The Chargers (12-4) and Patriots (11-5) matchup this weekend pits two of the best teams from the AFC against each other. The Chargers are coming off a win in Baltimore where they dominated for most of the game. The Ravens had a chance to come back late but the Chargers defense was able to seal the deal, forcing and recovering a Lamar Jackson fumble to end the game. This was the Chargers 8th win on the road this year (9th if you include a win in London). The Chargers only road loss was to the LA Rams so the Chargers have not lost outside of LA. This week they face a Patriots team that is 8-0 at home. The public has been on the Chargers with the opening line dropping from 4.5 to 4. Some of the reasoning has to do with the Chargers being perceived as the better team. They are ranked higher in overall efficiency (3rd [3rd offense, 8th defense, 25th Special Teams]) than the Patriots (7th [5th off, 16th def, 16th ST]) and finished the season with a better record. The Chargers recent dominance is also fresh in the public’s mind as they were able to play in front of a national TV audience. With more bets coming in on each individual game, the public dictates the lines more during playoff time.
With the Chargers traveling to Foxboro this week this will only be their second time all year having consecutive games in the 1pm eastern time slot. The only other time the Chargers did this was in weeks 6, and 7. The Chargers went 2-0 (1-1 ATS) against the Browns in Cleveland and the Titans in London. The difference here is the Chargers stayed in Cleveland the week prior to traveling to London. This week they are making two cross country trips, one from Baltimore to LA and another from LA to New England. In Foxboro they have a rested Patriots team that has not lost a home game all year waiting for them. The Patriots also have the advantage of not having to use 2 days for travel in their preparation this week. Every little bit counts, especially going up against a coach like Bill Belichick who is always well prepared. The Chargers have been a good road team this year, but they have not had to travel this much in between consecutive road games. Despite having a better record than the Patriots and being ranked higher in efficiency, these are the reasons why the Patriots are still favored in this game.
The Patriots have traditionally dominated this round after being off for a bye in most of their playoff appearances. The extra week of rest and preparation is a huge advantage for Bill Belichick. One thing to keep an eye on this game is special teams, specifically the Chargers struggling special teams unit that allowed 2 blocks last week. Bill Belichick loves special teams. His first coaching job in the NFL was as an assistant special teams coach and he was special teams coach of the Giants from 1979-1984 before becoming their defensive coordinator. He drafted Matthew Slater specifically for special teams only. The last time these teams played the Patriots forced the Chargers into a safety on a punt return. The Chargers ended the game with -8 punt return yards. Also Dion Lewis had a kick return of 71 yards. The Chargers special teams unit has had its struggles with Anthony Lynn at coach and that will be a difference in this game. I see the Patriots making some big plays on special teams that dictate the momentum of the game.