The Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs includes a Sunday afternoon matchup between the Chargers and Patriots. For this game and every postseason contest, we’ll break down the sports betting lines and recommend where to place your bets at DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook.
Keep an eye on injury news right up until kick off since things can change quickly in the NFL. Any player listed as questionable may see limited action or not suit up at all if he doesn’t respond well in warm-ups.
NFL Divisional Round Football Betting Odds
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
NFL Divisional Round Football Breakdown
This AFC Divisional Round game is interesting in that the visiting Chargers seem to have the advantage on paper. But the Patriots have that postseason mystique that makes them terrifying to pick against.
The Pats are 6-1 against the spread over their last seven Divisional Round games. And Tom Brady is 11-1 at home in his career during that round.
The Chargers are once again playing at 1 p.m. EST, and Sunday’s forecast calls for 3-5 inches of snow with a high temperature of 30 degrees. Over the last 24 years, New England is 42-10 and 12-2 in the playoffs in cold weather games with temperatures below freezing at kickoff.
Brady is 7-0 in his career against Philip Rivers, including two wins in the playoffs. The first came in the 2006-07 AFC Championship when the Chargers blew an eight-point lead with 8:35 remaining. The second was a decisive 18-0 victory during New England’s infamous 18-1 season in 2007-08.
While the Patriots offense has appeared weaker than it’s been in over a decade, Brady seemed to hit his stride with a season-high 133.8 passer rating in a Week 17 win over the Jets. Also, New England went 8-0 with the best point differential (+130) when playing at home this season. Brady completed 68.9% of his passes with a 17:8 TD:INT ratio and 101 passer rating at Gillette Stadium, absorbing just eight sacks in those eight games. The Pats averaged 32.9 PPG at home versus 21.6 PPG on the road.
Pressure on Brady here is the most important factor to consider. The 41-year-old has zero elusiveness at this stage in his career. And the Chargers’ capable pass rush got to lightning-quick Lamar Jackson seven times in a Wild Card win at Baltimore.
However, the Chargers ranked 24th in adjusted sack rate (6.7%) during the regular season. Joey Bosa returned during the second half to spark that pass rush, but NT Brandon Mebane (personal) and DT Corey Liuget (knee) remain out, along with LBs Kyzir White (knee) and Denzel Perryman (knee).
New England’s well-coached offensive line led the NFL in adjusted sack rate (3.8%) this season and did a much better job of protecting Brady at home. The common thread in the Patriots’ notable losses (2015 AFC Championship, two Super Bowl losses to Giants, road losses at Jacksonville, Detroit, and Tennessee this season) is a raucous environment preventing Brady from making the right pass protection adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
Expect a savvy game plan to contain Bosa and elite outside pass rusher Melvin Ingram, similar to how the Pats have neutralized J.J. Watt and others in the past.
On paper, the Chargers’ speedy secondary poses problems for the Patriots. They ranked 10th in DVOA pass defense this year and first against opposing TEs. Rookie sensation Derwin James led that coverage. Rob Gronkowski has posted huge numbers in a small sample against the Chargers throughout his career but is notably a step slower these days. Ultimately, he may have trouble making an impact against James and company.
Julian Edelman also draws a tough matchup against Chargers slot CB Desmond King. Taking over for the suspended Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett will run most of his routes at greatly improved LCB Mike Davis. While Chris Hogan played on 94% of offensive snaps in Week 17, he is unlikely to create much separation against veteran RCB Casey Hayward.
However, the Patriots might not look to throw very often given the conditions and the Chargers’ weaknesses up front. LA ranked 23rd in defending power run blocking while New England averaged the fifth-most rushing YPG (127.8) this season.
The Chargers coughed up the most receiving yards (973) to RBs this season. On that note, the Patriots’ most productive receiver was RB James White. He led the team with 87 receptions, seven receiving TDs, and finished second in the NFL at his position with 751 receiving yards this season.
White and Rex Burkhead both pose matchup issues for the Chargers’ injury-diminished LB corps. Cordarrelle Patterson should also mix in on passing downs out of the backfield or make plays as a part-time WR. A more traditional RB, Sony Michel averaged 4.7 YPC and 90.8 rushing YPG with five of his six rushing TDs coming at home this season.
If the Chargers try to contain Brady and the Patriots’ quick-hitting passing attack by running their nickel packages, look for the savvy Patriots to pound them on the ground. If successful, that running game would set up long play-action plays, a huge vulnerability for a Chargers defense that ranked 31st in DVOA against deep passes this season.
