Deja vu for the Patriots?

Patriots win predicted after close match with Chargers

Jack Kimball, Staff Writer

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You’re not experiencing deja-vu — the New England Patriots have really earned a first-round bye for the ninth straight year. The Patriots defeated the New York Jets 38-3 on December 30, clinching home-field advantage for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs.

The Patriots play the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday, January 13th, at 1:05 p.m. Over Wild Card Weekend, the Chargers stifled the Baltimore Ravens league-leading rushing attack. They won 23-17, and now stand between the Patriots and their eighth consecutive AFC Championship game.

The Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles ended the season 12-4, finishing in second place of the AFC West behind the Kansas City Chiefs. Anthony Lynn is in his second season as the head coach. The Chargers boast a stronger roster, filled with proven veterans and promising rookies.

Philip Rivers, the quarterback of the Chargers, has had one of the strongest seasons of his career, completing 68.3% of his passes and throwing for 4,308 yards.

The receiving core is one to be reckoned: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Tyrell Williams make up a formidable core. Hunter Henry, the Chargers tight end, returns this week, eight months after tearing his ACL.

The Chargers running back, Melvin Gordon, maintained his status as one of the NFL’s best backs this season. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry and rushed for ten touchdowns.

On the defensive side, the Chargers are anchored by two of the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL — Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They combined for 12.5 sacks — despite Bosa missing nine games.

In the secondary, Derwin James is considered by many one of the best defensive rookies in the league. He recorded 75 total tackles and three interceptions on the year.

The New England Patriots

New England won the AFC East for the 15th time in 17 years, finishing 11-5. In a somewhat “down year,” they have beaten every playoff team they have faced in the regular season. The Patriots are defined by their coaching staff, bend-but-don’t-break defense, and their quarterback play.

Bill Belichick returned for his 19th season as head coach of the New England Patriots. The legendary coach has 252 wins at the helm for the Patriots and has been named AP Coach of the Year three times. Belichick also serves as general manager of the Patriots, controlling the team’s roster.

Tom Brady, 41-years-old, arguably the greatest football player of all time, shows little-to-no signs of slowing down. Brady, the three-time NFL MVP, threw for 4,355 yards and 29 touchdowns this season.

The Patriots offense is filled with playmakers — despite the suspension of Josh Gordon. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, and Rob Gronkowski are all capable of big game performances. They combined for 2,064 receiving yards.

James White, Sony Michel, and Rex Burkhead make up the trifecta of talented Patriots running backs. White and Burkhead are primarily pass-catching backs, and Michel is the first and second down back. The Patriots will look to expose the Chargers defense that is prone to allowing big games for pass-catching backs.  

On the defensive end, the Patriots are not particularly strong. They rank 21st in the league in total yards allowed. However, they have a collection of outstanding playmakers that can single-handedly change the game. Trey Flowers has had a strong year, recording seven and a half sacks. All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore has been regarded as the best player in his position, and Devin McCourty remains a capable safety for the Patriots.

Bottom Line

The Patriots will win if they can expose the Charger’s weaknesses on the defensive side, and the starts with the running backs. The last time the Patriots and Chargers played — October 29, 2017 — White and Burkhead combined for 153 receiving yards. This balanced pass attack proved to be too much for the Chargers to handle, as the Patriots won 21-13. A Patriots win also relies on their ability to weather the storm from the Chargers pass-rush. On Sunday, they were able to sack the Raven’s quarterback seven times, an impressive stat considering Jackson’s ability to elude the pass-rush. Philip Rivers will be looking for revenge, as he looks to cement his legacy as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

The Pick

The game will be closer than many think. Defense and game-planning will dictate the game where both teams possess impressive offenses. Patriots 23 – Chargers 20

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Deja vu for the Patriots?