Romilly Evans fancies Phil Rivers and his Chargers in the Divisional Round...
"Rivers can still view caution as the better part of valour. He knows this team is his best shot at a Super Bowl, and he doesn’t have to be the star act every week"
San Diego Chargers @ New England Patriots
Start-time: Sunday, 18:05
TV: Live on Sky Sports Action
Wherever the Chargers lay their helmet is home
Road warriors collide with home bankers in arguably the most attractive of the weekend's encounters in the Divisional Round, and something's gotta give. Naturally, you have to make the New England Patriots favourites at fortress Foxborough where they are 8-0 this season. Tom Brady is also 7-0 lifetime against Philip Rivers, so many will view this as an open-and-shut case for the Pats. However, a mere four-point handicap line from those astute folks in Vegas reminds us that there's an unnerving feeling about tonight's clash. A distinct whiff of change is in the air.
Much of that can be attributed to the LA Chargers' stunning form away from home. The Bolts have played without much of a homefield advantage for the last two campaigns, and are a staggering 8-1 on the road this year - tellingly, across both the moneyline and the against-the-spread (ATS) categories. They have cultivated a no-fear mentality in an already cohesive locker room, which sports perhaps the most talented man-for-man first-team squad in the league.
From Rivers, through stud receiver Keenan Allen, by way of running man Melvin Gordon, and on to a lightning-strike back seven, not to mention some tough interior linemen... the Chargers can skin you so many different ways now that their combined industry is finally adding up to the sum of its talented parts.
Indeed, despite hailing from Kansas City's division, the Bolts matched the Chiefs' 12-4 record without their home comforts, and can count themselves as a very unlucky fifth seed. Nevertheless, they may never get a better chance to lift a Lombardi than this season, so this is no time to be licking their narcissistic wounds.
Rivers and Gordon can restore balance to a potent offense
After all, Philip Rivers is still finding his widemen under centre, either for some deep downfield strikes, or some consistent shortcourse cutbacks. The latter strategy was put to good effect against Baltimore last weekend, and it's reassuring to see that the veteran Rivers can still view caution as the better part of valour. He knows this team is his best shot at a Super Bowl, and he doesn't have to be the star act every week. That said, while Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes were the MVP focus in the regular season, Rivers quietly posted his tenth 4,000-yard passing season (for 32 touchdowns). So this 37-year-old is definitely no spent force, especially with a flexible receiving corps which always gives him options. Indeed, should Bill Belichick decide to double-cover Allen tonight, watch Michael or Tyrell Williams step up as capable understudies.
Of course, much will also hinge on the wellbeing of LA running back Gordon. If Gordon can rebound from the hits he took last week against the Ravens, he can be the difference-maker this evening, bringing order and balance to the Chargers' offense and warming up Rivers' throwing arm on Boston's Arctic tundra. Reports suggests he has shaken off a niggling knock he picked up against Denver, and exacerbated in Baltimore, in which case he should expect a heavy workload.
On the other side of the ball, it would be churlish not to give the GOAT a mention, even if I feel his collective teammates (as opposed to his individual skills) have afforded him that acronym. Nowadays, however, Brady's powers are decidedly on the wane and I feel this could be the game where it all catches up with him in front of his adoring home faithful. The LA defense appears to grow more physical and nimble (qualities embodied in Joey Bosa and pocket disruptor Melvin Ingram) by the week, as evidenced by their seven sacks and three takeaways last Sunday. So, if they can get Brady on the run here, his accuracy and completion percentages should stall in the cold night air.
The Pats' O-line, much like Brady, is not what is was and I can see them eventually succumbing to the Chargers' varied assaults and the heat that they bring. Rivers and Gordon can do the rest on a night where points may be hard to come by.
Back LA Chargers (+4) to win on the Match Handicap @ 19/20 on the Betfair Sportsbook
Back LA Chargers (+3) to win on the First Half Handicap @ 4/5 on the Betfair Sportsbook
Back Over 47 Total Points @ 19/20 on the Betfair Sportsbook
Back K. Allen to score First Touchdown @ 8/1
Back K. Allen & R. Gronkowski to combine for 200+ receiving yards and 2+ touchdowns @ 5/1 on the Betfair Sportsbook