With the dust settled after Wild Card Weekend (for young Patriots fans: that’s always the weekend BEFORE the Patriots play), the Los Angeles Chargers have emerged as the Patriots’ next opponent.
And in order for the Chargers to become the first team in six years to win a playoff game in Foxboro, they’ll have to play a heck of a lot better than they did against the Baltimore Ravens — and they’ll most likely have to do it in below-freezing weather.
The forecast calls for a temperature hovering around 25 degrees, by far the coldest game of the year for the Chargers, a team that doesn’t spend much time in a climate like this.
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The Chargers previously played in Buffalo, but in September, and then in Pittsburgh on an unusually warm night in December (mid-40s). They won’t be so lucky this time around, though.
That said, playing on the road hasn’t stopped them this season. They’re 8-0 outside of L.A., including wins in Kansas City, Seattle, Pittsburgh and, most recently, Baltimore.
A team that the Patriots don’t see often — just twice in the last five seasons — the Chargers are led by their own veteran quarterback in Philip Rivers and a number of stud players on both sides of the ball. Let’s take a closer look.
Chargers vs. Patriots: Philip Rivers Legacy Game!?
OK, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Rivers has eight kids. Just kidding (but it’s true). The real thing we need to get out of the way, though, is that Rivers is 0-7 against Tom Brady over his career.
He does have one win against the Patriots back in 2008, but that was the year Brady missed after tearing his knee ligaments in Week 1. Literally, none of that matters in 2018, though — sorry for wasting your time.
What does matter? This season. And this season, Rivers’ 15th, was one of his best as he finished tied for his second-highest quarterback rating (105.5) and completed 347-of-508 (68.3 percent) of his passes, the second-highest completion percentage of his career.
His 32 touchdowns were just two off his career high. You can see why the Chargers had one of the best offenses this season, but that’s only part of the story...
Chargers vs. Patriots: Beware of the Run
Patriots fans are well aware of what Chargers running back Melvin Gordon is capable of.
Last season in Foxboro, Gordon took a handoff 87 yards for the game’s first score. The Pats limited him to just 45 yards the rest of the game, but he’s still a force.
In 12 games this season, Gordon rushed for 885 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Yes, 5.1 yards per carry. His backup, Austin Ekeler, finished with 554 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. Yes, 5.2.
So as you can see, the Chargers’ running game is extremely effective. One would assume that they’d try to establish the run early, especially if the weather makes it more difficult to through the air. To make matters worse, the Pats allowed 4.9 yards per carry, tied for third-worst in the NFL this year.
Chargers vs. Patriots: This Defense Means Business
For all the talk about the Chargers offense, you wouldn’t know they had a top 10 defense this season.
That’s right, the Chargers allowed 333.7 yards per game this season, ninth-fewest in the NFL.
Taking a look at their roster, it’s no wonder why. Defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram know how to get to the quarterback, and the Chargers’ secondary is top-notch.
Rookie safety Derwin James was named to the AP All-Pro First Team, with Desmond King getting the honor at the defensive back position.
James had a team-high 105 tackles and is the defense’s Swiss army knife out there. Adrian Phillips is another name to watch out for at safety and on special teams. This Chargers defense is a lot better than they get credit for.