If you thought last week’s spot for the Los Angeles Chargers was bad, imagine this week’s spot. Fresh off of a win against the Baltimore Ravens, the Chargers flew home to Los Angeles. They’ll leave again later this week for another cross-country trek up to Foxboro to take on the New England Patriots. As awful as the spot is, it’s still better than not playing.
The Patriots got a bye in the Wild Card Round, which is nothing new, as the Patriots haven’t played a Wild Card Weekend game since 2009. It felt different this season for New England, as their 11 wins were the fewest since that 2009 season. New England was one-and-done in the playoffs that year. Will that be the case this season against the extremely hot Chargers?
Let’s get something very clear right off of the top. THE SPOT IS FACTORED INTO THE LINE ALREADY for the Chargers. Los Angeles opened +5 with a total of 47 at Bookmaker. The line is now sitting at +4 just about market-wide with a total dropping into the mid-40s.
Long-range forecasts suggest that weather could be a factor with the total. Whether or not the precipitation and wind forecasts are accurate, it will still be cold for the Chargers from Los Angeles.
If we assume three points for the Patriots at home in the playoffs, where they’ve played quite well, the travel spot was likely worth a full point to 1.5 points because the Chargers are on the road for the third straight week after playing in Denver in Week 17. The movement we’re seeing now isn’t about an overvaluation of a bad travel spot. It is about respect for the Chargers and more than likely some disrespect for the Patriots.
The Killer B’s
Dating back to 2000, which is when Bill Belichick took over the Patriots, New England is 143-31 straight up at home and 102-68-4 ATS at home. In the playoffs, the Patriots are 19-3 straight up at home, but a more modest 12-9-1 ATS. When you hear about how dominant New England has been in the Belichick/Brady era in Foxboro, keep in mind that the ATS record, while still solid, isn’t nearly as eye-popping.
The upset-minded Chargers will have to do something that hasn’t been done since January 20, 2013 and that is beat the Patriots at home in the playoffs. Baltimore won 28-13 that year in the AFC Championship Game as an eight-point dog.
This spread at -4 would be the lowest home playoff game line for the Patriots since January 10, 2010 against the Baltimore Ravens. That is one of the team’s three home playoff losses. In fact, Baltimore owns two of New England’s three home playoff losses in the Belichick era. In other words, don’t feel like the Chargers are being disrespected.
Something Feels Off
Aside from the obvious takes about Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and the rest of the Patriots, something else stood out this season. The Patriots, who are regularly among the league’s leaders in field position, were in the bottom 10 in opponents’ starting field position this season.
Despite being +10 in turnover margin, the Patriots weren’t as stout on special teams as they had been in the past. That being said, the Patriots only committed five turnovers from Week 8 through the end of the regular season and three of those came in Week 16 against the Bills.
The Patriots are simply a hard team to figure out. Statistically, it wasn’t as pretty as usual. That feeling of dominance was never really there, even at 7-2 through nine weeks. Yet, here we are, the Patriots are rested off of a bye week once again in the postseason.
Recharging the Batteries
The performance from the Chargers in the Wild Card Round left us with a lot of questions. The game plan against Lamar Jackson seemed to work well, but the Chargers didn’t do a whole lot on offense and gave up yards in bunches in the fourth quarter. Were the Chargers just playing some prevent defense with the big lead or did some fatigue start to creep in?
Philip Rivers wasn’t great with only 160 yards on 22 completions. He was only sacked once, but got hit a bunch and may have had the dirtiest uniform of any player in white after the game. The Chargers managed just 2.7 yards per carry as Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler, and Justin Jackson had trouble finding holes.
Keenan Allen still didn’t look right with four catches on six targets for only 37 yards. How much of this is about the Chargers moving forward? How much of this was about the Baltimore defense? We have a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of reasons to speculate going into this weekend’s game.
The Chargers sacked Lamar Jackson seven times for 55 yards and made life hell for the rookie out of Louisville. Tom Brady didn’t have the greatest statistical year with a 29/11 TD/INT ratio, his first season with double-digit interceptions since 2013, but he was only sacked 21 times. In terms of 16-game seasons, that was the fewest sacks since 2009.
Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram meant so much to the Chargers in that win over the Ravens. Will they be able to disrupt things for Brady and the Patriots offense? Brady certainly gets the ball out faster and the Patriots have a better offensive scheme than the Ravens when it comes to throwing the football.
Brady was sacked more than twice in a game just once. Against the better pass rushes in the league from a sack standpoint, Brady was sacked once by the Steelers, zero times by the Vikings, twice by the Lions, and twice by the Packers.
Red Zone Report
The Chargers had to settle for a lot of field goals in the Wild Card Round. The Ravens weren’t good enough to make it count, but the Patriots, even a watered-down New England team, probably will be.
The Chargers were 10th in TD% in the red zone on offense at 64.2 percent. The Patriots were 15th at 59.6 percent. On defense, the Chargers were fifth at 50 percent and the Patriots were 16th at 58.7 percent. The Patriots did allow four fewer red zone trips than the Chargers and, even with what we all believed to be a down year, had four more offensive red zone trips than the Chargers.
There are so many questions about this game. Many of which I outlined in this preview. How do the Chargers fare with the spot? How does the Chargers pass rush fare against a better passing offense? How healthy are the skill position guys for the Chargers?
What are the Patriots? It was a question that went unsaid until now, but what can 41-year-old Tom Brady do in the playoffs? His numbers after the Week 11 bye were better than his full-season numbers, so is it possible that he was just pacing himself?
This is a very challenging game on a lot of fronts. We have a lot of questions and a relatively small number of answers. The sharp side, at least early on, appears to be the Chargers, but that bad travel spot cannot be overlooked.
Rather than play the full game side or total here, my plan of attack will be to look to bet the Patriots in the second half or with an in-game wager. Wait and see how this one starts out to get a feel for the Patriots out of the bye and also a Chargers team that played in altitude and then had to play consecutive cross-country games. Teams that won on the road in the playoffs have lost 13 straight on the road in the next playoff game.
Certainly the Chargers can cover the spread and not win the game, but it’s fair to wonder how much will be left in the tank in the second half and that may be the time to strike.
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