By the time the Patriots and the San Diego (I don’t care) Chargers kick off their AFC divisional contest Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium, both teams will understand the ramifications of a win.
If the Kansas City Chiefs outlast the Indianapolis Colts in their divisional matchup on Saturday, either the Chargers or Patriots are headed to Arrowhead Stadium.
Should the Colts pull off the upset of the AFC’s No. 1 seed, either the Chargers would get to host the AFC Championship game in their makeshift stadium two hours north of San Diego, or the world would have to suffer through a one-week retrospective of Deflategate with Indianapolis making its first playoff appearance in Foxborough since “PSI: New England.”
It would be The McDaniels Bowl, the Patriots up against the franchise their offensive coordinator stiffed at the babbling altar of Jim Irsay. It would be Andrew Luck’s shoulder delivering a little comeuppance to the man who doubted the quarterback’s health after accepting then not accepting the Indianapolis head coaching gig.
It would be a preview week filled with reference to Richard Berman, John Jastremski, the Wells Report, and Mona Lisa Vito. We’d have to bone up on the Ideal Gas Law and how the Patriots consider any mention of “deflating” a reference to weight loss. Bill Nye would have another week of rare guest appearances. Shannon Sharpe and Max Kellerman would be in a virtual race to see who could say the stupidest thing of the week.
It would be hell.
It would be glorious.
This week’s picks
Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 27, Chargers 20. “I can never before recall the Patriots, at home, being the smallest of the four betting favorites in this round. It is so because New England isn’t quite the juggernaut of past years, and also because the Chargers are a lot scarier than your average 5-seed. You think of Philip Rivers and that Bolts offense, but it was L.A. defense that flummoxed the Ravens in Baltimore last week. But here’s the thing: Lamar Jackson isn’t. And last week L.A. did not face Bill Belichick coming off a bye. Or the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, where they have won nine straight playoff games. LAC has been good on road; New England has been better at home. I would also note that RIvers 1-7 in his career vs. Pats, including 0-2 in playoffs, and it’s 0-7 directly against Brady. The forecast of rain and perhaps snow showers underlines my not liking the West Coast visitors here. L.A.’s best upset shot: Bothering Brady with a four-man rush, a possibility for Bolts vs. a dinosaur of a pure pocket passer in Brady. Could happen. But a better bet is that NE picks Rivers at least once and that the Pats do what they do, relentlessly: Win at home in the playoffs.”
Joe Giglio, NJ.com: Chargers (+4). “In a typical season, this would be a Patriots lock. But this is anything but a typical Chargers team or a vintage Patriots outfit. New England is vulnerable. Los Angeles has proven to be a team of road warriors, and plays the kind of football that can travel in January. This is a tight-low scoring game with three minutes to go. Don’t be surprised if Los Angeles’ playmakers on both sides simply make more plays.”
Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Patriots (-4). “I’ve picked against the Patriots in spots like this one too many times over the years, only to have to sit there as Bon Jovi’s stupid song blares in my face six times after every Patriots touchdown. I like to think I’ve learned my lesson.”
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Patriots 27, Chargers 24. “The Chargers should be able to score with their passing game. If they can get out to an early lead, they have a real chance to win it. I just don’t think they will beat the Patriots in Foxboro in the playoffs. Are you picking against Brady? I am not. Patriots win it, but it’s close.”
CBS Sports staff: Split (New England -4). Five out of eight like the Patriots straight-up.
ESPN Football Power Index: Patriots win by 5.1 points. “FPI actually thinks the Chargers are the slightly better team. But because this game is on the road — and all the way across the country — and because the Patriots have a rest advantage, it gives New England a solid shot to win.”
Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times: Chargers. “No one should be surprised if the Patriots find a way to win — that’s what they do — but the Chargers were a better team this season, and Rivers has a good chance of surprising everyone and finally beating Brady.”
