1. How will the Patriots move the ball?
The Chargers defense is the definition of average. They're ranked 12th in points allowed, 8th in yards allowed, 7th in passing yards allowed, and 14th in rushing yards yard allowed. That seems like a decent defense, but when you take a deeper dive, it shows that the Chargers don't force a lot of turnovers (-1 on the year) and they also have issues with rushing the passer (18 sacks in 12 games). The Patriots will be able to run on the Chargers, who allow 4.3 yards per carry. With the pass rushing issues the Chargers have and their problems stopping the run, it's probably going to be a tough task to stop the Patriots. The Packers really didn't stop New England, they stopped themselves. This week that will be different; watch for Legarrette Blount, Tim Wright and Brandon LaFell to have big games.
2. Can the Chargers score against the New England defense?
Philip Rivers and the Chargers passing game is going to be a tough test for the Patriots defense. but they should be able to keep the Chargers under control. For all the great passing numbers in San Diego (Rivers has thrown for 3,218 yards and 25 TD's), the running game has been awful. The Chargers are averaging 87.3 rush yards per game, which ranks them 28th in the NFL. Ryan Mathews has returned from injury (when is he not returning from injury?) but the main problem with the running game is an offensive line that can't run block. This plays right into the Patriots hands because they'll be able to keep the Chargers one dimensional, and that will allow Belichick and Patricia to get aggressive. Rivers has spread the ball around well; tomorrow may be a game that zone coverages are featured, but we'll also see Darrelle Revis lined up on Keenan Allen and Brandon Browner is going to draw the big test with Antonio Gates. Expect to see the "Big Nickel" and regular nickel defenses from the Patriots; big nickel features Browner, while regular nickel typically will deploy Logan Ryan in the slot and Browner outside. Browner will most likely draw Malcom Floyd when San Diego uses three and four wide packages.
3. Who has the edge in the coaching match up?
Mike McCoy has done an excellent job since taking over in 2013, and he has had success throughout his career. McCoy has a knack for getting a lot out of a little when it comes to talent. McCoy was hired by Josh McDaniels when he took over the Broncos in 2008. After McDaniels was fired, McCoy remained on the staff and helped Tim Tebow lead the Broncos to the playoffs. After a great year with Peyton Manning in 2012, McCoy was able to parlay his Denver success into a head coaching gig on San Diego. It's a great story, but it really doesn't mean much for Sunday. Yes, the Patriots will have some idea how to deal with him because of McDaniels, but it truly comes down to the players. New England is the more well rounded team and this gives the Patriots coaching staff the advantage.
4. Will the Chargers find a way to give Brady fits?
The San Diego defense has had trouble getting a pass rush going in 2014, and if that trend continues, it could be a long day for the Chargers defense. Sack leader Corey Liuget is questionable and DT Ryan Carrethers is out, so that puts the Chargers in a tough position depth-wise. Dwight Freeney could give Nate Solder some problems, but if he gets to Brady once, New England will deploy and extra blocker on him for the rest of the game. The Chargers secondary has been solid this year, but they'll have their hands full with the Patriots stable of weapons. With Edelman, Gronkowski and Lafell drawing the most coverage, Tim Wright and Danny Amendola could see more targets than normal; Wright has been terrific in the red zone. If the Chargers are to somehow get a pass rush on Brady, they'll have a chance to slow down the Patriots offense, but I just don't see it happening, and the secondary can only cover for so long.
5. Who wins the game?
The Chargers have been very good this year, and they proved their toughness when they went in to Baltimore and picked up a victory. San Diego has also faced the Broncos and Seahawks and split with them, so it isn't like they've played a pancake schedule. The truth is, they haven't faced a team like New England. The Patriots are coming off a tough loss in Green Bay, a game they should have won. With this being an AFC matchup, Bill Belichick will stress the importance of this game on playoff seeding and there is no better coach come December. The Chargers will hang around for awhile, but the Patriots defense will tighten up in the red zone like it has all year and the San Diego will be kicking field goals while New England is scoring touchdowns.
Prediction: Patriots 41, Chargers 19