FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

Sunday Sports - - PLAYOFFS - JOHN KRYK’S

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.

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