The New England Patriots will host the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday at Gillette Stadium in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. The winner will earn a spot in the AFC Championship Game.
The Patriots received a first-round bye by securing the AFC?s No. 2 seed, while the Chargers punched their tickets to the divisional round by defeating the Baltimore Ravens on Wild Card Weekend.
The Chargers vs. Patriots showdown is scheduled to kick off at 1:05 p.m. ET.
NESN.com?s trio of Mike Cole, Ricky Doyle and Andre Khatchaturian made their against-the-spread picks for each of this weekend?s divisional-round matchups. Here are their picks for Chargers vs. Patriots.
Los Angeles Chargers (-4) New England Patriots, Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
Mike: Patriots. A lot of people think the Patriots are as vulnerable as they?ve ever been, especially for a home game in the divisional round. The Chargers are that good. If Los Angeles has one glaring weakness, however, it?s covering running backs out of the backfield. No team allowed more receiving yards to running backs this season, and few, if any, backs are better pass-catchers than James White, who led the team in receptions. Just go back to last season, when the Patriots beat the Bolts 31-23 behind 12 catches and 153 yards combined from White and Rex Burkhead. And if you go back to the games the Chargers lost this season, two trends stick out in all of them: turnovers and penalties. Those are two areas in which the Patriots rarely come up short.
Ricky: Patriots. There?s been a lot of talk this week — and this season — about the Chargers? pass-rushing tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and understandably so. They?re sick. But don?t you think head coach Bill Belichick knows that and will do everything possible to minimize arguably the Chargers? biggest strength? Don?t be surprised if the Patriots? offense is extremely run-heavy and reliant on more screen plays than shots downfield. The Chargers had the 26th-ranked run defense this season, per Pro Football Focus, and the Patriots have a talented array of ball-carriers — White, Burkhead, Sony Michel, Cordarrelle Patterson and even Julian Edelman — capable of gashing the Bolts.
Andre: Chargers. Los Angeles is the best road team in the NFL as evidenced by its 8-0 record away from LA county this season. Anthony Lynn?s squad had the best yards per play differential on the road this season and allowed just 5.27 yards per play away from StubHub Center against some quality offenses, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks. Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler should have effective games against a rush defense that?s allowed nearly five yards per carry. The only way I see the Patriots winning is if they use their short-pass game to exploit the Chargers? weakness against pass-catching running backs. LA allowed the most receiving yards to running backs this season. That said, LA is the more complete team in all three phases of the game and should be able to keep the score within the number.
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