Patriots-Chargers preview: 3 keys to the game, fun facts, prediction

Ryan Hannable
January 12, 2019 - 1:20 pm
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Here we go.

After a week off because of earning a first-round bye, the Patriots will get back on the field Sunday afternoon for the AFC divisional round against the Chargers at Gillette Stadium. Los Angeles beat Baltimore on the road last week to earn a trip to New England.

The Chargers come into the game with the best road record in the league, 8-1 following last week’s win, while the Patriots are the only team not to lose a game at home this year.

The two teams have met in the playoffs before — the 2006 playoffs and the 2007 playoffs — both Patriots wins.

(Here’s an oral history of the 2006 AFC divisional round classic.)

Temperatures are expected to be in the 20s, which favors the Patriots. Over the course of Philip Rivers’ long career, he’s only played in five games with temperatures at or below freezing and he’s 1-4 in those games. Meanwhile, the Patriots are 27-7 in that same timeframe.

Chargers vs. Patriots
Sunday, January 13, 2019
1:05 p.m., CBS
Patriots -4, over/under 47.5

3 keys to the game

Establish the run

The Patriots are not winning the game unless they have a solid rushing attack. If the Chargers go with six or seven defensive backs like last week against the Ravens, the Patriots should go bigger and try and run the ball down their throats. This has the potential to be a big Sony Michel game. When Michel has 98 or more yards rushing, the Patriots are 5-0. Meanwhile, when the Patriots rush for over 100 yards as a team, they are 9-0. This will also set up the passing game to keep the defense off balance. The Patriots cannot fall behind because that would make them one-dimensional and that would feed into what the Chargers defense wants.

Force Chargers into third-and-long

As was shown here, the Chargers really struggle on third down. The Chargers averaged 5.50 yards per play on third down in the regular season, which is really bad when the league average was 7.05 yards per play. If the Patriots can limit Melvin Gordon on first and second down, this will set the defense up for success. On third down this year, Rivers was 79-for-138 (57.2 completion percentage) passing with 985 yards, eight touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 74.7 quarterback rating. The eight interceptions are the most in the entire league and the QB rating is 27th. If the Patriots force the Chargers into third-and-medium and third-and-long, it could be a tough day for the their offense.

Take advantage of Chargers’ aggressiveness

Los Angeles is very aggressive on defense, which can be used against them. Look for the Patriots to call a few more screens than usual and also some jet sweeps to their receivers to try and catch the defense getting too far up field. It can also work in the secondary, as we wouldn’t be surprised to see a wheel route or two called in the game to take advantage of some looks by the defensive backs — Cordarrelle Patterson or Chris Hogan could be options there. Also, the way the Chargers play defense, the middle of the field could be open. If Rob Gronkowski can do it, his old go-to seam route could be there.

Fun facts

1. With a win, the Patriots will advance to their eighth straight AFC title game to extend their NFL record. The previous longest streak was five by the Raiders in the 1970s.

2. With five receptions, Julian Edelman will move into second place all-time in playoff receptions. Edelman currently has 89, which trails Reggie Wayne (93) and Jerry Rice (151).

3. Edelman has had double-digit targets in his last eight playoff games.

4. The Patriots are 21-1 when winning the turnover battle in their playoff history.

5. Of the last seven NFL teams to have at least seven wins on the road during the regular season, only three have advanced beyond the divisional round.

Prediction 

Patriots 24, Chargers 20

This has the potential to be another Patriots-Chargers playoff classic. New England really cannot afford to play from behind, so much that we wouldn’t be shocked if the Patriots win the toss that they take the ball. While the Chargers are a very talented team and the Patriots don’t have as much talent as in the past, we like the homefield advantage to play a major role. The cold will be a factor and help the Patriots to a close win.

Related: Julian Edelman ahead of game vs. Chargers: 'We need Foxboro going nuts'

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