The Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs is underway as four matchups take place this weekend to determine which two teams will advance to the Conference Championships.
For this preview, we will take a look at one of the most anticipated matchups of the weekend as the New England Patriots take on the Los Angeles Chargers (1.05pm ET Sunday) for a spot in the AFC Championship game.
It has been a remarkable year for the Chargers, who once again find themselves as the underdogs despite having a better record than the team they faced. We went over it last week, but it’s worth mentioning again. Winning your division matters. That’s why the (11-5) Patriots, coming off of one of their worst seasons in recent memory, have home field advantage over a team that went 13-4 and had one of their best seasons in recent memory. It is likely that home field advantage explains why the Patriots enter as 4pt favorites with the sportsbooks. It’s possible the Chargers record against Brady has something to do with it as well.
0-7: Philip Rivers Can’t Beat Tom Brady
Death, taxes and Tom Brady beating Philip Rivers. These are the three certainties in life, the latter of which the Chargers are desperately hoping to change this Sunday.
Since the Patriots rebranded from the Boston Patriots to the New England Patriots, the Chargers are just 3-17 against their AFC opponents. Since Philip Rivers became the starting quarterback for the Chargers in 2006, the Patriots and Chargers have played each other eight times with the Chargers winning only once. That was in 2008, when Tom Brady missed most of the season due to an injury. So while Rivers has a victory over the Patriots and Matt Cassel, he has yet to get a victory over one of the greatest ever to play the game.
That’s not to say all of the games have been blowouts because they haven’t. The Chargers have certainly had their opportunities to win, including both times these two teams met in the playoffs in 2006-07 and 2007-08. In fact, in the first playoff meeting of Rivers and Brady, the Chargers actually led for most of the game. After New England opened the scoring with a field goal to end the first, the Chargers scored a touchdown midway through the second to take the lead, which they held until a little over four-and-a-half minutes remained in the game. The Patriots tied the game on Brady’s second TD of the night and took their first lead since the first quarter on a Stephen Gostkowski field goal with just over one minute remaining.
It was a tough pill to swallow no doubt but the Chargers had to have a short memory. After getting routed by the Patriots, 38-14, in the regular season the following year, the Chargers met their foes again that next postseason, in the AFC Championship. This time, it was the Chargers who had the field goal in the first quarter and the Patriots who took over the lead in the second. Unlike the Chargers, the Patriots never ceded their lead, ultimately winning the game 21-12. Of course, that was the year that New England went undefeated in the regular season and they were very much expected to win, given a spread of 14 points with the American offshore oddsmakers in their favor.
As it always needs to be said when it comes to trends or past records, this is a very different Chargers team and a very different Patriots team. Yes, the quarterbacks are the same, but beyond that, 10 years is a long time in the NFL. Rivers may not have been able to beat Brady in the past but there is no denying that this year, with the team he has behind him, is his best shot.
Defense Still Wins Championships
There is a reason some clichés just live on forever. You’ve heard this before, you’ve read it on this site before. You’ll no doubt hear it again, you’ll no doubt read it on this site again. Until the day this little ol’ cliché becomes inaccurate, this is a saying you won’t forget. Defense wins championships and in the wildcard weekend of the postseason, defense was on full display.
Of the four winning teams last weekend, none of them allowed their opponents a first half touchdown. The Chargers were among this group. In addition to holding the Baltimore Ravens to just three points over the first three quarters, the Chargers dominated opposing QB Lamar Jackson. LA sacked Jackson seven times which was only two less than the nine the other seven teams in action last weekend recorded combined. They also forced and recovered two fumbles, which was more than the other seven teams combined.
There is no denying that Los Angeles’ defense played a phenomenal game, but they have been playing like that all season. The Chargers ranked within the top-10 of all teams in total yards allowed (9th), passing yards allowed (9th), rushing yards allowed (9th), and points allowed (8th).
New England has a pretty good defense too. They rank seventh in points allowed, right ahead of the Chargers.
Are the Patriots Still Bulletproof?
13-3, 14-2, 12-4, 12-4, 12-4, 12-4, 13-3, 14-2. You have to go all the way back to the 2009 season to find the last time the Patriots lost five or more games. So for most teams, 11-5 is a great record but for New England and those around the franchise, it is indicative of some concerns.
Chief among them is the play of 41-year-old QB Tom Brady. Brady finished the year with 4,355 yards, 29 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a QBR of 70.6. Those numbers placed him in the middle of the pack among NFL quarterbacks, which is a far-cry from the top-5 numbers he had put up a year prior. While there were flashes of brilliance from Brady, signs that age had no yet caught up to the veteran, there were other moments that were downright head-scratching. Losses that were just puzzling and uncharacteristic of a Patriots team that has been dominant for so long.
New England still finished with a top-5 offense though and had the NFL’s fourth most points per game. Things are still clicking in New England just not at the level of this being a foregone conclusion. However, one big thing going against the Chargers is that all of New England’s losses came away from Gillette Stadium. All five came on the road, which is something New England won’t have to deal with on Sunday.
Our Preview’s LA Chargers at New England Patriots Betting Picks & Predictions Verdict
The Chargers have looked great this year and if they had any other matchup, it would seem the best bet to pick them to advance. Despite their struggles this year, it’s New England at home. It’s New England in the playoffs. That’s a tough thing to bet against on its face, let alone when you add in Rivers’ struggles against this team. So here are the LA Chargers vs New England Patriots predictions for this game:
- Bet on the Patriots -4pts @ best odds of -110 with Bovada, BetOnline or Intertops.
- For the second of our Chargers vs Patriots picks, we turn to the likely total points to be scored in this NFL game. Look for the under 48 points @ best odds of -110 with Bovada.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.