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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
Divisional Round
January 10, 2007
Saturday, January 13th
Sunday, January 14th
Indianapolis at Baltimore, 4:30 PM Seattle at Chicago, 1:00 PM
Philadelphia at New Orleans, 8:00 PM New England at San Diego, 4:30 PM

Prediction: NE 20, SD 30

The Patriots enter this game with a four game winning streak that has seen the team average 35 points in that stretch. The Chargers are on a ten game winning streak and are 8-0 at home this year. The Patriots may have been hot for the last month but the Chargers scored more points than any other team this year (492). This is a pivotal game of sorts against the older powerhouse trying to hang on against the newcomer at the top. The Chargers have never won by less than seven points at home this season. But the Patriots's experience in the post-season also comes into play.

New England Patriots (12-4)
1 19-17 BUF 10 14-17 NYJ
2 24-17 @NYJ 11 35-0 @GB
3 7-17 DEN 12 17-13 CHI
4 38-13 @CIN 13 28-21 DET
5 20-10 MIA 14 0-21 @MIA
6 Open Bye 15 40-7 HOU
7 28-6 @BUF 16 24-21 @JAX
8 31-7 @MIN 17 40-23 @TEN
9 20-27 IND 18 37-16 NYJ
NEP Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady 0 0 250,2
RB Corey Dillon 40 0 0
RB Laurence Maroney 60 20 0
TE Ben Watson 0 40,1 0
TE Daniel Graham 0 30 0
WR Jabar Gaffney 0 50 0
WR Reche Caldwell 0 60 0
WR Troy Brown 0 40,1 0
PK Stephen Gostkowski 2 FG 2 XP -
Pregame Notes: Since the massacre in Miami, the Patriots have put together four solid efforts and rolled up impressive scores along the way. The defense has been allowing 21 or more points in the last three road games but the offense has been just too good for it to matter. New England also ended their season with two big road wins in Jacksonville and Tennessee where they ended the six game streak of the Titans. More importantly, the Patriots are healthy now outside of Rodney Harrison.

Quarterback: Tom Brady comes off a solid effort last week, throwing for 212 yards and two scores against the Jets and he has not had a turnover in the last four games - all wins. Brady was great last year in the postseason win over the Jaguars but then stumbled against the Broncos in his first postseason road trip in two seasons. This is a chance for him to show that he's just as good away from the confines of Gillette Stadium and he won't have Branch or Givens this time.

Running Backs: The Patriots bring in a nice one-two punch with Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney and Dillon has scored in each of the last three games. The Patriots have only been using Dillon about 10 or 12 times a game lately but he's deadly effective near the goal line. Maroney has been back for three games since missing time and he's provided a bit more yardage than Dillon with scores in each of the last two games of the regular season. The duo will share carries and that will depress what either could do alone, but together they provide solid support for Brady.

Wide Receivers: The Patriot wideouts have been largely lackluster this season but Reche Caldwell came on strong in the second half of the season with four scores and two efforts over 100 yards. That naturally meant that the playoff game last week had Caldwell with only 50 yards on five catches while Jabar Gaffney turned in a season high eight catches for 104 yards. That was more than he had in the five pervious games combined. Troy Brown and Chad Jackson have done little recently, so consider them prime candidates to so something this week in the Patriots scheme dedicated to "nothing two weeks in a row".

Tight Ends: The Patriots continue to use all three with Daniel Graham catching a score last week and Dave Thomas the game prior to that but Ben Watson returned last week after missing three weeks and had 24 yards on four catches. Watson is the one that becomes a de facto wide out for Brady.

Match Against the Defense: The Chargers have only allowed around 80 rushing yards to visiting offenses this season and only four teams ran in a score - never more than one per game. The Chargers held some of the better running backs to lesser yardage as visitors like Willie Parker (14-57), Steven Jackson (18-84) and Larry Johnson (19-84) but mostly from lower carries thanks to a Charger offense that scored so much that opponents did not have the luxury of rushing. Figure on the duo to turn in around 100 rushing yards.

