ever at a SB, and could be his last. The weather is the only defense the Pats will have, but this Charger team is determined to win….they pull the upset
This will be a high scoring game, but Foles magic ends here and Breese at home is so good!