The 12-4 (1-0) Los Angeles Chargers:
Though the 12-4 (1-0) Los Angeles Chargers got beaten by the Baltimore Ravens at home in Week 16, the Chargers traveled east to Baltimore for the Wild Card Weekend and beat the Ravens in their own stadium, 23-17.
Helped by their defense, who had seven sacks, an interception and a couple of forced fumbles (including one to close the game), the Chargers got the job done with veteran quarterback Philip Rivers completing 22-of-32 for 160 yards and no touchdown with zero interceptions.
That win and their regular season road record of 7-1 proves that the Chargers can be successful away from home, but a visitor win in noisy Foxborough was never achieved in 2018, so it will be shocking if it happens during the playoffs.
The 11-5 New England Patriots:
After going 2-2 in their final four games, the 11-5 New England Patriots looked entirely beatable in the regular season at times, but it would be a mistake to underestimate them or assume their historic run of postseason excellence is finally over.
With head coach Bill Belichick and GOAT quarterback Tom Brady at the helm, no team is safe against them, with Brady finishing 7th in the regular season among quarterbacks after throwing for 4,355 yards and 29 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
New England is undefeated at home this regular season, 8-0, but all
but one of their losses came from AFC opponents, so it’s going to be fun to watch this well-rested favorite work their postseason magic against a Chargers team ready (and able) to tackle Goliath.
What’s at stake:
These two teams have met 41 times (including 3 postseason games), with New England winning 24 games and Los Angeles winning 15 games. They have also tied twice. The Chargers have lost 4 of the last meetings in a row, their most recent loss during the 2017 season in October, the score Los Angeles 13, New England 21.
Whoever wins this matchup will go on to the Conference Championships.
They’ll play the winner of the other AFC Divisional Round matchup, either the sixth-seeded 10-6 (2-0) Indianapolis Colts or the number one seed, the 12-4 (1-0) Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, January 20 at either 2:05 pm or 5:40 pm.
And of course, whichever team loses this one goes home, their 2018 season finally over.
Questions to answer…
Who’s favored to win this Divisional Round Chargers-Patriots playoff matchup?
Which team has a better offense? Defense? Special teams?
Which team’s quarterback is more likely to lead his team to victory?
We’re going to compare the Chargers and the Patriots and attempt to answer those questions and more.
The 2018 Chargers offense ranked 11th in the NFL
Under Rivers leadership, Los Angeles’s offense scores an average of 26.8 points and moves the ball a total of 372.6 yards per game.
Rivers has had a productive regular season, throwing for 4,308 yards and 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, his completion percentage at 68.3.
In the postseason, Rivers has connected with four main targets – wide receivers Mike Williams (2 passes, 42 yards) and Keenan Allen (4 passes, 37 yards) and veteran tight end Antonio Gates (4 passes, 35 yards).
Chargers’ rushing attack ranked 15th overall
Rivers also targeted his running backs against the Ravens in the Wild Card game – Austin Ekeler caught 4 balls for 14 yards and Melvin Gordon caught a ball for three yards.
Gordon is slightly questionable for this one (see below), but chances are he’ll play and hopefully put up bigger numbers than he did against Baltimore, when he ran 17 times for 40 yards and a touchdown, averaging just 2.4 yards per carry.
Los Angeles offensive Injuries
Listed as questionable for Playoffs Divisional Round: running back Melvin Gordon has a sprained left knee but should play on Sunday.
The 2018 Patriots offense ranked 5th overall
The playoffs are usually the time when all doubts regarding the Patriots’ abilities to win are thoroughly crushed, but they’ve never been led by a 41-year-old before like they are now with All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady.
Going 4-3 during their final stretch of regular season games caused some to wonder if Brady is now too old to compete, but the old man’s regular season numbers (see above) and completion percentage of 65.8 were all respectable.
Brady’s got plenty of reliable targets to choose from (wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back James White, tight end Rob Gronkowski), but losing deep threat Josh Gordon towards the end of the season to personal demons hurt the team’s effectiveness downfield.
New England’s run game 5th in the league
Dual threat running back James White had 181 touches in 2018 for 1,176 total yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns.
Rookie running back Sony Michel is a true beast with 209 regular season runs for 931 yards and 6 touchdowns, plus 7 catches for 50 yards.
