Worst-case scenario for Patriots facing Chargers in AFC divisional round

Ryan Hannable
January 06, 2019 - 6:04 pm
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Well, it’s official: the Patriots will host the Chargers in the AFC divisional round next Sunday at 1:05 p.m.

The Chargers dismantled the Ravens Sunday with the final score of 23-17 not being indicative of how much Los Angeles dominated play. Baltimore scored two late fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the game close. The win improved the Chargers' record to 8-1 on the road this season.

Of the three possible opponents, the Chargers were by far the toughest. Houston clearly was overrated all year long, and then Baltimore’s offense is horrendous when Lamar Jackson is taken away.

Philip Rivers is 0-7 all-time against Tom Brady, including the playoffs, with their most recent meeting coming last October at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots came away with a 21-13 win.

Here are five things to know about the Chargers, which will make this matchup so difficult.

1. Success on road

As previously mentioned, the Chargers do not mind playing away from home. In fact, they are undefeated outside of LA this year as they had two losses at home and then their lone road loss was against the Rams. This will make for a classic home-road battle, as the Patriots have been outstanding at home this year. They were the only team not to lose a game at home. New England has averaged 32.9 points per game at home, while allowing just 16.6. Meanwhile, the Chargers have scored 27.2 points per game on the road, while allowing 19.6. One thing worth noting is temperatures are predicted to be at or below freezing, which certainly is not what the Chargers are accustomed to playing in.

2. Dominant pass rush

The Chargers pass rush is up there with the best in football and it showed Sunday against Jackson and the Ravens. Jackson was sacked seven times, including twice by Melvin Ingram. In the regular season it totaled 38 sacks, but would have had a lot more if Joey Bosa was active for the entire season. He had 5.5 sacks in just seven games, while Ingram led the team with seven. Don’t sleep on defensive end Isaac Rochell who had five, while defensive tackle Darius Philon had four. In last year’s meeting, Bosa and Ingram combined for 17 pressures against Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder and LaAdrian Waddle, which means Trent Brown and Cannon will certainly have their work cut out for them with help from the tight ends and running backs.

3. Philip Rivers is not scared of anything

There are not many tougher quarterbacks in the NFL than Rivers and he certainly is not going to be intimidated by playing in Gillette Stadium against Brady. At 37 years old, Rivers had one of his better seasons as he was eighth in completion percentage, eighth in yards, tied for sixth in touchdown passes and fifth in quarterback rating. There is an element of him being prone to make some mistakes in crucial situations, but if he plays mistake-free, Rivers and the Chargers will be tough to beat. For what it’s worth, the Chargers have turned the ball over 10 times in their last four games.

4. Underrated secondary

For as good as their front-seven is, the Chargers secondary doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Rookie safety Derwin James will likely get Rob Gronkowski and the first-round pick out of Florida State should be up for the challenge. As much as Gronkowski has struggled this season, he will turn to his success in the divisional round to get some confidence going into the game. Also, Desmond King and Casey Hayward are among the better corners in the league, which will certainly get the Patriots’ attention. One area they do struggle in is covering opposing running backs. The Chargers gave up 973 receiving yards to running backs, the most in the NFL.

5. Talented wide receivers

The Patriots secondary will certainly be tested with Keenan Allen and also the Williamses — Mike and Tyrell. All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore will likely draw Allen and then it will be interesting to see what is done with the Williamses. It will be some combination of Jason McCourty, J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones. Tight end Hunter Henry likely will be activated for the game after tearing his ACL in the spring and will be a small part of the game plan. Patrick Chung will likely be matched up with him and Antonio Gates. After suffering a concussion in the regular-season finale against the Jets and missing practice last week, the Patriots need to get their leader on the backend — Devin McCourty — back, as communication will be very important in this game.

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