The AFC Divisional Playoffs features another sensational quarterback battle between Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers (13-4) and Tom Brady from the New England Patriots (11-5), who are undefeated at home this season with an 8-0 record.
The Chargers were one win away from securing the top seed in the AFC. Even with a 12-4 record, they were relegated to a Wild Card spot after losing out to the Kansas City Chiefs in the race for the AFC West division title.
The Chargers are 8-1 in away games this season. They went on the road and beat the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Wild Card round, who had defeated them two weeks prior. It wasn’t a pretty game. The offensive struggled to get the ball in the end zone, but their kicked nailed five clutch field goals and the Chargers held on for the win.
The Patriots won their tenth AFC East title and secured the #2 seed and a bye week. The biggest knock against the Pats is their strength of schedule due to the slew of bad teams in their division with two games per season against the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins.
LA Chargers (13-4) at New England Patriots (11-5)
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA
Point Spread: Pats -4
For a second week in a row, the Chargers must fly cross country to the East Coast to play an early game. The Patriots opened as a 5-point favorite but the first wave of money came from bettors who backed the Chargers. The total opened at 47, which is low for two high-scoring teams.
Two Gordons: High and Higher
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon missed several games with a sprained knee. He will be ready for action against the Patriots. In only 12 games this season, Gordon ran for 12 touchdowns and caught four more. Gordon can beat you on the ground (885 yards) or in the air (490 yards). If the Chargers are not calling a direct running play, Gordon is still on the field during passing downs. With 50 receptions, he’s become a valuable release value for Rivers.
The Patriots gambled on WR Josh Gordon (40 receptions, 3 TDs) and it blew up in their face. The Patriots took a flier on the renown “weed guy” because they were thin in the wide receiver ranks. Gordon managed to stay clean for a couple of weeks until he had a hankering for self-medicating during the bye week. When Gordon failed a drug test, his short stint in New England prematurely ended after the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
Rob Gronkowski (47 receptions, 3 TD) has been fighting injuries the last couple of seasons. He’s a warrior who has been playing hurt and through the pain, but he’s been a shadow of his former self playing in only 13 games this season.
Brady’s favorite target is Julian Edelman (74 receptions) once again, despite missing the first four games due to a PED suspension. Brady also spreads the ball around, so running backs like James White (87 receptions) have been seeing consistent love from Brady.
Brady vs. Rivers
Philip Rivers is 0-7 against Tom Brady over his career. The only time Rivers beat the Patriots happened the year that Brady missed the season with a knee injury.
Despite Brady owning Rivers over the years, the current Chargers squad is probably the best team River’s ever had, particularly on the defensive side. The Chargers are sending seven players to the Pro Bowl this year, including three alternates.
TALE OF THE TAPE
Tom Brady: 4,355 yards, 29 TDs, 11 INTs, 68.8 QBR
Philip Rivers: 4,468 yards, 32 TDs, 12 INTs, 71.2 QBR
Brady at 41-years old is four years older than Rivers. The combined ages for the two is 78 years, which marks the oldest QB matchup in the playoffs. But the way these two played this season, they certainly looked like they were ten years younger.
It’s been a wild season for New England’s power trio of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and Josh McDaniels. The Patriots do not have a dominant team like they fielded in the past, but they still have a triumvirate of the best power threesome in football among their head coach, offensive coordinator, and quarterback.
Despite the rumors that he would be going to Cleveland to coach Baker Mayfield, McDaniels is staying in New England. McDaniels interviewed for the Green Bay Packers job, but they decided to hire Matt LaFleur instead.
Tom Brady isn’t going anywhere either despite the fact he will be 42 next season. Brady revealed his intentions to play next season and beyond.
Bill Belichick never likes to talk about anything aside from the next task at hand, or the next game on the schedule. Belichick had an extra week to prepare for the Chargers and discover a game plan to exploit their weaknesses. The Patriots are undefeated at home with an 8-0 record. On paper, especially with the extra week to prep, all signs point to the Patriots.
Who Has a Better Defense?
The Patriots are the fourth-best scoring team in the NFL averaging 27.3 points per game. The Chargers are tied for sixth overall with 26.8 points per game.
Both teams boast strong defenses that barely allow 21 points each. The Patriots are seventh overall with only 20.3 points allowed per game. The Chargers are right behind and ranked #8 overall, allowing 20.6 points per game.
Chargers have a Top 10 rushing defense and a Top 10 passing defense in yards allowed. In terms of DVOA, the Chargers are ranked #7 overall. In comparison, the Patriots are ranked #13 in overall DVOA.
The Chargers defense has to quickly shift gears from stopping the highly-mobile speedster Lamar Jackson to facing Tom Brady’s magical arm. The Chargers figured out a clever way to stop Jackson utilizing seven defensive backs. What will they throw at Brady? Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa led the defense last week that recorded seven sacks against Jackson.
The Patriots have an average run defense, but they will be tested stopping Melvin Gordon. If there’s a weakness for the Patriots, it’s their pass defense. They allow 246.4 passing yards per game, which is ranked #22 overall.
Against the Spread
The Patriots have problems playing on the road with a 3-5 record, but they are unbeatable at home with a 8-0 record. The Pats are 5-2 ATS in their last seven playoff home games. In the AFC Divisional Round, the Patriots are 6-1 ATS in their last seven divisional playoff games. Overall, the Pats are 6-4 against the spread over their last 10 games.
The Chargers are 7-3 ATS over their last ten games, 5-1 ATS in their last six playoff road games, and 4-1 ATS in their last five games against winning teams.
The Under is 8-1 in the Patriots last nine games. The under is 4-0 in the last four home games for the Pats. The under is 4-0 in the last four playoff games for the Chargers.
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the Patriots are 6-1 odds to win the Super Bowl. The Chargers are also 6-1 favorites to win the NFL title.