After a week of hype and talk, playoff football will finally be played on Gillette Stadium turf this Sunday, as the New England Patriots will play host to the Los Angeles Chargers in an AFC Divisional Round meeting.
The Chargers come to Foxborough on the heels of a 23-17 win over Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Wild Card Round, and with wins in 13 of their 17 games overall this season. The Chargers also come into town with the league's best road record, at 7-1, and with their lone road loss coming just down the road at the L.A. Coliseum. In other words, they're undefeated when outside of the Los Angeles area. That takes something special.
At the same time, though, the Patriots will come into this game boasting a perfect 8-0 record at home this season, and with history on their side, as they're undefeated in their last seven Divisional Round meetings (all on home field), and 12-2 in this round during the Brady-Belichick Era.
This will be the third playoff meeting between the Patriots and Chargers during the Rivers vs. Brady timeline, and their first since the Patriots defeated a hobbled Rivers and Co. in the 2007 AFC Championship Game.
Here are the 98.5 The Sports Hub staff picks for this weekend's showdown at Gillette...
Ty Anderson (Writer/columnist, 985TheSportsHub.com)
So, I just want to be sure what I'm fearing here: A So-Cal team that, while talented, is making their second trip across the country in less than a week's time and are going to play in 20-degree weather? And they're led by a quarterback that's won absolutely nothing in his career, stinks in cold weather, and has yet to win a head-to-head against Tom Brady?
I just want to make sure I'm worrying about the right things here. This is the team that I'm pooping my pants over? Pass.
On top of the Chargers' travel issues and chilly Foxboro weather, too, you've given Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski an extra week to heal up. I really don't think that's getting enough play, especially in what could be a farewell ride for Gronkowski. Gimme the Pats in what will be the weekend's best game, and gimme another game at Gillette Stadium this postseason.
Patriots 24, Chargers 19.
Christian Arcand (The Adam Jones Show)
The Patriots dynasty may be close to the finish line, but it's not dead yet, and the Chargers aren't going to be the ones to bury them. I'm expecting a close game, and if it's a close game at Gillette, the Patriots are going to win.
Patriots 26, Chargers 24.
Matt Dolloff (Writer/producer, 985TheSportsHub.com)
It's easy to be more worried about this divisional round game than any since the Ravens came to Foxboro in the 2014 season. The Chargers are a more talented and accomplished team than the Chiefs were in 2015, as well as the Texans in 2016 and Titans in 2017. But I still can't bet against the Patriots doing the little things better than the Chargers on their home field, coming through in the biggest moments, and simply playing their best football of the season so far. The Chargers will give the Pats the toughest divisional round game since '14, and the L.A. defense especially will give Brady trouble for much of the 60 minutes.
But in the end, Bill Belichick will out-scheme Anthony Lynn and manage the clock better down the stretch. And Tom Brady will get the ball at the end with a chance to win, then Stephen Gostkowski will get to add a signature moment to his career with a game-winning field goal. It'll be a different story if the Pats have to go on the road to Kansas City, but in this game they take care of business and advance to the AFC Championship with perhaps their most hard-earned, impressive win of the season. I expect this to be a tractor-pull that turns into a classic by the fourth quarter.
Patriots 23, Chargers 20.
Adam Jones (The Adam Jones Show)
I've been saying since the summer that the Patriots won't reach the AFC Championship Game, so you think I'm going to back out now? Hell no! Especially when the Patriots are the inferior team. Yes, the Chargers have to fly to the East Coast. Yes, it will be cold. And yes, Phillip Rivers is a pick waiting to happen. But the Patriots have been off all year -- losing to the undisciplined Steelers being the prime example -- and this is where it all catches up to them.
Chargers 17, Patriots 14.
Matt McCarthy (98.5 The Sports Hub)
This won't be an easy out for the Patriots. The Chargers are one of the most talented teams in the playoffs, and their ability to rush the passer with Ingram and Bosa should be a concern. But Philip Rivers doesn't scare me in the big moments. Wake me up when he wins his first big game. Sure, the Chargers have been fantastic on the road, but the Patriots are unbeaten at home for a good reason. This will be a great game, but I think the Pats come out on top. The defense will do just enough to keep the Chargers in check and that will be enough for Brady and company to get the win on a late field goal.
Patriots 26, Chargers 23.
Mike 'Sarge' Riley (98.5 The Sports Hub)
Flying across the country twice with in a matter of less than seven days for the Chargers and the Patriots coming off the first-round bye with their undefeated home record are all facts that work in New England's favor.
Tough to bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick with this much on their side especially in January.
Patriots 28, Chargers 21.
Tony Massarotti (Felger and Mazz)
— Marc Bertrand (@Marc_Bertrand) January 11, 2019
For complete coverage of this weekend's Patriots-Chargers tilt, click here.