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Sunday, 7 December 2014

New England at San Diego: Five Things to Know

Rivers and Brady
The 9-3 New England Patriots travel to the 8-4 San Diego Chargers for what will hopefully be a great game since the majority of Sunday Night Football games this season have been largely one-sided. And just for the record, in my lexicon "great game" means that the Chargers emerge victorious. The Patriots are coming off a loss to Green Bay that halted their seven-game winning streak while the Chargers enjoyed an emotional upset in Baltimore last week for their third consecutive win. Interestingly, the Chargers are the only West Coast-based team to have won at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. 
Thus far this season, Patriots' QB Tom Brady has completed 293-of-452 passes for 3,243 yards, 28 touchdowns, and six interceptions for a 64.8 completion rate and a passer rating of 101.1. Charger Philip Rivers is 282-of-408 for 3,218 yards, 25 touchdowns, and ten interceptions for a 69.1% completion rate and a 102.8 passer rating.
Whereas Brady has been sacked 15 times, Rivers has been sacked 23 times due, largely, to ongoing offensive line woes and the curse of the Chargers' centers. After losing perennial center Nick Hardwick to an early-season neck injury, the Chargers were counting on fourth-string rookie Chris Watt who sustained a strained calf last week, thus forcing Trevor Robinson to "assume the position"; however, Watt did, in fact, practice on Friday so he may be good to go.
Super-stud TEs Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Gates are having impressive seasons as well. Gronk has 65 receptions for 910 yards with a 14.0 average and nine touchdowns while Gates has snagged 47 balls for 574 yards with a 12.2 average and nine touchdowns as well. After several seasons fraught with injury, both appear to be fully healthy and, therefore, potentially dangerous to the other's defense.
Both teams also boast stellar kickers. San Diego's Nick Novak needs just one field goal to reach 100 in his career. He is the team's all-time percentage leader with 99-of-112 field goals made (88.4%); this year he is 20-of-21 (95.2%). New England's Stephen Gostkowski, in his career, has made 234-of-271 field goals (94.9%) and this season is is 26-of-28 (92.9%). Remember, kickers need love too.
So, what else should you know before partaking of this game?
1. The Chargers and Patriots have met 39 times, including three postseason games. The Patriots have won 22, the Chargers have won 15, and they have tied twice. In the playoffs, New England is 2-1 versus San Diego with the Chargers' last postseason win versus the Patriots in 1964. The Patriots have won the last two meetings and have triumphed over the Chargers in their last five of eight matchups.
Since 2003, the Patriots are 36-4 (.900) in regular-season games following a loss and have only dropped consecutive regular season games four times. 
On Sunday Night Football (2006-present) New England's record is 9-8 while San Diego's is 8-3.
Brady is 5-0 versus the Rivers'-led Chargers; however, this season, all three of New England's losses have come on the road.
2. Brady and Rivers are the league's two best December quarterbacks. Brady ranks #1 with a 45-7 record (.865) in December while the #2 Rivers is 30-6 (.833). For comparison's sake, Peyton Manning is #3 at 46-20 (.467). In the final four regular-season games, Brady's record is 40-8 (.833) with five 4-0 seasons in 2001, 2003, 2007, 2010, and 2011; while Rivers is 29-3 (.906), thus possessing the best record in the NFL. The Chargers have a tough final four this year: New England, Denver, at San Francisco, and at Kansas City. After Sunday's game at San Diego, the Patriots finish the season with three divisional games: Miami (who already defeated them in week one), at the Jets. and versus the Bills.
3. Statistically, San Diego's offense is ranked 16th in total offense, 11th in passing, 28th in rushing, and 14th in points; while New England is 6th in total offense, 7th in passing, 16th in rushing, and third in points.
Defensively, the Chargers have the eighth-ranked defense, are seventh against the pass, 15th against the rush, and 12th in points allowed; while the Patriots are ranked 19th overall, 23rd against the pass, 14th against the rush, and 13th in points allowed. 
4. There are myriad milestones on the horizon for both teams which may reach fruition during this game. Rivers has 246 touchdowns which places him 18th on the league's all-time list. He needs just two more to surpass Boomer Esiason (247) for 17th. 
Both Gates and Gronk have a chance to be the first tight end(s) in NFL history with four or more ten-touchdown seasons. Both have three of these seasons (along with the recently-retired great Tony Gonzalez) and both have nine touchdowns this year. Further, Gates needs just 233 receiving yards to achieve the impressive milestone of 10,000 in his career and his 96 touchdowns have him tied with Randy Moss for most touchdowns in the NFL over the last 12 years. 
Chargers' WR Malcom Floyd needs 178 receiving yards for 5,000 in his career. He also has 278 catches and ten more will enable him to overtake Tony Martin for tenth in the team's top ten. Four more touchdowns to add to his current 29 will also move him into tenth on the team's all-time top ten.
5. The Chargers will be sporting their powder-blue uniforms which have been voted by many as the best NFL uniform of all time. These nostalgic powder blues reemerged in 1994 during the league's 75th anniversary season. San Diego dons this regalia twice each year. Personally, I am not the enthusiast my fellow fans seem to be because the Chargers' tend to not play as well in these uniforms: their record since such reappearance is 29-21. 


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