Brady goes against a secondary that is much better than the ranking suggests. San Diego gave up 260 yards and two scores in one game when Chad Johnson had his breakout week but have allowed only two wideout touchdowns over the last six games. The Chargers have been weak against tight ends though and rank among the worst against the position largely because the corner play has forced opponents to settle for shorter throws. Brady will come through this week as he always does but his yardage should remain below 250 unless the Chargers get a big lead and make the Pats abandon their rushing game. He should throw for at least one score and possibly two with a tight end as most likely.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM    QB   RB   WR   TE   PK  DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points NE 11 4 19 5 19 11
Preventing Fantasy Points SD 10 11 8 30 12 1


San Diego Chargers (14-2)
1 27-0 @OAK 10 49-41 @CIN
2 40-7 TEN 11 35-27 @DEN
3 Open Bye 12 21-14 OAK
4 13-16 @BAL 13 24-21 @BUF
5 23-13 PIT 14 48-20 DEN
6 48-19 @SF 15 20-9 KC
7 27-30 @KC 16 20-17 @SEA
8 38-24 STL 17 27-20 ARZ
9 32-25 CLE - - MON
SDC Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Philip Rivers 0 0 220,1
RB L. Tomlinson 120,2 30 0
TE Antonio Gates 0 50 0
WR Keenan McCardell 0 30 0
WR Eric Parker 0 40 0
WR Vincent Jackson 0 70,1 0
PK Nate Kaeding 3 FG 3 XP -

Pregame Notes: Marty Schottenheimer tries to reverse a five game losing streak in the post-season and he's never had a team quite like this one. The offense holds the #1 tight end in the NFL and the #1 running back in all-time history based on the stats from this season. No team scored as many points as San Diego (492) that was 65 points better than second best (CHI and IND both had 427). The Chargers also rank #1 with 61 sacks thanks to all those opponents forced to throw like mad to catch up.

Quarterback: Philip Rivers passed for a respectable 22 touchdowns this season but turned in three games without a score and five with just one thanks to handing off to the greatest touchdown machine ever known to the NFL. Rivers passed for two scores in seven games and only once had three touchdowns but he's been able to step up when the Chargers needed it - they just have not had a great need in most games since October. Rivers only threw for 3387 yards thanks to that dominating ground game.

Rivers has been nursing a sprained foot but has returned to practice and is not expected to be limited.

Running Backs: Not much left to say about LaDainian Tomlinson by now other than he did not score in the last two games of the season and yet still set the all-time NFL record. This is clearly his magic season and this week starts what those 16 games were all about. Tomlinson enters the postseason healthy and knowing that the personal record was great but there is still much more to do.

Wide Receivers: The Chargers made it through the regular season with the highest scoring offense and yet neither Keenan McCardell nor Eric Parker ever scored a touchdown. Not one. Neither player ever had more than 88 yards in a game and much less in the last two months of the season. Vincent Jackson has emerged as the new star of this group and he has scored six times this year including three times in the final two games. This offense will always rely on Tomlinson and Gates, but Jackson is giving safeties something to think about.

Tight Ends: Antonio Gates finished 2006 with the most touchdowns by a tight end (9) and the most yards (924). He scored five times in the final six games.

Match Against the Defense: This should be a tough match-up for the Chargers against a defense that ranks highly against the two strengths of the Chargers - running backs and tight ends. The return of Vincent Wilfork won't make it any easier this week unlike the recent road opponents like the Titans, Jaguars and Dolphins. Then again - it's Tomlinson. The same player that ran for 134 yards at New England last year (5.4 YPC) when the Chargers ended the Pats 22 game home winning streak.

Rivers will undoubtedly face a defense that will try to prey on his relative inexperience with blitz packages and confusing coverages but much of what Rivers will do depends on what Tomlinson doesn't get done. Gates faces a secondary that has not allowed any tight end to score this year though even Chris Baker had 68 yards last week. This is a good defense to be sure but the Chargers have had two weeks to rest and prepare. The Chargers run Tomlinson and then pass to Tomlinson, Gates and Jackson. It's a lot to keep track of and why the Chargers have the best record in the league. The Pats have played well against quarterbacks but the most recent ones on the road have been Vince Young, David Garrard, Joey Harrington, Aaron Rodgers and Brad Johnson. Not much there to bring down the rankings.

RANKS (1-32, 1 = BEST) TEAM    QB   RB   WR   TE   PK  DEF
Gaining Fantasy Points SD 18 1 24 1 2 5
Preventing Fantasy Points NE 2 6 11 1 6 12