The Patriots long wait of finding out who they are playing next is finally over.
They have a matchup on Sunday, 1/13, against the Los Angeles Chargers in Foxborough. The Chargers come in as the 5 seed after knocking off the Baltimore Ravens yesterday 23-17.
With the matchup finally in place, let’s take a look at a few of the big keys to this game on both sides.
- Melvin Gordon
Will he play? Will he not play? That is the main question surrounding running back Melvin Gordon. When healthy, Gordon is arguably one of the best running backs in the NFL. He just knows how to get the ball in the endzone at almost any moment.
If he plays on Sunday and is fully healthy, the Patriots will have a problem on their hands. If he is out or plays with any sign of the injury still lingering, then that is one issue the Patriots avoid. BUT, knowing Bill Belichick, he will be planning for Gordon to be in the huddle and getting the ball a ton.
- Philip Rivers
If Gordon cannot go, that just puts more pressure on Philip Rivers. Rivers has some of the best numbers an NFL quarterback can have, without making a Super Bowl appearance. If history is destined to repeat itself, that is not good for Rivers as his record against Tom Brady is not great.
0-7 against arguably the greatest quarterback to play the game? Yikes! Rivers is going to have to play a near perfect game. He was 22 for 32 against a tough Ravens defense and the Patriots defense seems to be a tier below where the Ravens are at. If the Chargers want to advance to the AFC championship game, Rivers needs to show up and not rely on Melvin Gordon playing.
- The Patriots Defense
This is something that has had Patriots fans scared over the last several seasons. There is a saying to their defense, “bend, but don’t break”. Give up all of the yards you want, but hold the opponent to field goals. The Patriots were 21st in the NFL in total defense with 359 yards given up per game. One thing the Patriots might have going for them is that the Chargers offense will be seeing a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the ball.
If the front seven can show up for the Patriots and put consistent pressure on Philip Rivers, then we’ll have something. If the defensive line has Rivers waiting in the pocket with plenty of time to throw, it will be a LONG afternoon at Gillette Stadium for the Patriots and their fans.
- Patriots Receivers and Tight Ends
The bottom line here is that the receivers and tight ends NEED to show up for Tom Brady on Sunday. Guys like Philip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson have to be ready to make significant impact. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski also need to be their prime selves to make Tom Brady comfortable in the pocket and opening up the field for everyone else. The running backs have been very good for the Patriots this season. Now, it is up to the receivers and tight ends to do their part when it counts the most.
This is bound to be a very good game come Sunday. Both teams have very good offenses and very good special teams, with the Chargers having the slight advantage on defense. But, the Patriots are playing at Gillette where they were 8-0 this year and have typically dominated in the playoffs in the past.
Let the anticipation for Sunday begin! This is sure to be one of the best matchups of the playoffs thus far.
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-Alan Nahigian (BigAl2793)