As we sit here in the middle of the week leading up to the Divisional round weekend, there are a lot of thoughts, scenarios and other tidbits that are otherwise irrelevant when it comes to the Patriots date with the Chargers this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
I myself, have a lot of thoughts surrounding the game this weekend, and here are some of them explained:
The weather will be a big factor.
New England has not played a playoff game in the snow since 2004, and that’s exactly what they could be facing this weekend, or not. As we all know, meteorologists are the only ones that can be wrong every single day and still keep their jobs. Do they really ever know what’s going to happen? Regardless, if it snows or not, the weather will still be a huge factor in this contest. New England thrives in the snow, as for the Chargers, being from Los Angeles and all, not so much. If the snow does accumulate to the 4-6 inches that we’re expecting, you’d have to think it benefits the home team.
New England will be in trouble if the Chargers pressure Brady.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the devastating spin move that Melvin Ingram put on the Ravens offensive line last week, it’s been all over Twitter and such. Now, if Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram can make a mobile quarterback like Lamar Jackson’s life miserable, imagine what they could do to Tom Brady. Granted, Brady was seventh in throw release time across the league this season which makes sense, New England is a dink and dunk team, but the Chargers defense is that good where they could force Brady into a few bad decisions that could ultimately cost the Patriots their season. Something New England has to watch out for, for sure.
The Chargers are banged up.
On the flip side of that, the Chargers are banged up. Melvin Gordon is now dealing with two bad knees, and not to mention starting CB’s Jason Verrett and Trevor Williams are both on injured reserve. But, that’s not to say the Patriots don’t have problems of their own. Devin McCourty suffered a concussion in the regular season finale against the Jets, and a return to practice this week has New England optimistic he’ll be good to go in four days when kick-off arrives. TE Dwayne Allen is also dealing with a knee injury. However, at this juncture, New England is the healthier squad which bodes well for them moving forward.
The LA offense is struggling.
Taking a look at just the score of last week’s game against the Ravens, 23-17 might appear to be impressive putting up 23 points against the #1 ranked defense in the NFL. However, if we dig a little deeper into the numbers, it’s not so pretty. The Chargers put up just 249 yards of total offense last Sunday. New England’s average for yards surrendered per game during the regular season was 359, but only allowing 20 PPG. That’s New England’s motto, bend but don’t break. If the Pats defense can hold Rivers and company to strictly field goals, Brady will capitalize eventually.
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Watch the battle in the trenches.
Earlier I brought up the tandem of Ingram and Bosa, two of the most formidable defensive opponents in football, who combined for 66 tackles and 12.5 sacks (keep in mind Bosa missed 9 games due to injury). Meanwhile, their counterparts on New England’s offensive line have been more than solid themselves, surrendering just 21 sacks (3rd in NFL) and clearing enough space for the running backs to rack up 2,037 rushing yards (5th in NFL). If you’re looking for a key matchup for this contest, keep this battle at the of your list.
Tom Brady needs to be perfect.
Sounds cliché, I get it. Everyone knows the quarterback needs to be the best player on the field, duh? But for the Patriots, Brady is the catalyst. New England isn’t the team where if Brady has a bad day the defense can necessarily go out and save his butt, Brady has to overcompensate for where New England lacks. We’ve seen both sides of it this season as well. When he’s on, you get 38-3 routs like the one he dished out to New York in the season finale. When he’s off, you get 254-yard performances and 24-point losses like the one down in Music City. The Patriots are going to need ‘Psycho Tom’ in these playoffs. The same guy that holds the record for TD passes (71), passing yards (10,226), wins (27), and 300-yard games (14) in the playoffs.
Yeah, he’s actually done all that.
Belichick needs to use his head, not his ego.
We know Bill Belichick as one of, if not the best coach in professional sports history, but his legacy took a hit last year, at least to some, with the benching of Malcolm Butler in the Super Bowl. This time around, New England isn’t as good as the team that went to the Super Bowl last season, and he needs to use his head this weekend. He can’t be overconfident by going for it on fourth-and-2 at midfield in a close game. This Chargers team is arguably the best team left in the AFC with no discredit to the Chiefs, who have struggled recently. Being outcoached is not an option for Belichick and his staff this weekend.
The result will not be in question.
I’ve had this feeling all week, but I believe this game will be a blowout. One way or the other, I’m not sure which side (fingers crossed for New England). Whoever gets the ball first will be the beneficiary. Nothing is more important than setting the tone in the playoffs, and jumping out to that 7-0 lead will do wonders for a team like the Patriots. That’s why New England should abandon the theory of deferring until the 2nd half and put the ball in Brady’s hands right away and get the Chargers on their heels.
It should be a fun one this Sunday! Let it snow, and of course, GO PATS!
-Brendan Howe is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage Sports Media and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @ brendan__howe