Of the eight teams remaining in the race for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, only three are ranked in the top-10 in both points scored and points surrendered — and two of them will meet in the divisional round on Sunday: the AFC’s second-seeded New England Patriots and the fifth-ranked Los Angeles Chargers. Safe to say that the game between the two clubs is expected to be a highly contested affair.
In fact, no other game to be played this weekend is projected to be this close as a look at the projections models by FiveThirtyEight.com shows:
Los Angeles Chargers: 42% win probability
New England Patriots: 58% win probability
The Patriots finished the regular season with an 11-5 record but earned a higher playoff seed than the 12-4 Chargers because L.A. failed to win its division. That being said, New England’s upcoming opponent certainly is a team capable of playing quality football even on the road: the Chargers finished the regular season with a 7-1 record away from Los Angeles, and added an eighth win in the wild card round last Sunday.
Considering this and how the team was able to stifle a talented Baltimore Ravens team, at least for the first 50 minutes, it is no surprise that the Chargers’ game against the Patriots is projected to be a tight affair — despite New England being a perfect 8-0 at Gillette Stadium, the NFL’s only unbeaten team at home. This record will improve to 9-0 if FiveThirtyEight’s projections hold true, but as the percentages show it will not be easy.
Apparently, bookmakers agree. Even considering that homefield advantage is usually worth three points, New England is favored by just 4.5 on Sunday.
The other divisional round games, meanwhile, are not projected to be that close:
Statistical projection, of course, can be deceiving: FiveThirtyEight, which is giving the Patriots a 14% chance of winning the Super Bowl (tied for third best), went just 1-3 on wild card weekend as the Chargers, Colts and Eagles all registered upset road victories. Only the Cowboys delivered the projected win.