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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
~ 2007 ~
Season Ticket
Sunday 3 P.M. EST
Sunday 6:30 P.M. EST

Prediction: SD 14, NE 24

This should be a rather contentious game if nothing else. The Chargers lost their Divisional round game last year to the Patriots by the score of 24-27 when Kaeding missed a 54 yard field goal with eight seconds left. The game ended with well-publicized feuding between the teams including the normally docile Tomlinson involved. A chance to redeem themselves came in week two of this season when the Chargers went up to New England and were throttled 38-14. Now Rivers, Gates and Tomlinson are injured to varying degrees which doesn't bode well for the Chargers but the weather could depress the passing game anyway and keep the score lower. And besides, you just have to know there will be a fight or two before it is over. Defensive or special teams scores can change the make-up of this game and are very possible - especially fumbles.

Weather: 15 degrees dropping to about 11 degrees; cross winds of 21 to 23 mph

San Diego Chargers (13-5)
Homefield: Qualcomm Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 CHI 14-3 -5.5 42.5
2 @NE 14-38 +3 47
3 @GB 24-31 -5 43
4 KC 16-30 -13 38.5
5 @DEN 41-3 -1 43
6 OAK 28-14 -9.5 44
7 BYE - - -
8 HOU 35-10 -11 45
9 @MIN 17-35 -7 41
10 IND 23-21 +3.5 49
11 @JAC 17-24 +3 41
12 BAL 32-14 -9.5 38.5
13 @KC 24-10 -3.5 43
14 @TEN 23-17 -1 41
15 DET 51-14 -10.5 45.5
16 DEN 23-3 -8.5 47
17 @OAK 30-17 -8 43
P1 TEN 17-6 -9 40.5
P2 @IND 28-24 +8.5 46.5
P3 @NEP   +14 47.5
SDC at NE Rush Catch Pass
QB Phillip RIvers     160,1
RB LaDainian Tomlinson 50 10  
RB Michael Turner 40,1 20  
TE Antonio Gates   40  
WR Vincent Jackson   40,1  
WR Craig Davis   20  
WR Chris Chambers   30  
PK Nate Kaeding   2 XP  
Pregame Notes: Major kudos to the Chargers came last week when they knocked off the Colts despite losing Tomlinson and RIvers during the game and having a banged up Gates contributing very little. But the Chargers defense came to the rescue and kept Manning off-balance and too often off the mark while shutting down the rushing game. This is the same defense that had never allowed more than 17 points in the last seven games. Winning this week would be a monumental task even with a healthy team but the Chargers get the benefit of cold and windy weather that could greatly help the secondary keep Brady at least less effective. The Chargers are also somewhat dangerous because they will be harder to prepare against since the stars are either not there or playing less than 100% and there is zero pressure to win this game. It will take defense and special teams miracles to pull this off but already hating the Patriots gives them all the motivation they need.

Quarterback: Philip Rivers suffered a sprained MCL last week and likely won't practice much if at all before game time. Billy Volek will be preparing to be the starter. So far this season, he has only completed six passes and gets what should be about the worst possible game to take his first start but he had been briefly effective in Tennessee four years ago. Tough challenge ahead but he has passed for over 300 yards three times in his ten career starts. He is not without talent and at some point would be pressed to throw as the score likely gets away from the Chargers.

However, Rivers is adamant that he will start even though he likely will not practice and he has played injured before. In fantasy terms, neither quarterback holds much reliable promise and both could end up playing. I will project for Rivers but the situation will not be settled until kickoff and may not be done changing during the game.

Back in week two, Philip Rivers passed for 179 yards and two scores with two interceptions and one lost fumble.

Running Backs: The normally healthy LaDainian Tomlinson hyper extended his knee last week and will likely work out very minimally if at all this week. But he certainly wants to play in what is one of the biggest games of his career. Tomlinson had a big game in the playoffs last year against the Pats when he ran 23 times for 123 yards and two scores and had 64 yards on two receptions. But he only gained 43 yards on 18 carries and added just 15 yards on four receptions in the week two meeting with the Pats.

When Tomlinson left the game last week, Michael Turner took over and gained 71 yards on 17 carries at Indianapolis. Turner will play some role this week as well all dependent on how healthy and effective Tomlinson is. I will project for Tomlinson to start but he will be a game time decision. He's already said he is open to taking pain killers if needed to play. The only question is if he will last for the whole game since cold weather will not be a help for his ailing knee.

Wide Receivers: The Chargers success in recent weeks has come with nice play by both Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson. Chambers scored in three of the last four games and gained 121 yards in the one without a touchdown. Jackson did little for almost the entire season but scored in each of the two playoff games and never had less than 93 yards in either. He is finally getting the benefit of secondaries rolling coverage towards Chambers and making opponents pay.

Playing without Chambers back in week two, the best wideout was Jackson who gained 53 yards on four receptions against the Pats. No wideouts scored.

Tight Ends: A healthy Antonio Gates would be a major help this week but he is still hampered by his dislocated toe. He only caught two passes for 28 yards last week and will likely not practice this week until Friday at the earliest. He will be a game time decision once again but likely will play if only in a limited role.

Gates had a team high seven catches for 77 yards and one score in the previous meeting with the Patriots.

Match Against the Defense: The only difference between this week and 17 weeks ago when these teams met is that the Patriots have honed their attack for an entire season while the Chargers show up with their best three offensive players at least limited by injury if not unable to play. And this is a bigger game by far. The weather too will play a role to some degree with what could be challenging cross winds and sub-freezing weather.

