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2019 NFL playoffs: Advanced stats suggest a tight battle between the Patriots and Chargers

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A look at the stats ahead of Sunday’s meeting between the Patriots and Chargers.

Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

On Sunday, the New England Patriots will finally enter the NFL playoffs when they host the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium. To further analyze this week’s matchup and find out how New England can duplicate its success, let’s take a look at some of the advanced stats heading into the game (courtesy of SB Nation’s Bill Connelly; for his methodology please click here).

Patriots offense vs Chargers defense

Normal down and distance in the open field

Patriots offense (l.) vs Chargers defense (r.)

The first statistic we’re looking at today already shows a common theme: New England and Los Angeles are rather evenly matched up, no matter which units square off. In regard to the battle between the Patriots offense and the Chargers defense in the open field, we can see that both teams are faring well when it comes to success rate — gaining 50% of necessary yardage on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth down — but are inconsistent when it comes to big plays and on third down.

Backed Up Situations Near the Goal Line

Patriots offense (l.) vs Chargers defense (r.)

New England’s offensive success rate when backed up near its own goal line is nothing to write home about — but still better than what the Chargers defense is doing in such situations, except when it comes to turnovers. Speaking of which: the Patriots had one of them this season, a tipped interception in week one. Otherwise they have taken care of the football very well when starting in unfavorable field position.

Red Zone

Patriots offense (l.) vs Chargers defense (r.)

This will be a key area for the Patriots on Sunday. After going just 1-of-4 inside the Chargers’ 20-yard line when the two teams last met, Tom Brady and company have to improve in order to put themselves in the best position to be successful. While L.A. holds the advantage when it comes to goal line success rate, New England’s offense is the better unit at moving the football between the 11 and 20. It should be a fun battle to watch — and one that might decide the overall outcome of the game.

Third Downs

Patriots offense (l.) vs Chargers defense (r.)

The Chargers defense and Patriots offense are also relative statistical equals when it comes to third down. Both units perform well in third-and-long situations with more to seven yards to gain, while Los Angeles holds the edge on third-and-mediums (from two to six yards out). New England, on the other hand, should be favored when looking at third-and-short situations. Last year’s battle, by the way, went just like this year’s numbers would suggest: both teams won at times leading to a 47% success rate (9 of 19) for the Patriots.

Blitz Situations

Patriots offense (l.) vs Chargers defense (r.)

New England is generally solid when playing from behind the sticks, but the Chargers’ offense still holds the statistical edge in overall success rate and big-play rate. When it comes to sacks in so-called blitz situations — 1st and 18 or more, 2nd and 14 or more, and 3rd and 3 or more — the Patriots have been the better team so far this season, despite Los Angeles fielding standout pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa.

Patriots defense vs Chargers offense

Normal down and distance in the open field

Patriots defense (l.) vs Chargers offense (r.)

Led by standout quarterback Philip Rivers, the Chargers offense has been successful in the open field through its first 17 games. It moves the football well as evidenced by its 48.5% success rate, produces big plays and keeps drives alive on third down — and with the exception of the first category enters the game on Sunday holding an advantage over New England’s defense.

Backed Up Situations Near the Goal Line

Patriots defense (l.) vs Chargers offense (r.)

New England’s defense and Los Angeles’ offense are again rather evenly matched up when it comes to backed-up situations. Both teams are below their open field success rates and generally middle-of-the-pack. However, all it takes is one big play to make a difference — and now would be a good time for the Patriots to register their first turnover inside the opposing 10-yard line this season.

Red Zone

Patriots defense (l.) vs Chargers offense (r.)

The Patriots are no defensive world-beaters in the red zone, but they are generally performing well — something that can only partially be said for the Chargers offense: the unit is solid when it comes to moving the football between the 11 and 20 and when it comes to limiting giveaways, but other than that has been rather underwhelming. If New England can live up to its statistical advantage in this part of the field, it would tremendously improve the team’s odds of coming away victoriously.

Third Downs

Patriots defense (l.) vs Chargers offense (r.)

Another somewhat even battle is the one between the Patriots’ third down defense and the Chargers’ third down offense. New England holds a slight edge in two categories — third-and-long and third-and-short — while L.A. has been the better team this year on third-and-medium. Getting off the field will be a key for Brian Flores’ group, something it was able to do fairly well last year when it was still coordinated by Matt Patricia: the unit allowed just 3 of 10 third downs to be converted (33%).

Blitz Situations

Patriots defense (l.) vs Chargers offense (r.)

The Chargers defense is not the only unit on the team to perform well when finding itself in so-called blitz downs. The offense has also found success, even when having to play from behind the sticks. With New England ranking in the bottom half of the NFL’s teams in such situations, we can already predict that counting L.A. out will not be in the cards on Sunday.


All in all, the Patriots and Chargers are for a reason both in the divisional playoff round: they are performing generally well in the advanced statistical categories outlined above. Consequently, they will meet eye-to-eye in two days which in turn could lead to a close affair. The current odds — New England is favored by 4 points — reflect this. Will the game actually live up to what the bookmakers say? The numbers point to “yes.”