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2019 NFL playoffs: 3 steps for the Patriots to beat the Chargers in the divisional round

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With the Chargers having an elite offense and defense, the Patriots will need to be sharp on all cylinders on Sunday.

NFL: New York Jets at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

With the Los Angeles Chargers coming in — labeled by some as the ‘best team in the AFC’ — this Sunday’s divisional matchup is no ‘tomato can’ as the Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy would say. Here is a three-step plan for the New England Patriots in order to win Sunday versus a very good Chargers’ team.

Step 1: Protect Tom Brady

The offensive line has been phenomenal all year long, starting with Joe Thuney, who has played every single snap this regular season, David Andrews, Shaq Mason, Marcus Cannon and of course Trent Brown, who answered all the questions surrounding him this year and showed he deserves to get big money this off-season. However, they will have their hands full with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram: this defense has totaled for 38 sacks all season and 16 in its last five games. The ability to avoid the rush and allow Brady to step into his throws is imperative to the Patriots’ success moving the ball down the field.

Step 2: Get the running backs involved

Earlier in the week, Bernd Buchmasser wrote a post on the Patriots’ running backs having a key role in the offense Sunday, and I cannot agree more. The Chargers were torched for 14 catches out fo the position for 163 yards in last October’s match-up between the two teams. Rex Burkhead and James White had 12 of the 14 catches for 153 yards. The Chargers run an interesting front seven when they have just one linebacker on the field, as it worked mightily last week for just about three and half quarters versus Lamar Jackson. However, with pass rushing maniacs Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming into Foxboro, Tom Brady is going to have to get the ball out quickly, and having White or Burkhead underneath or in the flat, may help get the ball down the field for the majority of times.

Step 3: Finish drives

Although facing the Ravens defense, the Chargers struggled finishing drives most of the game last weekend and have really since the Kansas City game on December 13th. Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense have looked a bit out of sync for about a month now. The Patriots’ own offense, meanwhile, will need to finish drives with six points and play from ahead early. If the Chargers offense struggles against the Patriots’ ‘home’ defense (which it should) while also the playing with a lead and finishing drives without leaving points on the board, the Patriots should take this game in ‘semi-comfortable’ fashion.