Breakout Live breaks down the pluses and minuses of the Chargers and Patriots heading into their showdown in the divisional playoff round.
Los Angeles Chargers
+ The game isn’t at StubHub. Remarkably, the Chargers haven’t lost this season (8-0) when they’ve boarded a plane. Chargers DC Gus Bradley just devised one of the best defensive game plans in recent playoff memory inserting 7 DBs into the base defense to help contain Lamar Jackson and the Ravens running game, and it worked to perfection. Now, the architect of that brilliant scheme gets a crack at the varied offense of the Patriots without having to worry about Josh Gordon, who was their most explosive player. Melvin Gordon will play to give the Chargers legit threats on the ground and through the air. New England’s DBs will have their hands full with the three-headed monster that is Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Tyrell Williams. Throw in the possibility of having to account for a healthy Hunter Henry and it’s going to truly be a pick-your-poison affair for the 21st ranked Patriots defense. If the game is tight, Michael Badgley has proven rock solid, hitting 5 field goals last week in Baltimore.
– One thing we learned from Philip Rivers after he finally broke through against the Chiefs is he’s very aware of streaks and the past. The past when it comes to New England is not a fond memory for Rivers, who has never led the Chargers to victory over a Tom Brady-led Patriots team. Rivers is 1-7 lifetime against the Pats with the lone victory coming with Matt Cassel in for an injured Brady. As good as the Chargers have been on the road, the Patriots have been equally good at home at 8-0. Anthony Lynn will be coaching just his 2nd playoff game in his career. He’s batting a thousand, but this time he’s facing the winningest coach and quarterback in playoff history, not rookie Lamar Jackson. Melvin Gordon got banged up in Baltimore and hasn’t been practicing this week but should play. It’s going to be cold. Warm weather teams traditionally don’t fare well when the temp is below freezing, or in general, (13-33 over the last 46 playoff games) and the forecast high for the warm weather Chargers is just 29 degrees.
New England Patriots
+ We all know Belichick is good in the playoffs, but how good is he? He’s 20-3 at home. That includes 5-0 vs. warm weather teams. The Patriots beat other AFC playoff teams like the Chiefs and Colts at home en route to a perfect 8-0 at Gillette Stadium this season. Rookie Sony Michel has given them their first real threat on the ground in several years. Josh McDaniels’ brief dalliance with becoming an NFL head coach is over, so his focus is fully on the Chargers. Every year Patriots assistants face the distraction and temptation of a head coaching position, but it appears the only other candidate was Brian Flores, and he seems to be staying put as well. If any team benefited from the bye week it was the Patriots, with veterans like Brady and Gronk being the biggest beneficiaries. Brady earned none of his incentives this season and has heard the whispers that many think father time has finally caught up with him. Brady has traditionally been at his absolute best when he feels doubted and disrespected.
– This was the least Patriots-like season since their 9-7 finish in 2002. Gronk appeared old and broken down, and Brady wasn’t consistently great or even good throughout most of the season. They were under .500 on the road. Lost in Miami on the final play and almost suffered the same fate in Chicago earlier in the year. We saw them get beaten soundly by the pitiful Lions. The defense hasn’t been good in a couple of seasons and finished 21st overall in 2018 The Patriots are fighting their own legendary history. New England has never appeared in 3-straight Super Bowls. Their current run of 3 out of the last 4 was equaled between 2002-2005. Their aura of invincibility at home is damaged if not gone, with a narrow win over the Chiefs earlier this season and win over the Jags in the AFC Championship last year. Philip Rivers is hungry and he and the Chargers have been busting Chargers stereotypes all season. Stopping the guy with none when you have 5 rings is easier said than done, especially when you consider Philip Rivers feels like this is his year and possibly his last best chance at glory. Finally, I’m not sure New England comes in believing they’re going to win and it’s been a long time since I’ve felt that they were minus that mental advantage.