FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1 PATRIOTS’ PLAY COUNT
We don’t often see a clearly flustered Tom Brady in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. When it does happen, history tells us we are looking at a Patriots loss. Thing is, even if the Pats are trailing by the fourth, they often steal the victory nonetheless if they’ve run a lot of plays to that point. Right, because they’ve tired out the opposing defence, no matter how effective its pass rush might have been earlier in the game. So expect New England to deploy a lot of hurry-up, for that very purpose.
2 PHILIP’S FOLLIES
Chargers QB Philip Rivers has never defeated the Patriots when Brady has played — 0-for-7, with more picks (10) than TDs (7). At Gillette Stadium, he’s 0-4. Will Rivers press too hard and make some killer gaffes?
3 POST-CHRISTMAS RUSH?
The Pats offence looked best this year when it ran it a bunch. Rookie Sony Michel deserves more accolades. But Baltimore, the NFL’s top rushing team down the stretch, couldn’t run it a lick last week against the Chargers’ seven-DB defensive alignment.
4 TRICK PLAYS
Bill Belichick will deploy as many tricks as required to flip momentum in a playoff game. Remember that funky offensive alignment he sprung on the Ravens a few years ago? Or the occasional Julian Edelman pass?
5 KICKERS & EXPERIENCE
The Chargers PK, Michael Badgley, is a rookie. This is his 12th career NFL game. He showed no nerves in making five critical field goals a week ago at Baltimore, second most in an NFL playoff game. And overall he has made 94% of his field goals so far. Thirteenth-year Pats PK Stephen Gostkowski hit on only 84% of his field goals this year, but has played in 24 more career playoff games. That might count at crunch time.