Don’t forget this week: It’s the Los Angeles Chargers, not San Diego.
With that out of the way, the New England Patriots will take on the Chargers in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday, Jan. 13 at 1 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CBS.
Let’s dive right into this week’s matchups:
PATRIOTS PASSING ATTACK VS. PASS DEFENSE
Patriots passing rank: 8th, 266.1 yards per game
Patriots passing DVOA: 4th
Chargers pass defense rank: 9th, 227.9 yards per game
Chargers pass defense DVOA: 10th
The Patriots are considerably better passing at home. They average 272.9 yards per game with a 100.1 passer rating. Their road passer rating is 93.4.
The Chargers are pretty much the same team home or away. That’s because they’re two seasons into playing in a new city in a 27,000-seat stadium.
The Patriots’ passing attack has been unpredictable this season. They struggled mightily for 10 quarters from the second half of their Week 14 loss to the Miami Dolphins up until their Week 17 win over the New York Jets. Tom Brady and Co. looked like themselves again in that win over the Jets, though it was against second- and third-string cornerbacks.
The biggest strength of the Chargers’ defense is in their pass rush with defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram causing havoc, but the Patriots’ offensive line has done a good job of protecting Brady, who gets the ball out quickly.
It seems every week we make a big deal about the opposing team’s pass rush just for the Patriots to neutralize them when it matters.
Young defensive backs Derwin James and Desmond King will be a handful for wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back James White and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Veteran cornerback Casey Hayward also is having another solid season.
Ultimately, we believe Brady will look like himself and build off Week 17’s performance.
PATRIOTS RUSHING ATTACK VS. RUN DEFENSE
Patriots rushing rank: 5th, 127.3 yards per game
Patriots rushing DVOA: 9th
Chargers run defense rank: 9th, 105.8 yards per game
Chargers run defense DVOA: 10th
The Patriots also are better running at home. They average 159.3 yards per game at home with 4.5 yards per attempt. They average just 3.9 yards per attempt on the road.
Rookie running back Sony Michel has 116 carries for 545 yards with five touchdowns in six home games and 93 carries for 386 yards with one score in seven road games.
It won’t be easy running on the Chargers, but if Los Angeles respects Brady and comes out trying to defend the pass, the Patriots will be able to eat up yards on the ground.
PATRIOTS PASS DEFENSE VS. PASSING ATTACK
Patriots pass defense rank: 22nd, 246.4 yards per game
Patriots pass defense DVOA: 14th
Chargers passing rank: 10th, 255.6 yards per game
Chargers passing DVOA: 2nd
It’s worth noting the Patriots’ pass defense ranks seventh when judged by passer rating allowed. They’re fifth in yards per passing attempt.
The Chargers are fifth when ranked by passer rating and third in yards per attempt.
The Patriots’ pass defense is much better at home, allowing just a 76.1 passer rating vs. 91.1 on the road.
Expect to see an ultra-competitive matchup between Patriots All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore and Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen. We project undrafted rookie JC Jackson will cover Tyrell Williams while Jason McCourty will take on Mike Williams.
A wild card in this matchup is tight end Hunter Henry, who’s still recovering from a torn ACL in May. He didn’t play wild-card weekend, but if he makes it back in time for the divisional round, he could be a tough matchup for safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty. Running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler also are heavily involved in the passing game.
EDGE: Patriots because the game is at Gillette Stadium.
PATRIOTS RUN DEFENSE VS. RUSHING ATTACK
Patriots run defense rank: 11th, 127.7 yards per game
Patriots run defense DVOA: 19th
Chargers rushing rank: 15th, 117.1 yards per game
Chargers rushing DVOA: 6th
Opponents have just one rushing touchdown against the Patriots at home vs. six on the road. The Patriots allow just 98.6 yards per game at home.
The Patriots’ run defense has been Jekyll and Hyde lately. We predict the Patriots will be forced into nickel and dime coverage, meaning Gordon and Ekeler could be running at will. It makes sense for the Patriots to force Gordon and Ekeler to beat them on the ground rather than allowing Rivers and the passing attack to go off.
PATRIOTS SPECIAL TEAMS VS. SPECIAL TEAMS
Patriots special teams DVOA: 16th
Chargers special teams DVOA: 17th
The Patriots’ special teams hasn’t been very special this season, though they have been considerably better since introducing Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber into the coverage units.
If this game was played on a neutral field — so, basically, where the Chargers play at home — we’d feel differently about this game. But the Patriots are 8-0 and a completely different team at home this season. The Chargers are an incredibly well-balanced team, and they were good enough to squeak by the Baltimore Ravens, but we don’t think it’s enough to take down New England at Gillette Stadium.