Here’s everything you need to know for Sunday’s NFL divisional-round playoff games:
Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
Kickoff time: 1:05 p.m. ET
Streaming: CBS All Access
Location: Gillette Stadium Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Line: Patriots by 4
Injury report: The Chargers could be getting a big weapon back in tight end Hunter Henry, who has not played this season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in May but practiced throughout the week. He is listed as questionable. The only injury concern for New England is defensive end Deatrich Wise, who is questionable with an ankle ailment.
Three keys to the game (by Lorenzo Reyes)
1. A tough history for L.A.: In his career and including the postseason, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers hasn’t won any game he has played in Foxborough, going 0-4 since he became the team’s starter in 2006. In fact, he’s 0-7 against the Patriots in games when Tom Brady starts at quarterback. In those games against Brady, Rivers’ touchdown-to-interception ratio is 7:10. His lone victory against the Patriots in his 13-year run as the Chargers’ starter came in 2008, when backup Matt Cassel played in place of Brady, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in that year’s opener.
2. Checkdowns and passes in the flat: The Chargers posted an incredible defensive performance against the Ravens in which they used several defensive backs to infuse speed on the field to neutralize athletic Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson. Against the Patriots, they may look to the same strategy for a different reason. Los Angeles allowed 973 receiving yards to running backs, which ranked last among all teams. That could be potentially problematic, since New England relies on its backs – especially James White – in the receiving game. White led the Patriots in receptions (87) and receiving scores (seven) and ranked second in receiving yards (751).
3. Road warriors: One trend Los Angeles does have on its side, however, is a track record of excellence on the road this season. The Chargers went 7-1 in the regular season in away games, with their one loss coming Week 3 against the crosstown Rams. And, when adding their wild-card round upset on the road against the Ravens Sunday and their Week 7 victory against the Titans in London, their mark when traveling outside of L.A.’s city limits is 9-0. One potential problem for the Chargers and their success away from home: In the regular season, the Patriots went 8-0 in Foxborough.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints
Kickoff time: 4:40 p.m. ET
Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Location: Mercedes-Benz Stadium in New Orleans
Line: Saints by 8
Injury report: New Orleans has a clean bill of health, as no players on its injury report are listed as questionable or doubtful. Philadelphia, however, has several contributors whose status is uncertain. Defensive end Michael Bennett, cornerback Sidney Jones, left tackle Jason Peters and wide receiver Mike Wallace are all listed as questionable.
Three keys to the game (by Nate Davis)
1. Cajun cooking: Home-field advantage is typically a boon in the playoffs, but it’s amplified in places like Seattle … and N’Awlins. The Saints rode their only other top seeding to the Super Bowl during the 2009 playoffs and have won six consecutive postseason games at the Superdome overall — five courtesy of Brees and coach Sean Payton, including their first playoff win together (against the Eagles) in the 2006 divisional round. (The Who Dats also won in Philly during a wild-card matchup against Foles and Co. five years ago.) More recently — and relevantly — New Orleans welcomed the Birds on Nov. 18 and summarily embarrassed them 48-7, the worst lossever suffered by a defending Super Bowl champion. TE Zach Ertz called it “probably the worst loss I’ve ever been a part of,” and LT Jason Peters said Sunday he felt the Saints ran up the score. Foles didn’t play that day (starter Carson Wentz threw three INTs), and most of his teammates didn’t show up, either.
2. Strength vs. weakness: Philadelphia owns the third-worst pass defense in the league and allowed pedestrian Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky to throw for 303 yards Sunday. A deep and talented line, led by all-pro DT Fletcher Cox, can sometimes mask deficiencies on the back end. But that’s unlikely to work against Brees, not only the most accurate passer in league history (NFL-record 74.4 percent completion rate in 2018) but also a savvy one whose quick release was a major reason he was only sacked 17 times this season. Brees scorched the Eagles for 363 yards, four TDs and a near-perfect 153.2 passer rating in Week 11. And after giving up 10 catches, 143 yards and a score to Chicago’s Allen Robinson in their wild-card win, hard to figure the Eagles having a better answer for all-pro WR Michael Thomas, who was only targeted four times in November’s matchup but still finished with 92 yards and a TD.
3. Foles on a roll: Naturally, Foles is the key variable. The only time the Saints have faced him was that 2013 playoff game when Chip Kelly was still coaching the Eagles. Obviously, quite a bit has changed. Since last season, Foles has won nine of 10 starts in December/January/February action, the only loss a meaningless Week 17 contest in 2017. He strikes downfield very effectively, probably distributes the ball better than Wentz and thrives on run-pass options even though he poses little threat as a runner. Look for former Saints RB Darren Sproles, rookie TE Dallas Goedert and Foles fave Alshon Jeffery to play a much larger role this time around against a New Orleans passing defense that was only marginally better than Philadelphia’s, at least from a statistical perspective.