The Chargers have faced long odds throughout most of the season and prevailed with an incredible 8-1 record on the road. Yet they’re playing a third straight road game. Playoff teams are 2-8 (3-7 ATS) in that tough situation.
Philip Rivers tied a career-high with a 105.5 passer rating and tossed 32 TDs this year. Still, he faded down the stretch with a 3:6 TD:INT ratio over his last four games and less than 220 yards in four of his last five, including the playoff win at Baltimore.
The Chargers managed an uninspiring 243 total yards at Baltimore and were basically in a position to win only because Lamar Jackson was overwhelmed on the postseason stage. The rookie committed two of the Ravens’ three turnovers to put the game beyond reach.
New England committed the fourth-fewest turnovers per drive (.091) and had the best kick return coverage in the NFL this year. They forced starting field position of 8.7 yards worse than the league average.
As for the LA ground attack, Melvin Gordon has been dealing with an ankle and knee injury that he apparently aggravated in the first quarter last Sunday. Gordon is expected to play against a Pats team that ranked 19th in DVOA rush defense and allowed 4.9 YPC this season. However, NE was much stronger at home while allowing 4.7 YPC and just one rushing TD at Gillette and Gordon may be forced to wear braces on both of his ailing knees.
Therefore, Austin Ekeler could become more involved if Gordon is hobbled or the Chargers experience negative game script. The Patriots allowed an above-average 701 receiving yards to RBs and ranked 22nd in DVOA pass defense against Ekeler’s position.
It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick and his staff look to limit Keenan Allen, the Chargers’ best receiver. Allen should run more routes than usual out of the slot where the Patriots have struggled since losing Eric Rowe (groin) to I.R. But Belichick has always been able to scheme the opposition’s best WR out of the game and the Pats held Allen to six catches for 64 yards in two meetings.
The Patriots rank 26th in DVOA pass defense on the left side with Jason McCourty struggling. They’re third in DVOA over the middle and fifth in DVOA on the right side. That’s where Stephon Gilmore grades as the second-best individual CB this season.
Patriots safety Devin McCourty (concussion) has missed two practices but should play a key role in doubling Allen and helping prevent the big play. His presence helped NE rank second in DVOA on deep throws this season.
Ultimately though, Rivers should have little trouble moving the ball in this matchup. The Pats rank 22nd in opponent third-down success rate (39.1%) and have an anemic pass rush that’s tallied the second-fewest sacks (30) with the third-lowest adjusted sack rate (5.0%).
But actually scoring on Belichick’s bunch will be much tougher. Gilmore can neutralize Rivers’ favorite red-zone target, Mike Williams. And Allen is more of a possession receiver than a typical red-zone threat.
Hunter Henry (ACL) could be active for the first time all season, but the Pats rank fourth in DVOA against TEs and should be able to limit Henry and veteran Antonio Gates.
New England yielded the eighth-fewest TDs per drive (.197), and the Chargers only converted once in the red zone against Baltimore last week. At home, the Pats held opposing QBs to a 76.1 passer rating with a 13:10 TD:INT ratio.
NFL Divisional Round Picks
There are so many intangible factors at play here. There’s the Patriots’ playoff mystique, the reported contention between Brady and Belichick, and Rivers’ desperate motivation to improve his Hall of Fame resume by finally making a deep playoff run.
If conditions are mild, we recommended the Over (47 on FanDuel Sportsbook), predicting both teams score in the high 20s in a close game. The sharps agree. Seventy percent of money is coming down on that side of the line.
Neither team is built to hold onto a lead late. The Chargers gave up 14 points to a previously inept Ravens offense down the stretch last week. For their part, the Pats simply lack talent in the secondary.
While the Pats offense is not on par with years past, it’s worth noting that their last eight Divisional Round games have hit the Over. NE is averaging 35 PPG in those contests. New England also leads the NFL in neutral situation pace and can score in the worst of conditions. Just keep an eye on the weather because consistent snow could force the point total down further.
The Patriots are unlikely to lose their impressive streak of home playoff wins and trips to the AFC Championship. Brady has responded to pressure too often when doubted. Then, the Chargers’ defense should not be as sharp as it looked against a baffled rookie QB in the previous round.
The combination of weather and the time change makes it tough to back the Chargers (+4), giving us reason to go against the grain of current bettors by taking the Patriots (-4 on BetStarsNJ) to cover. The Patriots are 6-2 ATS at home this season. With an extra week to prepare, Belichick and Brady will be tough for any team to top.