Three things to watch for as the Patriots take on the Chargers on Sunday (1 p.m., CBS).
Find the weakness
The Patriots’ backfield is finally finding its way. On Sunday night against the Falcons, the Pats rushed for 162 yards as a team. As they find their groove, the Chargers come to Foxboro at just the right time as LA is giving up 140.6 yards per game on the ground, the second worst mark in the NFL. The Chargers’ pass defense is much better as it allows only 185.4 yards per game through the air, the fifth best mark in pro football. Look for Tom Brady to have another conservative game and for Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee to get plenty of touches.
The Patriots made Matt Ryan look average on Sunday night as last year’s MVP completed 22-of-33 passes for 233 yards, 1 TD and 0 INTs. He finished with a passer rating of 99.7. Good, but far from great.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers has had a similarly average season as Ryan this year as he’s had a couple dud games mixed in with a few outstanding outings. He was picked off three times and didn’t have a TD against Kansas City on Sept. 24 and completed just 21-of-44 passes against the Giants on Oct. 8. In all other games this year, though, Rivers registered a passer rating of 99.6 or above. There’s no reason the resurgent Patriots defense can’t make Rivers have a game with, say, 230 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT.
When Julian Edelman was injured in the preseason against the Lions, we should have toned down our expectations for this Patriots offense. Tom Brady has not hit the 300 passing yard mark the last two weeks, but the Patriots won anyway. Expect more “early 2000s Brady” for the rest of the regular season and then for them to crank it up with Brady when the games truly matter. It could be another relatively quiet day for Rob Gronkowski Sunday as the Chargers are the fourth best team in the league statistically against tight ends. Expect a James White, a Chris Hogan, or a Danny Amendola to have a big game receiving to pick up the slack.