No doubt both teams will want to establish and rely on the run but the Chargers were held to only 47 rushing yards in the first meeting this season. And that was with a healthy Tomlinson. I like the Chargers to rush in one touchdown this week but it could be Tomlinson, Turner or even Sproles who scores it. The rushing yardage should be no more than moderate unless the weather really depresses the passing game and both teams just run on most plays. The Patriots have only allowed two rushing scores to opponents in New England this year. Only two runners managed to top 60 rushing yards there.

Rivers or Volek has a tall order here against a secondary that has allowed just 12 passing scores in the nine home games this year and now the Chargers have a banged up Gates and Rivers playing in the cold weather (rather unlike San Diego by the way) and with 20+ mph winds whipping across the field. Eventually the Chargers should get one passing score here that most likely favors Gates if healthy and Jackson as next most likely. Kicking field goals could be very challenging this week. Expect one or two misses here from Kaeding and it won't really be his fault.

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New England Patriots (17-0)
Homefield: Gillette Stadium
  Opp Score Spread Over/Under
1 @NYJ 38-14 -6.5 40.5
2 SD 38-14 -3 47
3 BUF 38-7 -16.5 41
4 @CIN 34-13 -7.5 54
5 CLE 34-17 -15.5 48
6 @DAL 48-27 -5 52.5
7 @MIA 49-28 -17 51
8 WAS 52-7 -16 48
9 @IND 24-20 -5.5 56.5
10 BYE - - -
11 @BUF 56-10 -15.5 46.5
12 PHI 31-28 -22.5 50.5
13 @BAL 27-24 -20.5 51.5
14 PIT 34-13 -10.5 51
15 NYJ 20-10 -24.5 50.5
16 MIA 28-7 -22.5 43.5
17 @NYG 38-35 -14.5 44.5
P2 JAX 31-20 -13 49
P3 SD   -14 47.5
NEP vs SD Rush Catch Pass
QB Tom Brady     240,2
RB Laurence Maroney 120,1 10  
TE Ben Watson   30,1  
WR Randy Moss   40,1  
WR Donte Stallworth   30  
WR Jabar Gaffney   30  
WR Wes Welker   70  
PK Stephen Gostkowski 1 FG 3 XP  

Pregame Notes: One step away from the Super Bowl and what better situation than to play at home against a team that already lost by 24 points earlier this year? The weather will be a factor here though and in particular the weather. What will also be a factor is facing a defense and special teams that have been playing very well for the second half of the season and back in week two, the Chargers were still installing new schemes on both sides of the ball. But the Patriots are certainly familiar with inclement weather unlike the Chargers and Maroney is running very well.

Quarterback: The one bad weather game this year against the Jets only allowed Tom Brady to pass for a season low 140 yards (by a large margin no less) and it was his only game without a score. The first playoff game went against the tough Jaguars but Brady still passed for 262 yards and three scores last week. Brady will throw the ball at least until the Pats get a significant lead. Notable too is that Brady was sacked only twice in both the most recent games with the Chargers but in the playoff game last year he was intercepted three times. Remember too that the Chargers were still in the process of adjusting to new coaches and schemes back in week two. This will not be a repeat of week two and the wind is not going to be a help either as it crosses the field.

Brady passed for 279 yards and three scores against the Chargers in week two.

Running Backs: Laurence Maroney may have been quiet (and injured) for much of the regular season but he's really turned in on for the last four games. He scored at least one touchdown in each and turned in over 100 rushing yards in three of them including 122 yards on 22 runs against the Jaguars last week. He still has never had more than 26 rushes in any game this year but if the weather proves to be an issue this week he could see an even higher volume of carries. Kevin Faulk could figure in a little more too if the short pass is needed. Faulk has 13 catches for 100 yards over the last two games.

Maroney rushed for 77 yards on 15 carries back in week two while Sammy Morris gained 51 yards on 10 runs and scored once.

Wide Receivers: Randy Moss comes off his worst game of the year when he only managed one catch for 14 yards last week against a Jaguars secondary devoted to stopping him and realistically no one else. Wes Welker ended with nine catches for 54 yards and one score last Saturday. In the worst weather game of the year (NYJ - week 15), Randy Moss still had five catches for 79 yards while Welker only managed three receptions for 32 yards.

Moss turned in eight catches for 105 yards and two scores against the Chargers this year. Wes Welker caught eight passes as well and gained 91 yards.

Tight Ends: Maybe Ben Watson only had two catches for 12 yards last week, but both went for touchdowns and was his first time in the endzone in five weeks. Watson did not play in the bad weather game against the Jets and had been absent from the passing game for much of the second half of the season but obviously is there when Brady needs him.

Watson had five catches for 49 yards and one score against the Chargers this year.

Match Against the Defense: The Patriots had little problem passing against the Chargers last time and it all comes down to weather and how successful the Chargers can be both rattling Brady and snaring interceptions. What will be different this time as opposed to week two is that the Chargers defense has really come together nicely since the second half of the season and comes off an impressive effort against a healthy Colts team in Indianapolis.

The Chargers shut down the rushing game of the Colts but this is the same unit that allowed both LenDale White and Dominic Rhodes to gain over 120 rushing yards to end the regular season road games. Look for Maroney to have a nice game here with at least one score and a chance at two if it goes well. He should have good yardage because the weather should grant him more carries this week.

Brady faces a defense that won't be nearly as easy to beat as in week two and adding in the weather, expect lesser numbers from Brady this week. The last thing the Patriots need is for the Chargers defense to get some early turnovers and make this into a closer game than seems likely. I like Brady to pass for two scores here but the yardage should be one of his lower games - thanks to the wind and the desire to keep passes short and safe in the wind. CB Antonio Cromartie will match against Randy Moss and since he already had ten interceptions (and did not play much in the first meeting), expect Moss to have lower numbers this week.

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