Last week, the New England Patriots had a statement win in a game where this prognosticator picked the exact score. New England came from ten down in the 4th quarter to defeat what some considered as the best team in the AFC in the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 in overtime. This week, the Patriots head westward to face an old rival going through tough times. The San Diego Chargers are going through their annual first month and a half swoon where they can’t play consistent football.
If you look at the San Diego Chargers, they are leading in most facets of the game statistics wise. They are one of the top teams the league in passing yards, pass defense, and total yards allowed. It’s the special teamsthat has hurt this team especially in their 35-27 loss to the Raiders two weeks ago. San Diego has been dominant in their only two home games, so that has to concern a Patriot fan for this week’s game. Not to mention that the Chargers have one of the top ten quarterbacks in the game in Philip Rivers taking on a below average secondary. But, the question is can they shake off a tough 20-17 loss to the Rams from last week.
Here are my keys to the game:
1. Stop Philip Rivers – San Diego’s strength this year has been in the passing game. However, that could be hindered if Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd are unable to go. This is where the loss of Vincent Jackson to a holdout has severely hurt this football team. Even though Rivers’ best receiver might be Patrick Crayton of all people on Sunday, I still would not count Rivers out from having a big day. The reason I say this comes from a game Patriot fans remember. In the AFC Championship three years ago, Rivers battled a torn ACL to almost lead San Diego to the Super Bowl against at that time the 17-0 Patriots. Rivers is one of the top QB’s in passing yards and touchdowns, so if they are behind, look for Rivers to throw early and often.
2. Contain the Running game – Over the last two weeks, the Patriots have done a good job in terms of stopping the run game. They held Ray Rice to under 100 yards on 25 carries last week and then two weeks ago, they held the dynamic duo of Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown to under 100 yards. San Diego has a decent 1-2 combo of rookie Ryan Mathews and the strong Mike Tolbert. Take a look at this stat: In San Diego’s two wins, they have averaged nearly 170 yards per game on the ground. In the four losses, they have averaged only 92 yards per game. With Vince Wilfork playing at the ends at times and Gerard Warren in the middle, it could be a tough day for the rookie. If you can keep San Diego one-dimensional this game should be no problem.
3. The NFL – The reason I say the NFL is because of the recent news that the NFL can suspend people for helmet to helmet hits based off the injuries of the past weekend. Patriots’ safety Brandon Meriweather was fined $50,000 for his late hit on Todd Heap in last Sunday’s win over the Ravens. Meriweather needs to continue to maintain his style of play because he is known for being the hard hitting player in that secondary. If not, look for Rivers to throw the ball over the middle more even if it is to a tight end like Randy McMichael. So, it will be interesting to see if the defensive players adjust the way they play this week.
4. The Kicking game – Another injury that has flown under the radar over the past few days has been that Nate Kaeding will miss Sunday’s game due to an injury. This caused San Diego to sign former Texans’ kicker Kris Brown. Last year, Brown was known more for his missed field goals than his field goals that were actually made. Stephen Gostkowski however has improved his accuracy over the last two weeks including hitting the game tying and winning field goals over the last two weeks.
Prediction: This is going to be closer than people think and in this kind of game, don’t go by the records. I was looking at the odds on Monday and Las Vegas had the Chargers as a three point favorite in this game. Even though they are 2-4, San Diego is the AFC’s version of the Dallas Cowboys in terms of that they have a ton of talent, but have not lived up to expectations in the mediocre AFC West. I liked the way New England’s offense especially in the 4th quarter against Baltimore and Tom Brady has re-established a connection with Deion Branch. However, look for Brandon Tate and Aaron Hernandez to get more involved in the offense this week. Rivers will get his yards, but look for the defense to do what they did to Flacco last week in terms of keeping the passes short which allows fewer deep pass plays.
Patriots 27 Chargers 24