Patriots Setting Up Showdown With Toughest Divisional Round Opponent to Date

Can these games get here already? The excitement is at an all time high for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs this weekend. There’s a plenty of intrigue and uncertainty as to whose coming out on top and advancing to their respective conference championship games next Sunday. In one of the divisional matchups taking place on Sunday afternoon, the Los Angeles Chargers will travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon in what is sure to be a classic playoff showdown.

This is both the most intriguing and hardest game to pick amongst these weekends games. It’s a classic case of arguing between your heart or your head. My heart tells me my New England Patriots will find a way to win at Foxborough like they so often have under head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in the playoffs.
Opposing quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers in Phillip Rivers is 0-7 in his career against Tom Brady, including losing the AFC title back in 2007, the closest Rivers has gotten to a Super Bowl appearance.

The history of the Patriots in this era tells you to take New England in this game. But common sense says take the Chargers and don’t think twice. Top to bottom, on the offensive and defensive side, Los Angeles has the best roster on paper in the playoff field.

Rivers has a great offensive line protecting him, and a solid backfield led by workhorse Melvin Gordon. He also has wideouts that can get the job done for Rivers, in Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, and the Williams’ (not related), Mike and Tyrell.

On defense, pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa are serious threats to disrupt Brady all Sunday long, as they’ll be firing off the edge with cold intentions. They also have one of the best cornerbacks in the sport in Casey Hayward. And you can’t forget about the versatile rookie sensation Derwin James, who made the all pro team this year as a rookie for outstanding play both against the run and the pass at safety.

The biggest X factor in this matchup is how much of an advantage playing in Gillette and frigid temperatures is for New England. Los Angeles hasn’t been phased on the road, posting a staggering 8-1 record as the visitors this year. Will they perform on the road again in back to back east coast games with 1:05 start times? We shall see.

On the flip side, this Patriots roster leaves something to be desired. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gillmore was the lone all pro selection for New England this year, and frankly he should’ve been the lone pro bowl selection as well. There’s no way Brady should’ve gotten the nod over Andrew Luck this year, as he took a step back this year following his MVP campaign last year. Although Brady hasn’t been at his best this year, if Sunday’s game is a one possession affair heading into the fourth, I won’t be sweating knowing we have him to finish the game.

It’s hard to imagine Brady being as effective as can be Sunday. He lost wideout and top deep threat Josh Gordon a few weeks back to another suspension. Julian Edelman hasn’t looked the same this year as a top slot option coming off ACL surgery. Lastly, the former best tight end in the world in Rob Gronkowski has been a pain to the eye to watch all year. He’s been a complete shell of himself and is surely heading for retirement sooner rather than later.

With these deficiencies in mind at receiver, the Pats will need to run the ball with Sony Michel and James White effectively in order to have a chance to win, but it won’t be an easy task.

I’m reluctantly taking the Chargers in this game as a lifelong Patriots fan, only because I don’t feel as shaky on picking them as I do New England. It feels strange having this thought process, but I can’t see the Chargers not capitalizing on this opportunity.

I see the Chargers pulling away late and advancing to the AFC championship game. But again, this is the ultimate toss up playoff game that’ll be decided by inches. So much so that I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t partially picking Los Angeles because in a weird way I feel like it’ll heighten the chances of the Pats finding a way to win. Superstitious I know, but it’s the NFL playoffs and anything can happen. Throw all of the numbers out the window, and brace yourself for some great games with wild finishes this weekend.

-Simon Brady

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