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-by Daniel Mogollon, Staff Writer; Image: Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. (Image Source: Harry How/Getty Images)
Here’s a look at the matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers:
Series: Patriots lead 24-15-2; Streak: Patriots have won the past four; Last Meeting: Patriots 21, Chargers 13 (10.29.17)
Time: Sunday | 1:05 PM ET; TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson, Jay Feely, Gene Steratore)
How They Got Here:
The Chargers won an AFC-high 12 games, unfortunately they were tied with the Kansas City Chiefs in the West, which meant they had to go the Wild Card route and hit the road. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, as LA had the league’s best road record at 7-1 and they handled playing the Baltimore Ravens at 10:00 a.m. on their body clock last Sunday to advance to the Divisional round. It was their first postseason win since a 2013 Wild Card game victory. Despite a worse record (11-5), the Patriots play the host on Sunday as they won the AFC East for the 10th-straight season, which is the longest streak in NFL history. Head coach Bill Belichick has coached in the most postseason games (39) and has the most playoff wins (28) in NFL history.
When the Chargers Have the Ball:
On his way to the Pro Bowl, Philip Rivers threw for 4,309 yards, his 10th 4,000-yard season, something only three other quarterbacks have done. He’s prolific—sixth in NFL history with 374 TD passes and eighth with 54,656 yards—and efficient—105.5 rating (second in the AFC) and no interceptions in his past three postseason starts. He has two Pro Bowlers at his disposal in Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen, with a third in center Mike Pouncey protecting him. Gordon is joined by Todd Gurley as the only backs with over 4,000 scrimmage yards and at least 35 touchdowns since 2016. He scored a TD last week. Allen led them with 97 grabs for 1,196 yards, while the big-bodied Mike Williams posted 10 touchdown receptions in his second season. Running backs Gordon and Austin Ekeler combined for 89 receptions, 894 receiving yards, and seven touchdown catches among their 20 end zone trips.
The Pats finished sixth in scoring defense in the NFL at 20.3 points per game. In his third season, defensive lineman Trey Flowers has begun to come into his own and he produced 7.5 sacks to lead the team. In his past four postseason games, Flowers has 3.5 sacks and five tackles for loss. Many of New England’s most-active defenders reside in their secondary, a group led by Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The coverman recorded a career-high 20 passes defensed, which was second in the NFL, while safety Duron Harmon had a team-best four interceptions. They’re the cover guys. Four of their top five tacklers are defensive backs not named Gilmore or Harmon, with safety Patrick Chung’s 84 tackles second on the team. Devin McCourty has 82 stops with a team-best 59 solo tackles.
When the Patriots Have the Ball:
Despite only one Pro Bowler, New England finished fourth in scoring (27.3 PPG) and fifth in total offense (393.4 YPG). That lone Pro Bowler is Tom Brady, who is the all-time postseason leader in games (37), wins (27), completions (920), yards (10,226), and touchdown passes (71). The Golden Boy has 14 career playoff games with 300-plus yards. In his past five postseason games, Brady has thrown 13 TDs to just one INT, including three-straight home playoff games with multiple TD passes, no INTs, and a 100-plus rating. Tight end Rob Gronkowski’s 12 career postseason TD receptions is tied for second all-time, while Julian Edelman is third all-time with 89 receptions. Coming out of the backfield, James White led running backs with seven TD catches, the same amount of scores he’s had in his past four postseason games. Rookie Sony Michel has 564 scrimmage yards and five rushing scores in six home games.
The Chargers have built up their defense with excellent high draft picks, including a pair of Pro Bowl selections in defensive end Melvin Ingram and safety Derwin James. Ingram led the team with seven sacks and was even better last week, when he busted through for two sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery against Baltimore. He dominated. Arguably their most-talented defender is fellow end Joey Bosa, who registered his first career postseason sack last week. After missing much of the season, Bosa comes into Sunday on a groove with 6.5 sacks in his past seven games. With 105 tackles, James led the team as a rookie. He was one of two players in the NFL with 100-plus tackles, at least three sacks, and three-plus INTs.
Score: Patriots 24, Chargers 17
Daniel Mogollon is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America. He is also a voter for the Thorpe and the Rotary Lombardi Award, as well as the Latino Sports MVP Awards.
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