New England offensive Injuries
Tight end Jacob Hollister (hamstring) was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
Chargers Defense ranks 9th in the league
The Los Angeles Chargers’ defense stepped up against the Ravens in their Wild Card matchup, sacking their rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson seven times and forcing him to fumble on their final drive to end the game.
Los Angeles’ defensive squad only allows opponents to score an average of 20.6 points and move the ball 333.7 total yards per game, their rushing defense and passing defense both ranked 9th.
Chargers Defensive Players to watch:
Against the Ravens in the Wild Card game, defensive end Melvin Ingram recorded the most Charger tackles with 7, plus he sacked their quarterback twice and even forced a fumble.
Besides the two sacks from Ingram, these Chargers each had a sack against the Ravens – defensive ends Joey Bosa and Isaac Rochell, defensive tackle Justin Jones, linebacker Uchenna Nwosu and defensive back Desmond King.
Defensive back Adrian Phillips had six combined tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery against Baltimore.
Chargers defensive injuries
Listed as questionable for Playoffs Divisional Round: defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (personal).
Linebacker Jatavis Brown (ankle) was placed on injured reserve on Monday.
Patriots Defense is 21st overall
New England’s defense is ranked lower than the Chargers, allowing opponents to gain 359.1 total yards per game and less points per game, 20.3, with an 11th ranked rushing defense and a 22nd ranked passing defense.
The Patriots are tied for the 3rd most interceptions, 18, but are ranked T-30th in sacks with just 30.
Patriots Defensive Players to watch:
Middle linebacker Kyle Van Noy is New England’s best tackler this season with 92 combined, along with 3.5 sacks, an interception, 3 passes defended, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, one of those for a touchdown.
With 7.5 sacks during the regular season, defensive end Trey Flowers will be putting plenty of quarterback pressure on Rivers.
The stickiest hands in the Patriots’ secondary belong to strong safety Duron Harmon, who’s got 4 interceptions, which is tied for seventh most overall in the regular season.
Patriots Defensive Injuries
Listed as questionable for Playoffs Divisional Round: free safety Devin McCourty (concussion).
Special Teams Stats Comparison
Los Angeles’s punter, Donnie Jones, a free agent pickup acquired from the Philadelphia Eagles in October, punted 47 times in the regular season for a net average of 38.0 yards per punt, ranked 32nd in the NFL.
In the postseason, Jones has punted 5 times for a net average of 31.4 yards per punt.
New England’s punter, Ryan Allen, has been a Patriot all six of his NFL years and has punted 64 times in the regular season for a net average of 39.5 yards per punt, ranked 20th in the NFL.
Los Angeles’s placekicker, Michael Badgley, a free agent pickup from the Indianapolis Colts in October, was 15-for-16 in the regular season, his longest has been the 59-yarder he kicked while going 4-for-4 against the Bengals in Week 14.
Badgley missed one regular season extra point attempt (27/28).
In the post season, Badgley is 5-for-6, his longest a 53-yarder, and he’s not yet attempted any extra points.
New England’s veteran placekicker, Stephen Gostkowski, who has spent all 13 of his NFL seasons as a Patriot, was 27-for-32 in the regular season, his longest was a 52-yarder.
Gostkowski missed one extra point attempt (49/50), which happened in Week 14 in the first quarter of the team’s one-point loss to the Dolphins, followed by a missed field goal later in the game.
Los Angeles’s punt returner, cornerback Desmond King, is ranked 9th in the league in return average for the regular season.
King returned 23 punts for 318 yards, averaging 13.8 yards per return, his longest was a 73-yard return for a touchdown in Week 13 against the Steelers.
In the post season, King has returned 4 punts for 46 yards, averaging 11.5 yards per return, his longest for 33 yards.
New England’s punt returner, wide receiver Julian Edelman, is ranked 36th in the league in return average this regular season.
Edelman returned 20 punts for 154 yards, averaging 7.7 yards per return, his longest for 25 yards.
Chargers–Patriots prediction and odds
The odds makers have the Patriots favored over the Chargers by 4 with an over/under of 45.5.
CBSSports.com has two final score predictions:
Will Brinson goes with the underdog and the over and has it Chargers 27, Patriots 24
John Breech takes the over and predicts it Patriots 27, Chargers 20