Los Angeles Chargers vs. New England Patriots Pick
Los Angeles Chargers (13-4 SU, 10-7 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday, January 13th, 1:05 PM
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
By Mike Mann., NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LAC +4/ NE -4 (Bovada Sportsbook)
Over/Under Total: 45.5
In the second of the AFC Divisional Round games, the New England Patriots host the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday afternoon. The Patriots have won seven of the last eight games in the series, with their lone loss coming in 2008 when Tom Brady was injured and Matt Cassel was the starting quarterback.
The Chargers were able to advance last week past Baltimore thanks to a strong defense (seven sacks, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries) and another Harbaugh choking late in the season. This week things promise to be different, as instead of going against the youngest quarterback ever to start a playoff game in Lamar Jackson they get Tom Brady, who has more postseason wins than every other quarterback in the playoffs combined.
One major issue Los Angeles faces is the health of Melvin Gordon. The Pro Bowl running back injured his left knee early against the Ravens, and was largely ineffective after reentering later in the game. He already missed multiple games late in thee season due to a right knee sprain and while he is expected to play this weekend, how much of spark he will be able to provide certainly remains in question.
WHEN THE CHARGERS PASS
Gordon wasn’t alone on the Chargers when it comes to the Pro Bowl, with Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen and center Mike Pouncey joining him from the offense. Rivers threw for 4308 yards and an impressive 32/12 TD-INT ratio on the season, but he has slowed down of late, having thrown for under 182 yards in three straight weeks with just one passing touchdown in that time span.
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There are ample options at Rivers disposal, including the aforementioned Keenan Allen, who easily led the team in yards and receptions and remains one of the best at his position in the game. He is far from alone as both Mike and Tyrell Williams had at least 40 catches and 650 yards receiving this season, with Mike Williams leading the team in touchdowns with 10. Tight end Hunter Henry was just activated for this week’s game, though he will likely be on snap count and Antonio Gates should get the lion share of the work at the position.
THE CHARGERS D
The Los Angeles defense will undoubtedly go with a different game plan this week to combat Tom Brady, after last week going mostly with a seven defensive back set to deal with Lamar Jackson’s only reasonable threat, his rushing ability. The usual plan in beating the Patriots is getting pressure on Tom Brady, and the Chargers certainly have that ability with Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa leading the way up front and Derwin James patrolling from the defensive backfield.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
Who Brady will look for in the passing game remains to be seen, though Julian Edelman is the likely likely candidate to see the most amount of attention. In the last four games he has been targeted 39 times, which has resulted in 27 catches including three touchdowns. Unfortunately he has also had a recent run of penalties and dropped passes, the importance of which becomes even more prevalent in the playoffs.
Fans are hoping for a postseason surge from Rob Gronkowski, though it remains to be seen how effective he will be the rest of this year and beyond. The team has been on an incredible run of late at home when he gets in the end zone, as they are 24-0 in the last 24 games at Foxboro when Gronk scores a touchdown. With his effectiveness in question and Josh Gordon gone, the remaining wide receiver targets should go to Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett. Both had at least five catches in the finale against the Jets, and will hope to build upon that momentum after struggling to make any sort of impression this season.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
One of the most important matchups of the game will be the Patriots running game against the Chargers impressive front. They will be wise to do their best to get both Sony Michel and James White involved, as their success has had a direct correlation to the Patriots winning this season. They are 5-0 when Michel gets at least 18 carries and are 7-0 when White scores a touchdown. When they avoid White it has a similar effect the other way, with the team going 0-4 when he has seven or less touches.
THE FINAL DECISION
New England undoubtedly has a home field advantage being the only team not to have lost at home this entire season, though the Chargers have done well on the road as well going 8-1 away from the unfriendly confines of the soccer stadium that they play in. This weekend’s game calls for cold temperatures with snow in the forecast, which combined with the fact that the Chargers will traveling cross country for the third time in nine days should add a couple interesting variables to the game that are certainly in New England’s favor. While I expect a competitive game through out, I believe the skill and playoff experience of Brady and Belichick will be too much for the Chargers to overcome, and when the final whistle blows the Patriots will be moving on to their 8th consecutive AFC Championship after a win and cover at home against LA.
Mike’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England –4