It’s tough to imagine not having faith in the New England Patriots at home in January, but Stephen A. Smith never has been afraid to go against the grain.
The Patriots will look to stay perfect at home this season when they welcome the Los Angeles Chargers to Gillette Stadium for a divisional-round matchup Sunday afternoon. New England hasn’t dominated the opposition this season like it has in years past, and Smith evidently believes there are enough holes within the Patriots to be confident in the Chargers’ chances of advancing to the AFC Championship Game.
“I’m going with the Chargers, believe it or not, in this particular game for a bevy of reasons,” Smith said Friday on ESPN’s “First Take.” “No. 1, I don’t trust the New England Patriots or what I’m seeing. They’re a top-5 offense — I think they’re ranked fourth in points — and they’re a top-7 defense overall, but they bend a lot. They’re 21 in yards allowed, they’re 22nd against the pass. And the health of (Rob) Gronkowski, he says he’s ready, I’m not so sure. (Julian) Edelman clearly doesn’t look the same, he’s been on a roller-coaster ride since the four-game suspension at the beginning of the season. He doesn’t appear to be the same, and they lost Josh Gordon.”
Smith continued: “They just don’t seem to be the same offensively. Defensively, you get the impression they know what they’re doing, they know how to bend without breaking. But this is a Chargers team that is 9-1 straight up on the road, 8-2 against the spread. You look at Philip Rivers, Anthony Lynn’s doing a great job. I know it’s back-to-back cross-country trips, I’m paying attention to all of that. But I still believe this is a different make up with the Chargers. I don’t trust this New England Patriots team. Had everybody been healthy I would have picked the Patriots because they’re in Foxboro. I was saying that all year. But when you look at them and the injuries they’re suffering from, they just don’t appear to be the same.”
Smith lays out some legitimate points, but a few of them missed the mark. Chief among them being the Patriots’ health, as New England only had one player listed as limited for Friday’s practice. It’s fair to assume players up and down the roster are dealing with nagging ailments at this stage in the season, but that’s true for all of the other remaining playoff teams as well.
There’s no denying Gronkowski’s lack of production this season, but Edelman’s struggles appear to be overblown. The veteran wide receiver uncharacteristically has had trouble with drops on the campaign, yet he still managed to average over six catches per game in the regular season. And considering both players are proven postseason performers, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the duo elevate their games now that the lights are brighter.
Picking against the Patriots is one thing, but saying you “don’t trust” Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and Co. seems a bit foolish.
Thumbnail photo via Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports