Chargers-Patriots Betting Preview: Will Rivers Struggle vs. Brady Again?
USA Today Sports. Pictured: Philip Rivers, Tom Brady
Betting odds: Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
- Spread: Patriots -4
- Over/Under: 47.5
- Time: Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET
- TV channel: CBS
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In a round when trendy dogs are the trendy thing, the Chargers are the trendiest with 61% of spread bets.
They’re also getting 70% of the money as of writing (see live data here), which has helped them move from +5 to +4 — not the most consequential of line moves, but there is still time for them to move closer to the key number of +3.
The over/under has been in flux thanks to the forecast, which we’ll get into next. — Mark Gallant
The snowstorm that was in the forecast earlier in the week is no more. The initial panic around the weather caused the over/under to drop from 47.5 to 45, but it’s now back up to 47.5 with no snow in the forecast.
The temperature will be in the mid-20s. Wind speeds of 5-6 mph should not impact the passing game too much. — Gallant
Tom Brady is 18-7-1 against the spread in regular-season games played in 32 degrees or colder, but his playoff record in such freezing temperatures is only 7-7 ATS. — John Ewing
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Trends to Know
Brady has been a home favorite in the postseason by an average of 8.4 points since 2003, per our Bet Labs data.
This is just the fifth time in 21 home playoff games that the Patriots have been a favorite of fewer than six points. They went 3-1 straight up and ATS in the previous four. — Ewing
Sacking Brady is the key to ATS success against the Patriots. Here is their ATS record when Brady is pressured:
- Brady sacked one or fewer times: 96-46-2 (68%) ATS
- Sacked two or three times: 67-52-6 (56%) ATS
- Sacked four or more times: 13-21-2 (38%) ATS — Ewing
For the 35th time since 2003, Brady will start a home game on more than seven full days of rest. The Patriots are 31-3 (91.2%) SU and 19-13-2 (59.4%) ATS in the previous 34 games, covering by 5.2 points per game.
The only three quarterbacks to beat Brady in Foxborough in this spot? Russell Wilson, Mark Sanchez and Peyton Manning. — Evan Abrams
Philip Rivers is 0-4 SU and 1-3 ATS in Foxborough and 1-7 SU and 2-6 ATS against the Patriots overall.
If you zoom in just on the past decade, Rivers 0-4 SU and ATS against Brady. This is Rivers’ least profitable opposing quarterback matchup over that span. — Abrams
When the Patriots have the ball: Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa vs. Trent Brown and Marcus Cannon
The key to limiting Brady is getting pressure, and Ingram and Bosa put the Chargers in great position to do just that.
With Bosa rounding into form after missing the first 10 games of the season with a foot injury, the duo has combined for six sacks and nine quarterback hits over the past four games.
Ingram and Bosa screaming off the edge isn’t ideal for a Pats line bookended at right tackle by Cannon and at left tackle by Brown, who respectively ranked 28th and 39th out of 46 qualified tackles in Pro Football Focus’ Pass Blocking Efficiency metric during the regular season. — Chris Raybon
When the Chargers have the ball: Chargers’ run game vs. Patriots’ run defense
Anytime you see a defense that’s better against the pass (14th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA) than the run (19th) while being overseen by a mastermind like Belichick, the first thing that comes to mind is that tactical concessions are being made a la Wade Phillips — stopping the pass is far more important than stopping the run, after all.
But it will be difficult to devote many extra resources to stopping the run against a Chargers offense that not only ranks sixth in rushing DVOA, but second in passing DVOA.
A vulnerability to the run has gotten the Patriots in trouble this season. They allowed 94.9 rushing yards per game in their 11 wins, but got hammered for 152.0 per game in their five losses.
It wasn’t just a matter of the team that ultimately won being able to pile up attempts late, either — the Pats got clobbered by the run in the first half in each of those losses, giving up nine carries for 64 yards (7.1 yards per carry) in Week 2 to Jacksonville, 15-81 (5.4) in Week 3 to Detroit, 19-69 (3.6) in Week 10 to Tennessee, 12-142 (11.8) in Week 14 to Miami and 10-84 (8.4) in Week 15 to Pittsburgh.
With two backs who averaged more than 5.0 yards per carry during the regular season in Melvin Gordon (5.1) and Austin Ekeler (5.2), a capable third-stringer in rookie Justin Jackson, as well as an offensive line that ranked fifth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards (4.80), the Chargers are well equipped to shred New England on the ground. — Raybon
Who Has the Advantage in Key Areas?
Brady has as many Super Bowl rings (five) as Rivers has postseason wins. Brady has as many Super Bowl appearances (eight) as Rivers has winning seasons.
New England’s future Hall of Fame passer was also the one to hand Rivers a loss in Rivers’ only AFC Championship Game appearance, a 21-12 defeat in Foxborough on Jan. 20, 2008.
But if Rivers is going to put a dent in his rival’s dominance over him, the time is now. By nearly every metric, Rivers has been the better passer in 2018.
During the regular season, Rivers edged Brady in yards per attempt (8.5-7.6), touchdown passes (32-29), ESPN’s Total QBR (71.2-68.8) and passer rating under pressure (83.8-71.2 per PFF). — Raybon
Not only does Belichick have a 5-0 edge in Super Bowl rings as a head coach over Anthony Lynn, who is in just his second season, but Belichick also has more career playoff wins (28) than Lynn has regular-season wins (21).
