Patriots’ Divisional-Round Dominance Will Be Put To Test Vs. Chargers


January 7, 2019

Remember the 2014 divisional-round playoff game between the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens? Of course, you do.

That was one of the most compelling postseason contests in Patriots history — an epic 35-31 win made by possible by Julian Edelman’s double pass and those funky formations that drove John Harbaugh nuts. New England erased two 14-point deficits on that night, kick-starting a playoff run that would culminate in the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl title.

It was an excellent football game. It also was an outlier.

Since losing to the New York Jets at home in 2010, Patriots have gone a perfect 7-0 in the divisional round, and the win over the Ravens is the only one worth remembering. Five of the seven were decided by 13 or more points, and another (a 27-20 triumph over the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015) would have been if not for a garbage-time touchdown in the final minutes.

2011: Patriots 45, Broncos 10
2012: Patriots 41, Texans 28
2013: Patriots 43, Colts 22
2014: Patriots 35, Ravens 31
2015: Patriots 27, Chiefs 20
2016: Patriots 34, Texans 16
2017: Patriots 35, Titans 21

The Patriots’ average margin of victory in those seven games was 17 points. They averaged 37 points per game and allowed just 20. Excluding the Baltimore barnburner, they’ve faced little resistance en route to their NFL-record seven consecutive AFC Championship Game appearances.

This year could be different, though.

The Patriots’ latest divisional-round opponent is the Los Angeles Chargers, who look like the most complete team New England has faced at this stage of the playoffs since their aforementioned winning streak began.

Why is that? Well, for starters, they finished the regular season at 12-4, the best record by a Patriots divisional-round opponent since the “letterman jacket” Houston Texans in 2012. Only the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams won more games during the regular season.

The Chargers also are 9-1 away from their home stadium — including wins in Seattle, Kansas City, Denver, Pittsburgh, London and, most recently, Baltimore, where they outlasted the Ravens 23-17 on Sunday in the wild-card round — and boast playmakers galore on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, 37-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers leads a unit that features two dual-threat running backs in Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler and three dangerous wideouts in Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, plus ageless tight end Antonio Gates and the newly healthy Hunter Henry, who could make his season debut against New England after missing all year with a torn ACL.

On defense, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram (three combined sacks vs. Baltimore) form an elite pass-rushing duo in front of a star-studded secondary that features two young All-Pros in cornerback Desmond King and rookie safety Derwin James, as well as two-time Pro Bowl corner Casey Hayward.

The Chargers dominated the Ravens for three-and-a-half quarters Sunday, holding them to three first downs over their first 10 possessions before having to survive a late Lamar Jackson comeback bid. They’ll travel to Gillette Stadium next Sunday (1:05 p.m. ET), with the winner of that game facing either the Kansas City Chiefs or the Indianapolis Colts for the AFC title.

Thumbnail photo via Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports Images
Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung
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