The New England Patriots will welcome the Los Angeles Chargers to Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon in their final game before their well-placed bye week.
Here’s everything you need to know about that matchup:
TALE OF THE TAPE
The Patriots enter the weekend at 5-2 after reeling off three consecutive wins. The Chargers also are winners of three straight, pulling within one game of .500 after beginning the season 0-4. Three of L.A.’s four losses came by three points or fewer, and two featured potential game-winning/tying field goals that were either blocked or missed.
These teams last met in 2014 in San Diego, with the Patriots winning 23-14 en route to a Super Bowl title.
The Patriots’ defense will be missing a few key pieces, as linebacker Dont’a Hightower, defensive tackle Malcom Brown and cornerback Eric Rowe all have been ruled out. Hightower is expected to miss the rest of the regular season with a torn pectoral muscle, while Brown and Rowe are dealing with ankle and groin ailments, respectively.
Six other Patriots players are questionable for Sunday, including cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who missed the last two games with a concussion and was limited in practice this week. Rounding out that list are wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee), defensive end Cassius Marsh (shoulder), offensive tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle), defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (chest) and linebacker Elandon Roberts (ankle).
Amendola said Friday he is “good to go.”
PATRIOTS’ OFFENSE VS. CHARGERS’ DEFENSE
The Patriots’ No. 1 priority Sunday will be keeping star Chargers defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram away from quarterback Tom Brady — a task that gets even more difficult if Cannon cannot go or is not 100 percent. Bosa and Ingram have formed the NFL’s best pass-rushing duo this season, ranking sixth and fourth in the league in sacks, respectively.
Look for New England to keep pounding it on the ground against an L.A. defense that ranks dead last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. The Patriots’ rushing attack has been excellent in recent weeks, with Dion Lewis emerging as the team’s most dangerous back. Rex Burkhead also should see more playing time in his second game back following a month-long absence.
Brady threw for a season-low 249 yards in last week’s win over the Atlanta Falcons but was highly efficient, completing 72.4 percent of his passes and posting a passer rating of 121.2. He ranks at or near the top of the league in almost every major passing category.
PATRIOTS’ DEFENSE VS. CHARGERS’ OFFENSE
This could be a good game for Melvin Gordon to get going. The Chargers running back hasn’t been very productive this season (L.A. as a team ranks 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game), but he’ll be going against a Patriots defense that will be missing two of its top run defenders in Brown and Hightower.
Veteran David Harris, who played a season-high 19 defensive snaps against the Falcons, could see his role grow considerably with Hightower sidelined. Roberts also likely will play more if he is healthy enough to suit up.
Philip Rivers, who ranks fifth in the league in passing yards but 26th in completion percentage, will be facing a New England secondary that could look quite different than it did last Sunday. Cornerback Johnson Bademosi has started opposite Malcolm Butler for the past two weeks but could be bumped out of the starting lineup if Gilmore returns.
Given how well Bademosi has played, though, it’s unlikely he’ll be completely removed from the defensive game plan even if Gilmore does reclaim his starting spot.
Thumbnail photo via Jake Roth/USA TODAY Sports Images