Lynn faces an uphill battle to even his 0-1 career record against Belichick, who has led the Patriots to wins in the Divisional Round in each of the past seven postseasons, going 6-1 ATS over that span. — Raybon
Special teams: Patriots
The Chargers have improved here thanks to kicker Mike Badgley, who was 15-of-16 on field goal attempts and 27-of-28 on extra points in the regular season.
The rookie’s confidence only grew in the wild-card win, as he accounted for most of LA’s offense.
Stephen Gostkowski is one of the best active kickers career-wise, but he’s had some struggles this season, making just 27-of-32 field goal attempts. Still, this kicking matchup is Gostkowski vs. a rookie, so I give Gostkowski the edge.
Both teams have solid return games. Desmond King is a dynamic returner for LA, and New England ranks second in kick return average with the dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson.
This is an area to really focus on since the Chargers ranked dead last in touchback percentage during the regular season at close to 30%, with the Patriots ranking 25th at 53.8%. And while some of that was strategic for the Pats, it didn’t pay off as they ranked 26th in kick return average allowed. The Chargers ranked eighth.
But when it comes to punting, the Chargers have been atrocious. They ranked dead last in net punting at an average of 38.5 yards. New England hasn’t been great at punting, but it has still been better than LA.
Both teams have struggled in punt return coverage. While King does bring a more dangerous element to the return game that should worry New England, the Chargers’ punting situation has been so poor that I have to give the nod to the Patriots.
Overall, special teams is not a huge advantage for the Patriots. The Chargers ranked 25th in special teams DVOA and the Pats 16th, but their respective weighted rankings (which puts more emphasis on recent performance) are 17th and 16th.
The Chargers have issues on special teams, but I don’t think it will cost them the game. — Stuckey
Which team is healthier? Chargers
Both teams are healthy relative to other teams at this point in the season, although they have lost some key contributors to Injured Reserve.
The Patriots are only dealing with serious injuries to backup tight end Dwayne Allen (knee) and defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. (ankle), as safety Devin McCourty (concussion) and Patterson (knee) were able to practice in full to start the week.
Gordon (both of his knees) is fully expected to suit up despite opening up the week with a DNP. The outlook for center Mike Pouncey (thumb) is less clear, but the offense is expected to at least welcome back stud tight end Hunter Henry (knee) in a limited capacity.
Ekeler could be an intriguing contrarian option in tournaments. Ekeler out-snapped Gordon 36 to 32 last week while piling up 15 touches to Gordon’s 18. Ekeler also ran 15 pass routes to Gordon’s nine, per PFF.
If Gordon were to be limited in any way, Ekeler could reap the benefits — especially on a full PPR site like DraftKings.
Chris Hogan will be in play at $3,900 on DraftKings and $5,500 on FanDuel. He saw 11 targets against the Jets in the regular-season finale, and he’ll help free up salary to get to some of the top-priced receivers and running backs.
There’s some risk, as he wasn’t targeted sans Josh Gordon against the Bills in Week 16, but the 11 targets the week after were encouraging. — Justin Bailey
Bets to Watch
Chargers +4: The Chargers are the most popular bet of the week, just as they were last week. And while I often fade the public, casual bettors are on the right side.
Our NFL simulations from Bet Labs makes this line -3, which suggests that it’s inflated for the Patriots.
We also already established that the Patriots struggle to cover when Brady gets sacked: They’re 39-43-4 ATS when he’s sacked three or more times. Bosa, Ingram and the Chargers sacked Lamar Jackson seven times last Sunday. I expect LA to harass Brady, too.
The Chargers should also be able to slow down the rest of the Patriots’ offense — LA is the only defense remaining that ranks inside the top 10 in rushing and passing DVOA. — Ewing
Chargers Over 21.5 Team Total: We’re gonna keep hammering the Patriots’ historical struggles against elite pass rushes here.
New England has faced teams in the playoffs with a PFF pass rush grade of 30 or higher seven times since 2006. In those seven games, opponents have gone over their implied team total five times — and have averaged 27.3 points per game.
I’m also relatively unconcerned about the effect of the Chargers’ cross-country travel — they’ve won each of their East Coast road games this season. — Ryan Collinsworth
Chargers +170: If you’re crazy enough to bet against Brady and Belichick in January, you might as well go all-in with it.
Seriously, I don’t see an area in which the Patriots should be considered significantly “better” than the Chargers …
- Explosive pass play rate (offense): Chargers (3rd), Patriots (12th)
- Explosive run play rate (offense): Chargers (5th), Patriots (21st)
- Explosive pass play (defense): Chargers (16th), Patriots (15th)
- Explosive run play rate (defense): Chargers (19th), Patriots (20th)
- Adjusted line yards per rush (offense): Chargers (5th), Patriots (3rd)
- Adjusted line yards per rush (defense): Chargers (17th), Patriots (26th)
- Net yards per pass attempt (offense): Chargers (4th), Patriots (6th)
- Net yards per pass attempt (defense): Chargers (9th), Patriots (10th)
… other than pressure, but those figures aren’t exactly accurate for the Chargers considering they only got seven regular-season games from Bosa.
Heroes get remembered, but legends never die. Gimme the Chargers out-right over the Brady bunch. — Hartitz
Editor’s note: The opinions on this game are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.