Neil Greenberg, Washington Post: Chargers (+4). “Let’s not overcomplicate this: the Patriots need to protect Tom Brady to move on to the AFC championship game. His completion rate dropped from 72 to 45 percent when under pressure this year and he had a corresponding drop in passer rating, going from 105.3 in a clean pocket to 71.2 when facing pressure, roughly the difference between how well Philip Rivers and Blaine Gabbert passed the ball in 2018. That means left tackle Trent Brown and right tackle Marcus Cannon must play well against Los Angeles edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. All but one of Bosa’s 5.5 sacks in 2018 came against the opponent’s right tackle, yet he had an even split of pressures from the left (13) and right side (13) this season. Ingram was more productive from the left side (38 pressures out of 282 pass-rush snaps, 13 percent) but he was no slouch from the right, either (26 pressures out of 218 pass-rush snaps, 12 percent).”
Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 24, Chargers 17. “Something’s got to give. The Chargers are 9-0 away from L.A., the Patriots are unbeaten at home, and Tom Brady has never lost to Philip Rivers. Playoff experience becomes the difference for a New England team that was left for dead not long ago.”
Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 24, Chargers 23. “I actually think the Chargers are a better top-to-bottom team than the Patriots right now. But the Chargers’ disadvantages are having to play against the Ravens while the Patriots were resting, two long cross-country flights, and an early kickoff. The Patriots’ playoff experience can’t hurt, and the Chargers are going to have to radically change their defensive approach this week against Tom Brady from the way they played last week against Lamar Jackson. The Patriots will pull out a close win.”
Tadd Haislop, Sporting News: Chargers 30, Patriots 27. “Anthony Lynn might not win coach of the year for his work in 2018, but a win over Belichick’s Patriots in the postseason would make many re-think their votes. Of course, Lynn will happily take the trade-off.”
Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Chargers 24, Patriots 20. “New England will try winning with a run-heavy approach, but eventually, LA will push its opponent into passing too much. Brady will face plenty of heat from Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram to keep him from another magical playoff moment as Rivers enjoys his finest one.”
USA Today staff: Six staff members split.
Nick O’Malley, MassLive: Patriots 23, Chargers 20. “We saw the Chargers last week scrapping things out against a Ravens team that had struggles of their own. If Los Angeles plays like that again this week, the Patriots have the edge. I’m expecting to take somewhat of a step up and making it close, putting the Patriots in a spot where they could win this thing in the fourth quarter.”
FiveThirtyEight: Patriots with a 58 percent chance of winning.
Don Banks, Patriots.com: Patriots. “The Patriots are 7-0 in their past seven Divisional-round home games, but this time they drew no opponent from the Cupcake Division. The Chargers are legit, and they won’t be intimidated by Gillette Stadium after winning in five different time zones this season, going 9-0 when they play outside of Los Angeles. Then again, the Patriots were the NFL’s only 8-0 home club this season, and they’ve won 15 consecutive home games since falling in Week 4 to Carolina last season. So there are stats to back up both team’s invincibility. But at some point, I think the travel and perhaps the frosty weather will catch up to the Chargers on Sunday. They’re trying to become the first team since the 1989 Rams to travel coast-to-coast for consecutive playoff games, winning both. It’s not an easy trick, and beating the Patriots after a bye week is another statistical improbability to deal with. New England will have to play its best game and protect Tom Brady at all costs, and the Patriots can’t afford to get behind and have to play catch up against that talented Chargers defense. In the end, New England knows how to win the tough games in January, and one more trip to the AFC Championship game is on the way.”
Elliot Harrison, NFL.com: Patriots 28, Chargers 24. “Let’s be straight here: This New England team isn’t near the quality of the 2007 group, particularly on the defensive side of the ball (with less veteran leadership being a factor), while the offense misses its closest Randy Moss equivalent, Josh Gordon. What this 2018 group does have is running backs — in spades. This position group is where the Patriots, like the Chargers, present issues for their opponents. Sony Michel is healthy, and — provided he hasn’t hit the proverbial rookie wall — should be a central figure in the game plan. Rex Burkhead, too. James White x2. The latter will catch 10 balls if Bolts DC Gus Bradley is too aggressive with his ‘backers. Not to mention, Tom Brady will get the ball out fast enough to frustrate Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Can he will another championship game appearance out of this iteration of the Patriots?”
It says here: Patriots 27, Chargers 22. A game otherwise known as the James White Invitational.