The New England Patriots don’t play this weekend, but fans should be glued to their television for the Wild Card round. Depending on the outcome of the games, the Patriots will face off against either the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, or Los Angeles Chargers in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Obviously, the Patriots have no say over who they face, but that won’t stop the fans from rooting. Let’s take a dive into each team and see which team New England should be rooting for in the Wild Card round.
New England Patriots Wild Card Round Rooting Guide
The Houston Texans hold the third seed in the AFC playoff and host the Indianapolis Colts. New England took down Houston back in Week One, but both teams have changed significantly since that September matchup.
After starting out slow, second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson climbed the ranks of the NFL elite throughout 2018. While he’s no Drew Brees, Watson has a claim as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league. Watson finished his season completing 68.3% of his passes for 4,165 yards, 26 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
The biggest problem for the Patriots defense will be finding a way to slow down superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. The sixth-year wide receiver is coming off arguably the best season of his career, hauling in 115 receptions for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns. Stephon Gilmore is one of the best cornerbacks in the league, but he would have his hands full in this matchup.
Defensively, the Texans are led by the ferocious pass-rushing duo of J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. After missing the majority of the past two seasons with injury, Watt has bounced back in 2018 as one of the premier pass rushers in football. Playing in all 16 games, Watt recorded 16 sacks, 61 tackles, and 25 quarterback hits. Clowney wasn’t far behind him, recording nine sacks, 47 tackles, and 21 quarterback hits.
While Houston has a few star players, this roster also has some significant flaws. For one, Houston has arguably the worst offensive line in all of football. Incapable of run or pass blocking, Houston’s line allowed a league-high 62 sacks this season. Should these two teams meet, the Patriots pass rush should easily win this matchup.
Additionally, the Patriots clearly have the historical advantage. The Patriots are 5-0 against Houston ever since head coach Bill O’Brien took over the Texans. On top of that, the outcome was only in doubt in just one of those five matchups. It’s always dangerous going up against someone with close ties to the organization, but history shows the Patriots clearly know more about their former offensive coordinator than he does about them.
The Baltimore Ravens used to give the Patriots trouble back in the day, and they could do so again. Despite not recording a win against New England since the 2012 AFC Championship Game, Baltimore is playing the type of football New England has struggled to stop all season long. Powered by a dangerous running game led by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, Baltimore is perhaps the most intriguing team left in the postseason. Since taking over for Joe Flacco in Week 11, Jackson and the Ravens are averaging a staggering 229.6 rushing yards per game. They easily have the best running attack in football and are actually making history with this success.
On top of that, the Ravens might have the NFL’s second-best defense (the Bears defense is without peer). Skilled at all three levels, Baltimore finished the year as Football Outsiders’ third-ranked defense. They’re capable of getting to the quarterback, stopping the run, and blanketing all types of receivers. Really, this team is something of a throwback to 1980’s football.
Baltimore’s style of football invites close games, and that’s something the Patriots could hypothetically exploit. The Ravens are built to take an early lead and basically run out the clock from there. Baltimore isn’t a team capable of throwing the ball if they find themselves facing an early deficit.
As gifted as Lamar Jackson is in the ground game, he’s still a work in progress as a passer. While he’s made big-time throws, he cannot consistently hit his targets. Jackson finished his rookie season completing 58.1% of his passes for 1,201 yards, six touchdowns, and three interceptions. He can throw the ball when he really needs to, but he’s not capable of beating Tom Brady in a shootout.
Los Angeles Chargers
Last, but certainly not least, are the 12-4 Los Angeles Chargers. Despite having the lowest seed, the Chargers are arguably the most complete team the Patriots could possibly face in the AFC Divisional Round. Philip Rivers had a fantastic season, completing 68.3% of his passes for 4,308 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Combined with star talent in wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Melvin Gordon, the Chargers finished the season with the third-best offense in football, per Football Outsiders.
While not as good as the Ravens unit, their defense still ranks as one of the best in the league. After coming out of the gate relatively slow, the Chargers offense ended the year as the eighth-ranked defense in terms of DVOA. Joey Bosa is one of the best pass rushers in the league, Desmond King is having a fantastic year, and Derwin James has an outside shot at defensive rookie of the year. There really isn’t anything this Chargers team doesn’t go well.
While the Chargers might not have a clear, defined weakness, they also don’t have an overpowering strength. Their run defense, while good, isn’t elite. New England’s interior offensive line is arguably the best in the league, so New England should win that matchup. Additionally, the Chargers aren’t quite as good as their record might suggest. Los Angeles is 6-1 in one-score games, which helped artificially inflate their record. Winning at that high of a clip in close games tends to be unsustainable, So the Chargers aren’t quite as dominant as their 12-4 record implies. Basically, they’re good at everything but aren’t necessarily great at anything.
Last Word on the New England Patriots Wild Card Rooting Schedule
The Patriots have a lot invested in Wild Card weekend, even if they’re not playing. The Texans, Ravens, and Chargers all bring something different to the table and could give New England a run for their money. That said, each team possesses a fatal flaw which makes them beatable.
Of the three teams, the Patriots match up best with the Houston Texans. Bill O’Brien simply cannot defeat his old team, and New England’s defensive line should feast on Houston’s subpar offensive line. Stopping J.J. Watt and DeAndre Hopkins won’t be easy, but it can be done.
Both the Chargers and the Ravens are larger threats to New England than Houston is. That said, if the Indianapolis Colts pull the upset, New England would probably prefer to face the Baltimore Ravens. Stopping the Baltimore running attack will be a problem, but New England’s run defense is actually pretty good when Danny Shelton is on the field. Baltimore’s defense will make life hard for Tom Brady, but Lamar Jackson probably isn’t ready to outduel the 41-year old veteran.
— LWOS Patriots (@LWOS_Patriots) January 1, 2019
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