New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Chargers : The New England Patriots begin their quest to return to the Super Bowl this afternoon when the Los Angeles Chargers come to town for an AFC Divisional Round matchup. Although they had a worse record than their upcoming opponent at 11-5, the Patriots earned the right to host this game—as well as a first-round bye—by winning the AFC East.
== MATCH INFO ==
NFL Playoffs 2019
Team : New England Patriots vs Los Angeles Chargers
Date : Sunday, January 13
Start Time : 4:40 Pm Et
The Chargers were forced to participate in the Wild Card, where they bested the Baltimore Ravens, after placing second in the AFC West despite finishing the campaign with a superior 12-4 record. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks in this 2019 NFL Playoffs contest, as it will feature two future Hall of Famers in New England’s Tom Brady and Los Angeles’ Philip Rivers. These stars have met twice prior in the postseason, with Brady getting the best of Rivers in both of those bouts.
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NFL Playoffs 2019: Eight bold predictions for the Divisional Round including Cowboys dramatic finish
The Patriots may look to establish their run game against the Chargers, but given the inconsistency of Sony Michel since his return from injury back in Week 10, it seems more likely that they’ll once again be counting on Tom Brady to do the heavy lifting. Brady was one of the few NFL quarterbacks who did not get lifted to new heights amid this season’s offensive explosion. His completion percentage, yards per attempt average, touchdown rate, interception rate, passer rating, and QBR all took slight dips this season and the Pats had more struggle-filled games than at any time in recent memory. None of which is to say that Brady was bad, or even average. He was largely excellent. Just not quite as excellent as the best quarterbacks in the league, for the first time in a while.
Instead, he’s likely to lean on his usual short, timing-based passes to matriculate the Patriots offense down the field, and that’s where the chess match with the LA defense gets really interesting.
The Chargers’ group of corners and safeties is one of the deepest and most versatile in the league. The best thing about Casey Hayward, Michael Davis, Desmond King, Adrian Phillips, Jahleel Addae, and rookie sensation Derwin James is the number of different ways defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can deploy them all, as they each possess a variety of skills that lets him mix and match coverages in a way that confuses opposing offenses. He’ll employ all six of those players at different times, and last week he mixed in Rayshawn Jenkins on a near every-snap basis as well, after Jenkins played only 93 defensive snaps during the regular season.
Most often, the Chargers will use Hayward and Davis on the outside, King in the slot, and two or three of the safeties over the top, in the box, or as a kind of hybrid linebacker. Such a configuration will see Hayward and Davis matched up against Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson on the outside, King against Julian Edelman inside, and the safeties helping out on Edelman, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and James White or Rex Burkhead out of the backfield.
Brady loves to hit Edelman and White on quick-breaking option routes before the defense can react and get to the football, but the Chargers excel against those kind of plays. King was one of the best slot corners in the league this season, allowing a 79.8 passer rating when lined up inside, per PFF, which ranked 10th among 51 corners who played at least 125 snaps in the slot. If he can manage to handle Edelman one-on-one, that would free up the safeties to concentrate on Gronk and White or Burkhead, which could really throw a wrench into the Patriots’ plans and force them to target Hayward and Davis on the outside with the weakest sect of their receiving corps.
The Chargers completely shut down tight ends throughout the regular season, but Gronk is no typical tight end — when he’s fully healthy at least. We don’t really know which version of Gronk we will get on Sunday, but it’s safe to say that the guy we saw for most of this season is not the one we got used to over the years. Despite playing 13 games, Gronkowski finished the year with only 47 catches for 682 yards and three scores, and really only had two games where he looked like the Gronk of old. And even in those games, he only looked like that Gronk in the box score, not on the field. He was lumbering all over the place for most of the year.
LA also excelled against shutting down the kind of short passes on which Brady typically targets White, with their safeties and linebackers rallying to the ball on swing routes, options, and check-downs in order to prevent long gains. If they can do the same on Sunday, it’ll force Brady to heavily target receivers with whom he is less comfortable, and that could mean a long day for New England’s offense.
Bill Belichick and Brian Flores vs. Philip Rivers
Given the possibility that the New England offense struggles against a strong Chargers defense that matches up well with the Patriots’ own strengths, it seems likely that if the Pats are to stave off the upset, their own defense will have to step up. The Patriots were slightly better against the pass (14th in DVOA) than the run (19th) this season, but Melvin Gordon has simply not looked the same since his return from a knee injury and seems incredibly unlikely to take over the game against the Patriots this weekend. Instead, as it often does, the game will ride on the right shoulder of Philip Rivers. And it’s there that the Chargers could be in a spate of trouble.
Rivers was having what was likely the best regular season of his career until about six weeks ago. Through the Chargers’ first 12 games, Rivers completed 69.7 percent of his passes, averaged 9.0 yards per attempt, and threw 28 touchdowns against only six interceptions. That worked out to a sparkling 115.7 passer rating, which would have been easily the best mark of Rivers’ career. Then he had a relatively muted performance against a blah Bengals defense and hasn’t really looked the same ever since. Including last week against the Ravens, Rivers has completed 104 of 160 passes for 1,050 yards, four touchdowns, six picks, and a 76.3 passer rating over his last five games. That’s … not great.
And the last thing you want when you are a quarterback in the midst of a Not Great spell is to go up against a coach whose defenses have had your number throughout your NFL career. Unfortunately for the Chargers, that is the case for Rivers against Bill Belichick, against whom he has struggled more than almost any other coach in the league — especially during the teams’ two playoff matchups.