Coming off a much-needed win over the Arizona in Week 12, the New England Patriots will start a stretch of three straight road matchups with a two-game slate in Los Angeles. Before taking on the Rams next Thursday, the team will play against the Chargers on Sunday. The contest against the 3-8 Chargers is another must-win considering the 5-6 Patriots’ standing outside the AFC’s current playoff picture.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at New England’s upcoming opponent.
Record: 3-8 (4th place NFC West)
Points scored: 16th (25.2/game)
Points against: 25th (27.3/game)
Head coach: Anthony Lynn
Coordinators: Shane Steichen (offense), Gus Bradley (defense), Keith Burns (special teams)
Led by Anthony Lynn in his fourth year as the team’s head coach, the Chargers are in the middle of another disappointing season — one that could end with a second straight losing record. Lynn’s standing atop the organization is therefore far from secure, but one fact might help him regardless of the current three-win output: Los Angeles has lost only one game this season by more than one score, and has been competitive all year despite starting a rookie quarterback since Week 2.
Season so far
Week 1 at Cincinnati Bengals: W 16-13
Week 2 vs Kansas City Chiefs: L 23-20 (OT)
Week 3 vs Carolina Panthers: L 21-16
Week 4 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: L 38-31
Week 5 at New Orleans Saints: L 30-27 (OT)
Week 6: Bye
Week 7 vs Jacksonville Jaguars: W 39-29
Week 8 at Denver Broncos: L 31-30
Week 9 vs Las Vegas Raiders: L 31-26
Week 10 at Miami Dolphins: L 29-21
Week 11 vs New York Jets: W 34-28
Week 12 at Buffalo Bills: L 27-17
The Chargers started their season with a win over the Bengals but failed to keep the momentum going despite playing some competitive football behind rookie QB Justin Herbert: the team lost four straight before its Week 6 bye — including two games that went to overtime and were ultimately decided by a field goal. Coming out of the bye, L.A. continued to compete well but come up short against all but the worst two teams in football. As a result, they are heading into Week 13 having lost four of six post-bye games.
The Patriots and Chargers have met 38 times so far, with four of the meetings coming in the playoffs:
- Patriots wins: 22 wins (including 3 playoff wins)
- Chargers wins: 14 wins (including 1 playoff win)
- Ties: 2
The two organizations have a storied history going back all the way to the old AFL of the 1960s. The Chargers, back then based in San Diego, defeated the Patriots in the 1963 Championship Game with a final score of 51-10, with three more postseason meetings following in the 2000s — all of which ending with New England on top.
The Patriots beat the Chargers on the road in the 2006 divisional round (24-21) and also got the better off them in the AFC title game at Gillette Stadium the following year (21-12). In the 2018 divisional round, meanwhile, New England won 41-28 en route to its sixth Super Bowl championship. That meeting was the last between the two franchises.
Projected starting lineups
QB Justin Herbert*; RB Austin Ekeler; WR Keenan Allen, WR Jalen Guyton, WR Mike Williams; TE Hunter Henry; LT Sam Tevi, LG Forrest Lamp, C Dann Feeney, RG Trai Turner, RT Trey Pipkins III
While he started the year as the number two behind Tyrod Taylor, Justin Herbert ascended to the starting position in Week 2 under bizarre circumstances and never looked back. The front-runner to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year — a title that could very well also go to New England’s Michael Onwenu if the process wouldn’t gravitate towards quarterbacks — Herbert has been impressive thus far, completing 66.9 percent of his passes for 3,015 yards, and a 23-to-7 touchdown-to-interception rate.
DE Joey Bosa, DT Linval Joseph, DT Justin Jones, DE Jerry Tillery; LB Kenneth Murray*, LB Denzel Perryman; CB Michael Davis, CB Chris Harris Jr, CB Casey Hayward; S Rayshawn Jenkins, S Nasir Adderley
Even though the Chargers’ secondary includes big names such as Casey Hayward and Chris Harris Jr. — who combine for six Pro Bowl selections — the unit’s biggest star is edge defender Joey Bosa. The fifth-year man, who signed a five-year, $135 million contract extension this offseason, is leading the team with 7.5 sacks and is one of the most disruptive players in the league. One name that also stands out is Kenneth Murray; the rookie linebacker was selected by L.A. with the first-round pick that belonged to the Patriots before they traded it away.
K Michael Badgley, P Ty Long, LS Cole Mazza; KR Joe Reed*, PR K.J. Hill*
The Chargers’ specialists are in their second year together and still bring more experience to the table than the team’s primary returners: Joe Reed and K.J. Hill are both rookies. However, that does not mean they have not been productive — at least somewhat. While Reed has averaged 20.7 yards per kickoff return, Hill is taking punt returns back 7.2 yards per attempt.
Three things to watch
1. Will the passing game get going against Bosa & Co? New England’s passing game struggled in Week 12, with Cam Newton throwing a pair of touchdowns and never quite developing a consistent rhythm with his pass catchers. The Chargers’ passing defense is about the same as Arizona’s in terms of EPA and success rate, which means that Josh McDaniels’ unit might be in for another long day unless the running game can get going again. Speaking of which...
2. Is this the week for the running game to bounce back? The Patriots’ offense is at its best when the running game is working in unison with play-action and misdirection concepts. That has not been the case recently. Against Los Angeles, however, New England might be able to find some openings: the Chargers’ run defense is surrendering 4.8 yards per carry this season — just the 30th best in the NFL. Of course, that might not mean much considering that the Patriots also were forced to go pass-heavy against the 32nd-ranked Houston Texans in Week 11.
3. Can the defense out-maneuver the rookie? New England’s defense faced one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the league last Sunday and held him and his explosive supporting cast in check. Against Justin Herbert and his equally talented crew of pass catchers, a repeat performance will be imperative. Being one step ahead of the young QB might be the key: exotic looks and blitzes could be on the menu from the Patriots’ defense.