Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM
DP - Chargers at Patriots
HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Chargers (13-4 SU, 10-7 ATS) had high expectations entering their second season in Los Angeles following a 9-7 campaign. The Lightning Bolts ended 2017 by winning nine of their last 12 games with plenty of momentum heading into 2018, but L.A. stumbled to a 1-2 start. From there, the Chargers ripped off six consecutive victories, while limiting five straight opponents to 19 points or less.
Los Angeles had an opportunity to capture the AFC West title with a late surge after shocking Kansas City in Week 15 to improve to 11-3. However, the Chargers lost at home to Baltimore in Week 16, opening up the door for the Chiefs to grab the division title and eventually the top seed in the AFC playoffs. Interestingly enough, the Chargers didn’t lose a road game outside of Los Angeles this season as the Bolts fell to the Rams in Week 3 at the Coliseum.
The Lightning Bolts avenged a Week 16 loss to the Ravens by holding off Baltimore last Sunday, 23-17 as three-point underdogs. After kicking four field goals, Los Angeles finally reached the end zone in the fourth quarter on a Melvin Gordon one-yard touchdown to give the Chargers a 20-3 advantage.
For the 15th time in 16 seasons, the Patriots (11-5 SU, 9-7 ATS) captured the AFC East championship in spite of compiling their worst record since 2009. New England was the only team in the division to finish with a winning record in the division, while overcoming an early 1-2 start. The Patriots ripped off six consecutive victories, including high-scoring home wins over the Colts and Chiefs and a road triumph over the Bears in a three-week span.
Two late road losses at Miami and Pittsburgh cost New England home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. However, the Patriots rebounded in the final two weeks at home with divisional wins over the Bills and Jets to pick up a first-round bye for the ninth straight season. New England closed the campaign with an 8-1 run to the UNDER, including four consecutive UNDERS at Gillette Stadium.
WHO TO WATCH
Philip Rivers put together another spectacular season for Los Angeles by eclipsing the 30-touchdown mark for the fourth time in six seasons by tossing 32 touchdown passes. Six of Rivers’ 12 interceptions on the season came in the final three weeks, including two against Baltimore in Week 16. Gordon finished shy of his second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season by racking up 885 yards in 12 games, as the Chargers’ tailback missed three games down the stretch. Wide receiver Keenan Allen accumulated 1,196 yards through the air, but was limited to 37 yards against the Ravens last week.
Tom Brady posted his 10th career 4,000-yard passing season with 4,355 yards, while tossing 29 touchdown passes. Amazingly, Brady threw for 300 yards or fewer in 11 of 16 games, compared to 10 efforts of 300 or more yards in 2017, when the Patriots reached the Super Bowl. Rookie running back Sony Michel put up 958 yards in his first season out of Georgia, including three 100-yard games at home. The Patriots didn’t possess a receiver that compiled more than 850 yards (Julian Edelman), while tight end Rob Gronkowski picked up 26 yards or fewer in three of his final four games of the season.
Two teams finished with 7-1 road records this season, the Saints and the Chargers. Los Angeles never owned a real home-field advantage at StubHub Center, but the Lightning Bolts closed the season with six consecutive away victories. The Chargers swept their AFC West counterparts on the highway, while winning five games in the underdog role against the Chiefs, Steelers, Seahawks, Browns, and Ravens.
The Patriots were the lone team in the NFL that didn’t lose a home contest by going 8-0 at Gillette Stadium for the first time since 2013. Bill Belichick’s squad helped bettors by putting together a 6-2 ATS record at home, including a 3-1 ATS mark as a single-digit home favorite. Since allowing 40 points to the Chiefs in Week 6, the Patriots yielded a total of 42 points in their final four contests at Gillette.
This series has been advantage Brady over Rivers as New England is 7-1 against San Diego/Los Angeles in the last eight meetings. The lone victory for Rivers and the Chargers in this span came in 2008 at home, but Brady was sidelined due to an ACL injury.
The two teams didn’t meet this season, but the Patriots captured the previous matchup in 2017 at Gillette Stadium, 21-13 to cash as 6 ½-point favorites. Following an 87-yard touchdown run by Gordon midway through the first quarter, the Patriots scored the next 18 points, including three field goals by Stephen Gostkowski, who kicked four in the game.
Since 2006, the Patriots have eliminated the Chargers twice in the playoffs. In the last matchup in the 2007 AFC Championship, the Patriots held off the Lightning Bolts, 21-12, but San Diego cashed as 14-point underdogs in the season that New England won 19 consecutive games before losing in the Super Bowl to the Giants. The Chargers were held out of the end zone that day in spite of intercepting Brady three times.
The Chargers are in the playoffs for only the second time since 2010, as Los Angeles advanced to the divisional playoffs in 2013. Rivers improved to 4-0 in the Wild Card round in his career following last week’s win over Baltimore, but is 1-4 in the Divisional Playoffs. The only road win in the Divisional round came in 2007 at Indianapolis, prior to the AFC Championship loss at New England.
The Patriots have won seven consecutive games in the Divisional round, including a 35-14 rout of Tennessee last season. New England has covered in six of those games, while last losing in this round in 2010 to the Jets. New England is seeking its eighth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship, but the Pats will have to travel to Kansas City if they win, as they have lost their last two conference title games on the road.
Los Angeles survived last week’s grind-it-out win at Baltimore as VegasInsider.com NFL expert Joe Nelson looks back, “Kicking woes and big turnovers have been the norm for the Chargers in big games but a lot went right as Los Angeles was victorious in a tough battle with Baltimore last week. The Chargers had a 243-229 yardage edge and won with five Mike Badgley field goals, needing to survive a tense fourth quarter as the Ravens waged a formidable comeback threat. The Chargers gained 5.0 yards per pass attempt and just 2.7 yards per rush in last week’s win and now draw a third consecutive road game, again getting an early start east coast game against a Patriots squad that has hosted a divisional round game in nine straight seasons.”
Will this be a shootout or a defensive battle on Sunday? “The scoring numbers in the regular season were nearly identical for these teams sitting within a half-point on average on both sides of the ball. Most statistical categories paint a rather even contest with New England slightly more productive on offense and the Chargers slightly stronger on defense. The big outliers come on the sidelines with Belichick’s all-time great track record with five Super Bowl titles with a 28-11 postseason record. Anthony Lynn was a winner in his first playoff game last week, besting another head coach with an all-time great postseason record and now 22-11 in his career his win percentage comes close to Belichick,” Nelson notes.
The Patriots enter Sunday’s matchup at 5/2 odds to win the AFC Championship at while the Chargers aren’t far behind at 4/1. As far as Super Bowl odds go, New England is 6/1, while Los Angeles is 8/1. New England opened up as 4 ½-point favorites at the Westgate Superbook, but that number has dipped to -4 at many books, while the total sits at 47 ½.
You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at [email protected]
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