The New England Patriots vs. Los Angeles Chargers game is part of a turnaround week for the NFL after Week 7 turned out to be one of the most annoyingly noncompetitive weeks in recent history. Two weeks ago, the Chargers got destroyed by the Ravens, who then got demolished by the Bengals the following week. But obviously, Los Angeles isn’t 70 points worse than Cincinnati — the NFL is just weird.
In a game where anything can happen, we’ll use positional matchups to try and predict what will go down on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.
New England Patriots offense vs. Los Angeles Chargers defense
New England’s offense won’t blow anybody away with explosive plays. In fact, there’s a chance it’ll bore you to sleep. However, they rank 12th in success rate, which means they don’t necessarily struggle to move the ball. They’re the 13th-best in the NFL at picking up first downs or touchdowns.
Conversely, the Chargers can’t seem to stop anybody on the ground defensively. Yes, they’ve played the Cowboys and Ravens, both of whom can put it on teams in the run game. But they’re allowing a successful run on 53% of their run-defending snaps. That’s 4 percentage points worse than the Chiefs, whose defense is historically poor.
I expect the Patriots to commit to the run during this game, using misdirection and their talented tight ends as an advantage against the Chargers’ poor linebacker play.
Mac Jones vs. Chargers defense
In doing my weekly research for the rookie QB rankings, I’ve watched every snap of Jones’ young career multiple times. He’s playing great football, particularly in regard to what is asked of him in New England’s offense.
Meanwhile, the Chargers’ defense ranks in the middle of the pack. Given that their strengths are Joey Bosa and the secondary, I doubt we see many downfield shots from Jones this week — unless the Patriots get down early and have to press. That favors Jones, who has played beyond his years processing the field in the quick game.
The Chargers are a great football team, but they have some soft spots on defense.
Patriots weapons vs. Chargers defensive backs
You could ask me how New England’s weapons match up against a wet paper bag, and I might consider the paper bag.
That is obviously hyperbole, but aside from Jakobi Myers (who somehow still doesn’t have a touchdown in his NFL career), I’m not sure they have a pass catcher who would start on 20+ other teams. The Chargers’ defense, meanwhile, fields Chris Harris Jr., Asante Samuel Jr., and Derwin James. According to reports, Nasir Adderley appears healthy enough to play against the Patriots, but it’s anyone’s guess how effective he’ll be.
Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith could really open New England’s passing attack, along with the slew of backs they use as pass catchers.
Still, from a player vs. player perspective, the advantage is clear.
Patriots offensive line vs. Chargers front seven
The Patriots’ offensive line has begun to dominate over the past few weeks since getting a bit healthier. Michael Onwenu is a stud and Isaiah Wynn is a solid left tackle. The interior separated itself in the run game against New York and Dallas.
The Chargers don’t have the ability to defend against this upcoming slaughter. Unless New England’s entire offensive line has a rash of food poisoning before the game, they’re going to politely walk this Los Angeles defensive line down the field with ease.
New England Patriots defense vs. Los Angeles Chargers offense
The Chargers’ offense is definitely talented, but we’ve come to overrate it a tad. Issues arise due to the right side of the offensive line. Until Bryan Bulaga gets healthy, they’re stuck with Storm Norton at right tackle, which is a losing proposition on most occasions.
Their other sore spot is at No. 3 receiver, where Jalen Guyton and Josh Palmer are fielding replacement-level performances. Mike Williams and Keenan Allen are certified studs, but the Chargers have little depth behind them. Los Angeles will still produce big plays — which is why they rank eighth in EPA/play (Expected Points Added) — but they aren’t consistent.
The Patriots are as productive on defense as the Chargers are on offense. But aside from the Texans game, New England hasn’t given up a ton of big plays. They aren’t the most successful defense, but they avoid chunk yardage, which conflicts with the nature of the Los Angeles offense.
Justin Herbert vs. Patriots defense
We believe Justin Herbert to be one of the great young quarterbacks in the entire league. Bill Belichick will do everything in his power to confuse the young gunslinger, and if anyone is up to the task, it’s Bill.
However, Herbert’s ability to make big plays when things break down around him makes it difficult to throw too much pressure at him. Playing Cover 1 or Cover 0 behind a blitz will be tough, especially with Allen and Williams to defend.
Chargers weapons vs. Patriots defensive backs
Between Williams and Allen, the Chargers are hard to defend. When you add Austin Ekeler to the mix as a pass catcher, the game becomes borderline unfair for New England’s defense. It doesn’t hurt that Jared Cook can still play even as he receives his monthly social security check.
Aside from J.C. Jackson, the Patriots’ group of corners isn’t as talented as it’s historically been. Joejuan Williams has yet to materialize as a legitimate CB2 option, and Jalen Mills has struggled since coming over from Philadelphia.
Chargers offensive line vs. Patriots front seven
I’m not a huge fan of Norton against Matthew Judon, but the rest of LA’s offensive line should be able to survive against New England’s front. Rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater is playing at a near All-Pro level, and both left guard Matt Feiler and center Corey Linsley are among the best at their respective positions as well.
The Chargers didn’t run the ball well to start the season, but they’ve turned it around in recent weeks. The Patriots haven’t allowed big plays in the run game, but they are only middle of the pack in terms of overall success against the run.
Betting line and game prediction
The Chargers vs. Patriots game is currently a 5.5-point spread favoring the Chargers. I think that’s a bit too generous toward Los Angeles. With the way New England’s offensive line has played, I think they’ll be able to control the clock and move the ball with relative ease.
This feels like a game between two evenly-matched teams, with each having significant advantages over the other in certain areas. It’s one of my favorite matchups of Week 8. I think Belichick can and will do what he can to make Herbert second-guess himself.
In fact, I’m not just going to call the Patriots to cover, but to win the game outright!
Chargers vs. Patriots Prediction: Patriots 24, Chargers 23