The New England Patriots entered Wild Card Weekend with a chance to play the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens or Los Angeles Chargers in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
They ultimately drew the Chargers by virtue of the Indianapolis Colts defeating the Texans on Saturday and Los Angeles beating Baltimore on Sunday.
And this was a very tough break for New England, according to former Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo.
“This is the worst possible matchup for the Patriots,” Mayo said this week on NBC Sports Boston’s “Quick Slants” podcast, looking ahead to New England’s playoff showdown with Los Angeles.
The Chargers are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, so Mayo certainly isn’t alone in his assessment. The Patriots, owners of the AFC’s No. 2 seed, will enter Sunday’s clash as the favorites at home, but Mayo expects Los Angeles’ defense to pose some matchup problems for New England.
“I think it’s the Chargers defense, defensive front,” Mayo, who spent eight seasons with the Patriots from 2008 to 2015, said of New England’s biggest reason for concern. “I know the Patriots offensive line, they’ve done a decent job for most of the year, right? Whether it’s through game-planning — when I say ‘game-planning,’ you can slow guys down through screens, through running the ball in jet motion. But when you think about (Joey) Bosa, (Melvin) Ingram, those guys up front, they have (Brandon) Mebane in the middle, they have the tight end (Hunter Henry) coming back this week (off the physically unable to perform list). … I can see this game, honestly, (Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski) will be a non-factor in this game. I can totally see that happening.”
The Chargers had the NFL’s eighth-best defense during the regular season, per DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), according to Football Outsiders. They ranked 10th against the pass and 10th against the run, based on those metrics.
The unit is packed to the gills with playmakers, including edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, rookie safety Derwin James and veteran cornerback Casey Hayward. New England’s offense definitely will have its hands full as Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the Patriots look to reach their eighth consecutive AFC Championship Game and ultimately their third straight Super Bowl.
“They’re great tacklers, they’re very versatile,” Mayo said of the Chargers’ secondary. “You get a guy like Derwin James who’s 225 pounds that can cover and also blitz. So you don’t know who to declare as the star or the slot corner. You don’t know who to declare as the lockdown safety. … Getting a guy like Mebane back, having those guys on the edge. They’re good against the run. These guys are able to control the front, and if you’re going to go out there and average three yards a carry, this game’s gonna be over by halftime.”
Despite the defensive strengths pointed out by Mayo, the former New England standout still is expecting a relatively high-scoring game between the Patriots and Chargers, who ranked fourth (27.6) and sixth (26.8), respectively, in points per game during the regular season.