With Michael Vick‘s return to Atlanta getting all the media attention, the true five star game is going virtually ignored by mainstream media.The San Diego Chargers playing the New England Patriots is a game that smacks of AFC Championship preview. Two of the league most prolific offenses go head to head and every journalist is at Michael Vick‘s locker while Micheal will never reach elite status and Matt Ryan‘s star is slowly rising, we have two unquestionable elite quarterbacks meeting in Foxboro. Can the Chargers pull off the upset? Lets break down the matchups.
Quarterback: Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the league. Brady is in his prime and in the second half of his career. He has the rings and is a great field general. Philip Rivers is just beginning to enter his prime but is already an elite quarterback. New England scored more points (518) than any team last season and San Diego (441) finished second. This will be a great matchup but for now, advantage Brady.
Running Backs: New England’s rushing attack is led by BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead. These two are running backs in title only. They are used as receivers out of the backfield. The two are 5′ll, and Woodhead is 195 lbs while Ellis tips the scales at 215. The Pats other two backs are both 5’9. The Patriots don’t play ball control, they use the passing game to run down the clock. San Diego has Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert, Jacob Hester and Jordan Todman. While Only Mathews comes in at 6’0 or better, all of these backs will take the ball up the middle and can chew up yardage via handoff. By the way, they’re pretty good receiving out of the backfield. Advantage Chargers.
Wide Receivers: New England has Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Chad Ochocinco. Branch is a retread who’s best days are behind him but was brought back into the fold last season after five years in Seattle because he knows the system. Ochocinco has not shown he can grasp the complex offense as he was only in for 18 of 80 plays and was targeted three times in the week one win against Miami. Wes Welker at 5’9 is the best of the group playing from the slot. San Diego brings Vincent Jackson who is entering his prime and a great deep threat. Malcolm Floyd can also get down the field in a hurry and is the perfect compliment on the left side of the line. Both are 6’5 and have great leaping ability. Patrick Crayton is a solid veteran slot receiver whose best days are behind him but can still get open. Advantage Chargers.
Tight Ends: Tom Brady‘s secret weapons are his second year tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Both are pass catching tight ends with above average speed. You will find both on the field running routes a lot. In the opener, Hernandez and Gronkowski combined for 13 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns. San Diego brings the best tight end in the game in Antonio Gates. Randy McMichael has shined since being brought in last season and is another big target at 6’3, 248. You could call it a push but anyone would take one Antonio Gates over two good sophomore tight ends. Advantage Chargers.
Offensive Line: New England just lost their long time starting center, Dan Koppen, for 6-10 weeks with an ankle injury. left guard Dan Connoly was moved to fill his slot. The move thins the line depth. The Patriots are also starting a rookie with right offensive tackle Nate Solder. The 6’8, 319 Solder was great against the Miami pass rush but now he faces the leagues best defense headlined by Shaun Phillips. The Chargers return everyone from last seasons offensive line. Advantage Chargers.
Defense: The Patriots added a bunch of new pieces including Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Ellis.They released pro bowl safety Brandon Merriweather. The pass rush reached Miami’s Chad Henne four times last week. The weakness of the defense is the secondary. Henne carved the Patriots secondary for 416 yards, two touchdowns and Henne also had a ran seven times for 59 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots starting cornerbacks are second year Devin McCourty (5’10, 193), ninth year Leigh Bodden (6’1, 193), third year Kyle Arrington (5’10, 196) and a host of new players. San Diego returns fourth year Antoine Cason (6’1, 195) and tenth year Quentin Jammer (6’0, 204) and fifth year Dante Hughes (5’10, 190) at corner. The Patriots have third year Patrick Chung at safety while the Chargers bring eighth year Bob Sanders and fifth year Eric Weddle. The Chargers held a much better (albeit declining) quarterback, Donovan McNabb to 39 yards passing and McNabb took every snap from center. The Chargers have the better overall defense and their secondary will be facing shorter players while New England’s secondary will be facing younger, taller and faster receivers. Advantage Chargers.
Special Teams: The Patriots will most likely use Julian Edelman, Taylor Price and/or Wes Welker to return kicks and punts. The Chargers will use Bryan Walters and Richard Goodman. Until the Chargers get over their liabilities on special teams, advantage Patriots.
Breaking it down, there is no reason San Diego shouldn’t win this game. The Chargers have better backs, receivers, defense and Philip Rivers is as close an equal as Tom Brady will see this year. Here’s the problem. San Diego has not beaten New England since 2005 and Brady wasn’t playing that game. The Patriots ended San Diego’s remarkable 14-2 season. San Diego has lost 9 of their last 10 at New England. Like their special teams woes, beating New England is as much mental as physical. The Chargers had the same problem with Peyton Manning and the Colts and they ultimately overcame that obstacle.
The biggest advantages for the Patriots aside from the Brady factor is they are playing at home and they have Bill Belichick. Belichick is a master strategist while Chargers coach Norv Turner has been questioned on his play-calling when the going gets tough. Either team can win this game. New England will win if Brady gets enough time to throw behind his patchwork offensive line, gets the lead early and they can put up a big enough number on the scoreboard. Their special teams need to keep Brady on a short field. San Diego will win if Rivers gets enough time to pick apart the Patriots weak secondary. If Chad Henne can put up over 400 yards, what will Philip Rivers be able to do? San Diego must use their running backs to help keep Brady off the field AFTER they have the lead. Turner must be aggressive in his play calling from the start and the special teams has to hold up their end.
My prediction is this game will be a dead heat into the fourth quarter. Home field advantage is usually worth three points and I see this game coming down to a game winning field goal, Patriots win 27-24.