New England Patriots (-3.5, 51 o/u) at San Diego Chargers
Despite their solid record, the San Diego Chargers (8-4, 5-1 home) continue to be the team no one believes in. But, after squeaking out a last-second win in Baltimore in week 13, things might be changing for the Philip Rivers-led squad.
“Having a franchise quarterback like [Rivers], he goes out and earns everything he gets,” said Chargers coach Mike McCoy. “It’s great to have him on our football team. He’s been very efficient. He’s done a great job of leading not only the team, but the offense week in and week out.”
The Chargers started the season on fire, jumping out to a 5-1 record. Then they hit a rough patch, losing three straight; but they bounced back with three wins in a row, which vaulted the Chargers into the top Wild Card spot in the AFC after 13 weeks.
Now, a surging San Diego faces a gauntlet in its last four games, starting with a home tilt against the AFC-leading New England Patriots (9-3, 3-3 away) tonight. (After the Pats, the Chargers will face Denver, San Francisco, and K.C. to close the season, who are a combined 23-13 on the season.)
In the past, San Diego has choked against the Patriots in similar high-pressure situations. But Rivers is getting philosophical to assuage any concerns among his young teammates.
“We’ve never played this Patriot team,” Rivers said. “We’re 0-0 against this group. There’s a lot of guys in that locker room that have never played the Patriots in their life. You can’t really say this team is 1-5 against them.”
These Patriots are coming off a tough loss to perhaps the best team in the NFL, the Green Bay Packers. The Pats kept it close at Lambeau last weekend, losing 26-21 and suffering a rare missed field goal from Stephen Gostkowski in the process. Though the Pats didn’t cover as three-point dogs, they also didn’t lose any respect among NFL pundits after the heavyweight tilt.
Nonetheless, quarterback Tom Brady was dissatisfied after the loss.
“I just wish we would have won this one. We put a lot into this one, and this was a great test for us. I think the guys knew how important this was for our season,” said Brady.
There’s no denying the tight ends will be crucial in tonight’s game. The Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski and the Chargers’ Antonio Gates are both having solid seasons and each has amassed nine touchdowns on the year.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said, “Rob has done a good job for us and been on the field a lot, plays in a lot of situations, been productive in the passing game and the running game. Gates seems timeless. He’s a hard guy to defend. He’s got great size, athleticism, hands, does a real good job setting up his routes, beating man or zone coverage.”
Considering the Patriots have to fly across the country and how well the Chargers are playing of late, the smart pick here is the home-dog. Take San Diego’s moneyline (+166).
(Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall (flickr) “Philip Rivers” [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode]. Photo has been cropped.)