Tom Brady and the New England Patriots get their playoff journey started on Sunday when they host the Los Angeles Chargers in the Divisional Round. The Patriots are currently listed as 4-point favorites with an over/under of 45.5 points.
For the Chargers, this will be their second straight trip to the east coast. The Lightning Bolts took care of business last week in Baltimore. It wasn’t pretty, as the Chargers settled for five field goals to just one touchdown. However, they built a sizable lead and were able to withstand a late rally from the Ravens to win 23-17.
Meanwhile, the Patriots were able to stay at home last week after earning their usual first-round bye. New England actually endured a couple of losses down the stretch, perhaps showing a little vulnerability on their way to finishing the season 11-5. Of course, the Patriots still finished the season 8-0 at home and are once again a serious threat to reach the Super Bowl.
The Chargers did a great job last week of scheming to face the ultra-mobile Lamar Jackson. However, they’ll face a completely different type of challenge this week against Brady and company. Brady doesn’t have the best surrounding cast around him, but all the key players appear to be healthy heading into the playoffs, giving the Chargers a lot to think about. New England also started to get their running game going again late in the year. Over the course of the season, when Sony Michel has had a good game, the Patriots have been at their best.
It’s crucial for the Los Angeles defense to play to their strengths, which means putting pressure on Brady. In less than half a season, Joey Bosa has racked up 5.5 sacks, giving Melvin Ingram a suitable running mate. Those two combined for three of the team’s seven sacks last week against the Ravens. Obviously, Brady won’t hold onto the ball as long as Jackson did, but he’s also not nearly as mobile, giving the Chargers a chance to be disruptive if they can get consistent pressure on Brady.
The River Flows
Offensively for the Chargers, it’s all about the play of Philip Rivers. It should be a little easier for Los Angeles to run the ball against the New England defense than it was last week against the Ravens. But with Melvin Gordon banged up, the Chargers may not be able to rely on to be their workhorse back. The Patriots may also choose to load up the box and force the L.A. offense to become one-dimensional.
Rivers was solid but unspectacular against Baltimore. The fact that the Los Angeles offense couldn’t finish drives last week is a concern. It’s also worth noting that Rivers threw six interceptions during the final three weeks of the regular season. It’s not a coincidence that those picks came when the Chargers didn’t have Gordon fully healthy. Rivers has been so good this season in large part because of the Chargers have had good balance on offense.
Of course, Rivers and the Chargers have a chance in this game. But Brady and the Patriots always bring it in the postseason. Moreover, New England hasn’t lost at home since Week 4 of last season. Only two of those 13 straight wins were decided by less than four points. Bet on New England covering the 4-point spread against the Chargers on Sunday.