Written by: Jake Leicht
Previous Matchup: The last time that the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers faced off was week 8 of last season. The Patriots ultimately prevailed in a 21-13 win in which both teams did not move the ball particularly well. Tom Brady threw 47 passes, completing 32 of them for 333 yards and a touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. Although the Patriots were able to establish the run between Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, James White, and Mike Gillislee for 95 yards, they were not able to find the endzone on the ground. Brady was also sacked 3 times. For the Chargers, Philip Rivers only completed 17 passes for a measly 212 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Chargers did a bulk of their damage on the ground as Melvin Gordon had 132 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries. Both defenses played well, as only 3 touchdowns were scored the entire game.
Offense: The New England Patriots’ offense has been less explosive this season than in years past. Tom Brady did throw for 4,355 yards in the regular season, but he also only threw 29 touchdown passes. That is only 2 more touchdown passes than rookie Baker Mayfield and he only played in 13 and a half games. Brady’s receiving weapons have been fairly underwhelming as well. Rob Gronkowski only caught 3 touchdown passes all year, and he seems to be slowing down considerably. Deep threat Josh Gordon was suspended once again by the league for substance abuse. The Patriots leading receiver is Julian Edelman, and he caught 74 passes for 850 yards and 6 touchdowns. The Patriots have some solid options at running back, including stud 3rd down back James White, who caught 87 balls for 851 yards this season. Rookie Sony Michel has shown flashes of brilliance, and it will be interesting to see if he can get healthy for postseason play.
Philip Rivers had one of the best seasons of his career this season, posting over 4,300 yards and 32 touchdown passes. The emergence of wide receiver Mike Williams as a red zone and big play threat has opened up the passing lanes for Rivers. Williams caught 10 touchdown passes this season, tying him for 5th place in the NFL. Keenan Allen was brilliant once again posting 97 catches for 1,196 yards and 6 touchdowns. Melvin Gordon posted an impressive 885 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground as well as catching 50 passes for 480 yards and 4 touchdowns. Had Gordon played a full season, he would have easily had the best year of his career. The Chargers explosive offense will only get better this postseason as their stud tight end Hunter Henry will make his season debut this week in New England.
At this point in the season, the Los Angeles Chargers have the better offense. Sure, the New England Patriots have the greatest quarterback of all-time, but Brady is not making big time throws down the field like he used to in his prime. Philip Rivers simply has better weapons than Brady. Mike Williams will cause the Patriots fits, and if they double team him or play over the top with safety help, Keenan Allen will have a field day. Melvin Gordon can do a little bit of everything for the Chargers, even if he is not at full strength. Sony Michel is a stellar rookie running back, but he doesn’t get as many touches as he probably should given the fact that New England tries to get many running backs involved as well.
Advantage: Los Angeles Chargers
Defense: The New England Patriots defense only gave up 20.3 points per game over the course of the 2018 NFL season. Although they were very solid on the field, they did not collect a defensive touchdown this year. They were also tied for second to last in the league with only 30 sacks. Their linebacking play is fairly decent in the run game, but they often get exposed in the pass game due to their lack of speed at the position. Overall, I believe the New England Patriots have a solid defense in today’s NFL, but they are by no means an elite unit.
Like the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Chargers have an above average defense. The Chargers give up 20.6 points per game, .3 points more than the Patriots this season. Like the Patriots, the Chargers had an underwhelming 38 sacks in 2018. This number is awfully low considering they have two of the best pass rushers in the league in Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Joey Bosa didn’t not play several games due to injury to start the season. Unlike the Patriots, the Chargers did convert two touchdowns off of turnovers.
I would give the edge to the Los Angeles Chargers defense in this match-up. The Chargers have better pass rushers, and they have more overall speed on their defensive unit. Could Tom Brady dink and dunk his way to a few scores? Absolutely he could. The difference is that I believe the Chargers will get pressure versus Brady only rushing 4 players. I expect Los Angeles to score points, and Brady will have to sling it to keep up.
Advantage: Los Angeles Chargers
Special Teams: The New England Patriots have always had one of the best special teams units in the NFL. Under Bill Belichick, it is well known that the Patriots target players in the draft and free agency that can make an impact on special teams. The Patriots have one of the most accurate kickers of all-time in Stephen Gostkowski, and he is one of the most reliable kickers in the league in 2018. Ryan Allen is a stellar punter as well.
Advantage: New England Patriots
Coaching: Anthony Lynn has been one of the best head coaches in the NFL in 2018. He leads a stellar Los Angeles Chargers offense, and he seems to have led the Chargers through a difficult transition from San Diego. With that being said, Bill Belichick is literally the greatest head coach in the history of the NFL. He has coached in the most playoff games (39) than any other coach, and he has also won more playoff games (28) than any other coach as well. The New England Patriots will always have the coaching advantage over another team until Belichick retires.
Advantage: New England Patriots
Prediction: Even though I believe the Los Angeles Chargers are the better football team, I have a hard time picking against the New England Patriots in a home playoff game. The Patriots are led by the greatest coach and quarterback of all-time. Although the Patriots’ defense is average at best, I still believe they can keep the game close enough to let Tom Brady work his magic. I cannot see the Chargers marching into New England and getting the victory.
Patriots 34, Chargers 28