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Sunday afternoon in SoCal, the New England Patriots will take on the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC showdown. The Patriots (5-6) are searching for their fourth win in five weeks, as they aim to save their low playoff chances with a win. As for the Chargers (3-8), losses in four of five games may have hurt their playoff hopes, but they could look to play spoiler at home.
Here is a preview for the game between the Patriots and Chargers, complete with a free pick. Some sportsbooks have New England as a slight one-point favorite, with others listing this as a true "pick 'em."
In February 2019, the Patriots defeated the Rams to win their sixth Super Bowl in franchise history, but that seems like a distant memory. Tom Brady has a new home in Tampa Bay and has been replaced under center by quarterback Cam Newton, among several other significant changes made to the team.
Even with coach Bill Belichick still at the helm, New England's brutal October led to them being 2-5 after the first of November. But the Pats may have turned a corner since then, winning three of their last four games, two of whom were against the playoff-contending Ravens and Cardinals. They will now face the two Los Angeles teams in back-to-back weeks before making the rounds through the AFC East one last time.
The good news is that when it comes to running the football, New England is one of the very best, averaging the fifth-most rushing yards per game with just under 150. But that's the only offensive stat where the Patriots are elite. New England scores just under 21 points per game, 27th in the league, behind a 21st-ranked 359 yards per game. This run-heavy group doesn't pass much, evident by an average of 197 passing yards per game, the fourth-fewest in the NFL.
Defensively, last year's elite unit has regressed thanks to injuries and free agent departures, but it's still decent, averaging a 12th-ranked 23.2 points allowed and 361.5 total yards. The Pats are 14th against the pass and 21st against the run with 229 and 123 yards allowed, respectively. One surprise has been the lack of a strong pass rush, as New England's 15 sacks are more than the totals of just four teams. They do, however, have 12 interceptions, tied for the fourth-most in football.
Many wouldn't consider a 3-8 season to be a success, but for the Chargers, it might be thanks to their rookie quarterback. Justin Herbert, this April's sixth overall pick in the draft, was thrust into the lineup on accident in Week 2 after the starter Tyrod Taylor had his lung accidentally punctured by a team doctor. Since then, he has put up huge numbers and is a commanding favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
As for the rest of the Chargers, the team followed up a 1-0 start with four straight losses, and have now lost four of their last five games. L.A. will play two games before ending their season with a trio of games against their rivals from the AFC West.
Thanks to Herbert, Los Angeles moves the ball down the field better than almost everyone, ranking third with 410.5 total yards and second with 281 passing yards per game. And yet, despite being close to the Top 10 in rushing yards as well, L.A.'s 25.2 points per game is just 16th in the NFL. They do have a Top 10 third-down percentage, converting on close to 44 percent of their chances.
On the defensive side, the Chargers have given up more than 27 points per game, 25th in the NFL. But that's the only area where they're very weak, as L.A. ranks inside the Top 10 with 353 total yards allowed. They're Top 10 in passing yards allowed and 18th in rushing yards with 222.5 and 120.5, respectively. For those counting defensive stats, Los Angeles has racked up a pedestrian 20 sacks and six interceptions, the latter of which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL.
The Patriots are an excellent home team but struggle on the road, to the tune of a 1-4 record both straight up and against the spread. They've also struggled against the AFC, going 2-4 ATS in their last six intra-conference games. But New England has enjoyed playing their opponents this week, going 5-0 both straight up and ATS in their previous five meetings against the Chargers.
Meanwhile, the Chargers are 2-3 at home, both straight up and ATS. They are 0-5 ATS in their last five games overall, four of them losses, and a lowly 3-8 ATS in their previous 11 home games. However, one of the safer bets appears to be the over, which has hit in seven of their last eight games.
Patriots-Chargers is one of the more evenly-matched games on Sunday's slate, with a former dynasty trying to stop a dynamic young quarterback. But I also think this is an excellent opportunity for the Chargers to get the win.
Not only do they have the advantage of being at home, but New England's lack of a fierce pass rush should mean Herbert has time to make plays. Despite the worse record, L.A. has more talent currently on the field and should leave the game with their fourth win of the season.
Betting Pick: Los Angeles Chargers (+1).