It’s time to dust off that old aviator jacket and put on your wing-tipped shoes because the football will be flying this Sunday when the high-powered San Diego Chargers drop in on the lofty New England Patriots.
Make no mistake; this is the game to watch this weekend.
Tom Brady is fresh off the best performance of his career, where he threw for 517 yards and four touchdowns against the Miami Dolphins last week. The Chargers defense, on the other hand, is brimming with confidence after they held Donovan McNabb and the Minnesota Vikings to a ridiculous 28 total yards passing.
When the unstoppable force meets the immovable object, obviously something has to give.
Both sets of fans are going to be brutally disappointed if they are expecting a repeat performance from either team. The truth is, the result will be somewhere in the middle. The Patriots offense will make some plays and the Chargers defense will make some too.
One of the key differences that Brady will face this week compared to last is a strong pass defense. Starting Patriots center Dan Koppen is sidelined with a broken ankle he suffered in the Miami game, and backup Ryan Wendell is out as well. Starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is also unlikely to play, as he is still nursing a back injury.
With three offensive linemen sidelined with injuries, the Chargers will be able to take advantage and get to the New England passer in ways that the Dolphins couldn’t. Just look at the evidence from these two team’s past meetings.
When last they met in 2010, Brady was held to 159 yards passing and only threw one touchdown yet the Bolts still lost the game.
A year earlier, the Chargers held Matt Cassel to 203 yards, no touchdowns and one interception when Brady was out with a knee injury.
Even when the Chargers lost to the Patriots in the playoffs of 2008, Brady only threw for 209 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
The moral of the story is that the Chargers know how to defend against the pass and the Patriots know it.
I expect linebacker Shaun Phillips and defensive end Corey Liuget to be in Brady’s face all afternoon forcing an interception or two. They will have to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback to keep the Patriots away from the devastation that their no-huddle offense can deliver. If the Bolts give Brady time and space, he will be able to pick apart the San Diego secondary.
The biggest stumbling block the Chargers have had when playing the Patriots is their propensity for shooting themselves in the foot—a trait Bill Belichick’s team simply does not possess.
In that 2010 game, the Bolts may have held Brady in check, but they turned the ball over four times with three lost fumbles and one interception.
There are two ways to overcome mental miscues like that, and they are both called discipline. The Chargers must remain mentally focused for the entire game if they want to show up their nemesis by beating them in their home opener—a feat easier said than done if history is any indication.
I expect that turnovers will once again be a major factor when these two rivals face each other. When it comes to making game-changing plays, the nod must go to New England. I fully expect the Chargers to cough the ball up on a couple of occasions, but hopefully, not at the most inopportune times.
When all is said and done, I see the running game as being the difference maker in this game. The Patriots will have one and the Chargers won’t.
The San Diego offensive line may be the weakest unit on the field, with their run blocking being their worst capability. I just can’t see that group opening up holes for Ryan Mathews, and Mike Tolbert won’t be able to run through the likes of defensive tackles Vince Wilfork or Albert Haynesworth.
The Chargers running backs are going to get bogged down by the Patriots defensive line like a Massachusetts cranberry farmer at harvest time. In the end, the Chargers will be forced to rely on the pass and allow the Patriots defense to key on it.
This will be what gives the Patriots the 27-24 victory I am predicting in the end.
The Chargers are getting seven points away to the Patriots, and I say take the Chargers and the points. They just might win the game outright, but most likely will score a late touchdown to cover.
The game won’t be as explosive as the bookmakers suggest, and this favors a closer game. Besides, the Bolts have covered the spread in their last two meetings with the Pats anyway.
Both of these team score a lot of points, San Diego averaged 27.6 points per game last year, and New England posted a league-best 32.4. There is no indication that either team is slowing down this year. On the defensive side, they both gave up about 20 points per game.
With odds-makers setting the line at 54, I am a still taking the under in this game. I just don’t think it’s going to be the offensive slug-fest people are expecting.