AFC Divisional Playoff Preview: Chargers at Patriots

Al Bello (Getty Images)

The real NFL season is underway.

Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers head to the blistering cold at Gillette Stadium this afternoon to take on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs. The winner will earn the right to travel to Arrowhead Stadium and take on the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship.

Here are some key stats to consider:

  • The Chargers allowed the most receiving yards by running backs in the NFL (973) during the regular season. The Patriots will more than likely look to exploit this with the trio of James White, Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead. White is second in the NFL in receiving yards by running backs with 751.
  • Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers is just 1-7 in his career against the Patriots, with the lone victory coming in 2008 with Matt Cassell as the starting quarterback. He is 0-2 in two postseason contests against New England (2007 and 2008).
  • In the last 24 years, the Patriots are 42-10 in cold weather games (12-2 in the postseason), which is defined as games that are 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius) or below by kickoff time.

While the Chargers did take some time to practice at Brown University, it does not come close to the level of intensity in a playoff game.  Did they win in Baltimore last week? Yes. Have they been pretty much perfect on the road this season (8-1), yes. They’ve won in hostile environments in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Baltimore last week in the AFC Wild Card.

But when you give a team like the Patriots a bye week to get healthy and play in their home stadium, combined with the fact that Brady seems to be as healthy as he has all season after dealing with a torn meniscus, per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the odds shift in their favor.

That was not the only report that Rapoport released this morning, as tight end Rob Gronkowski is once again mulling retirement. Regardless of the outcome today, Gronk could very well be playing in his last game at Gillette.

The lone player that is on the injury report for the Patriots is defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. (ankle).  Cordarrelle Patterson, who was on the injury report earlier in the week, is a player who the Chargers are very concerned about in the special teams area. In order to limit Patterson’s returns on kickoffs, the Chargers have signed Nick Rose, who will more than likely just try and force a touchback. Michael Badgley will still be kicking field goals.

Meanwhile, an important element of the Chargers offense is without a doubt running back Melvin Gordon. Gordon  suffered an MCL injury and seems hobbled in the backfield. Nobody is 100-percent healthy this time of year, but if Gordon cannot make the necessary cuts and adjustments, it will force Rivers to look to throw the ball more to the likes of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams. Los Angeles will also be getting tight end Hunter Henry back, as he has not played all season after tearing his ACL back in May. It will be a tough spot for him to come back and make a huge impact without any prior game action.

The Patriots offense will be wary of the defensive line of the Chargers led by Nick Bosa and Melvin Ingram, while rookie safety Derwin James has made his presence known in the secondary.

Bill Belichick and co. have had plenty of time for preparation ahead of today’s contest. We will find out in a few hours if it has made a difference.

 

 

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Follow O'Callaghan on Twitter: @JOCallaghan_ENT

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