Patriots

What NFL experts are predicting for Sunday’s Patriots-Chargers game

The Patriots have won three of their last four games heading into Sunday's game against the Chargers. Jim Davis/Globe Staff

When do we start hearing from Mercury Morris?

If it wasn’t already time to take the Pittsburgh Steelers’ run at perfection seriously, then it is now. After Wednesday’s win over the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers are now a robust 11-0 on the season, aiming to become the first NFL team to go undefeated over the course of an entire regular season since you-know-who managed the feat 13 years ago.

Only the Football Team from Washington, the Bills, Bengals, Colts, and Browns remain between Pittsburgh and perfection.

Of course, it’s an accomplishment only finished by Morris’ 1972 Miami Dolphins. Though considering the 14-0 Dolphins to be on the same level as a team that needs to go 19-0 in order to match them isn’t really a fair assessment. The 2007 Patriots, you might recall, went 18-1.

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There’s still a good opportunity for the Steelers to match that record, albeit with the Super Bowl title that eluded the ’07 Pats. The Bills, Browns, and Colts are a combined 23-10 on the season. At least one of them seems primed to give Pittsburgh a shot against its high hopes.

Since the Pats’ misfortune, four other teams have started their seasons by going at least 11-0. The 2009 Colts wound up 14-2 and lost the Super Bowl to New Orleans. The Saints were also undefeated that year for the first 13 games before finishing 13-3. With a title.

The 2011 Packers went 13-0, then 15-1 en route to losing to the same Giants who would (again) best the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The 2015 Panthers, led by Cam Newton, started the year 14-0. They ended the regular season at 15-1, and a loss to the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

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The point is, there is a long way to go for these Steelers before we actually, really, honestly start talking perfection. One of the Bills, Browns, or Colts — or maybe all three — could put a major dent in the run.

When Morris starts popping up, you’ll know the threat is real. Until then, the Steelers just seem like another team poised to fall short of the peak.

This week’s predictions

Benjamin Hoffman, New York Times: Chargers (Even). “In a fairly ugly game at home, the Patriots (5-6) got 84 yards passing (and two interceptions) from Cam Newton and just 47 yards rushing from Damien Harris, but thanks to some tremendous work from the team’s defense, and to the powerful leg of Nick Folk, New England was able to beat Arizona on Sunday. That gave the Patriots three wins in their past four games, but extending run that to four in five will be tough if the offense has a similarly quiet day, which will not work against the Chargers (3-8).”

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Greg Cote, Miami Herald: Patriots 19, Chargers 17. “Cam Newton was abysmal last week yet Pats beat Arizona (as I predicted), which underlines that Bill Belichick (post-Tom Brady) is still sort of finding a way. NE has the pass defense to neutralize LAC’s strength, which is Justin Herbert. And the coaching disparities don’t get much wider than Belichick vs. Anthony Lynn, which matters in a rare pick-’em game.”

MMQB staff: Four out of six like the Pats.

ESPN staff: Five out of eight go with New England.

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: Chargers 28, Patriots 20. “This is a long trip for the Patriots, who haven’t played that well despite still being alive in the playoff chase. Cam Newton has struggled two of the the past three games. The Chargers are done, but they have Justin Herbert, so the future is bright. Herbert will play well as the Chargers find a way to win a game after so many heartbreaks this year.”

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Jimmy Kempski, Philly Voice: Patriots (+1). “The Patri*ts were beneficiaries of an awful personal foul called on the Cardinals last week, that enabled them to kick a late field goal for the win. Ultimately, the Patri*ts are better off losing these games, because they’re not going to make the playoffs, and they’re only hurting their chances of selecting a good quarterback prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.”

Frank Schwab, Yahoo! Sports: Patriots (+1). “The Patriots’ lack of offense worries me. But it’s Bill Belichick against a rookie quarterback, and the Patriots are finding ways to win. The Chargers are the opposite of ‘find ways to win.’”

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Michael Hurley, CBS Boston: Chargers. “I’m all over the place with this one, but the Chargers are the best 3-8 team in NFL history. I stand by that.”

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: Patriots 23, Chargers 20. “The Patriots travel cross country in trying to further breathe life into their limited playoff hopes. This screams of them grinding the game out with Cam Newton and their traditional running game and leaning more on their improved defensive scheming vs. Justin Herbert. The Patriots can help their QB better with running as they compress the opposing offense around Herbert.”

Bill Bender, Sporting News: Patriots 28, Chargers 26. “The Patriots are trying to mount a last-ditch playoff run, but there is no margin for error. Justin Herbert has three 300-yard games in the last four weeks, but the Chargers have allowed 27 points or more in eight straight games. We can’t trust that defense.”

Mike Florio, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 23, Chargers 17. “The Patriots have a chance to return from their two-game L.A. swing on the right side of .500. Every other AFC contender should be praying that doesn’t happen.”

Michael David Smith, Pro Football Talk: Patriots 17, Chargers 10. “The Patriots aren’t done fighting for a playoff spot just yet. I think Bill Belichick is going to have something in store for Justin Herbert.”

FiveThirtyEight: Patriots, 53 percent (-1).

Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com: Patriots 23, Chargers 20. “New England’s win last week gave me mid-2001 Patriots vibes, with the home team taking down Arizona via special teams, a great defensive game plan, luck and mostly opponent errors. Bill Belichick specializes in situational football and letting the other team give the game away, which happens to be the Chargers’ specialty.”

NFL PickWatch: Sixty-seven percent go with the Patriots.

It says here: Chargers 23, Patriots 17. You know, reigning Special Teams Player of the Week Nick Folk can’t kick the ball, throw the ball, and catch the ball, all at the same time.

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