The New England Patriots are set to begin a three-game road trip on Sunday when they play the first of two back-to-back games against Los Angeles' contingent of NFL clubs. First up are the Chargers, who will roll out rookie phenom Justin Herbert, arguably the favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. New England enters this game after a last-second defeat of Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12, marking their third win in their last four contests. As for the Chargers, while Hebert has been impressive, it hasn't resulted in many wins for Anthony Lynn's 3-8 club. Last time out, L.A. fell to the Buffalo Bills in an overall sloppy game that featured some questionable play-calling on the part of Lynn.
The Chargers will try to shake off that loss and get back into the win column when they play host to Bill Belichick, Cam Newton and the rest of the Patriots for this AFC head-to-head. Before we preview this matchup a bit deeper, here's how you can catch Kevin Harlan, Trent Green, and Amanda Balionis' call on CBS.
How to watch
The deep ball may have the week off for this matchup as both the Chargers and Patriots boast offenses that really highlight the short passing attack. Cam Newton throws the ball at or behind the line of scrimmage on 23% of his attempts, which is the third-most in the NFL. Justin Herbert is right behind him with fourth-most in the league at 22%. While each quarterback is throwing similar types of passes, Herbert is unquestionably experiencing more success through the air. He recorded his sixth 300-yard passing game last week against the Bills, which is tied for the most by a rookie in NFL history. Newton, meanwhile, has struggled with his efficiency and experienced arguably his worst game as a pro against Arizona despite the win. In that game, he went 9-for-18 for 84 yards and two interceptions. It was also his sixth game this season without a passing touchdown.
While Los Angeles may have the advantage through the air, New England has been one of the better running teams throughout the NFL, thanks to Newton's mobility. Even with Rex Burkhead going down for the season, James White, who has typically been the team's passing-down back, seemed to fill his shoes quite nicely, scoring two rushing touchdowns in Week 12. Pairing White with second-year back Damien Harris is a solid combination for New England, who'll look to expose a Chargers run defense that is giving up 120.5 yards on the ground per game. As for Los Angeles, they did welcome back feature-back Austin Ekeler last week and he picked up right where he left off, totaling 129 yards from scrimmage while catching 11 of his 14 targets.
As for specific matchups in this game, there's arguably no better one than Stephon Gilmore vs. Keenan Allen. The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is coming off a strong Week 12 where he held Cardinals receiver DeAndre Hopkins largely in-check. Meanwhile, Alen has scored a touchdown in five-straight games coming into Sunday and only five catches away from yet another 90-catch season. This chess match between two of the best players at their respective positions will certainly be worth tuning in for.
Joey Bosa is another name to keep an eye on here as he's coming into this game following a career-high three-sack, five quarterback hit performance against Buffalo. He also recovered a fumble and had a pass defended. Cam Newton was sacked three times last week against Arizona and has struggled while under pressure at various points this year, so Bosa could end up being a huge X-factor in this head-to-head.
The NFL odds over at William Hill Sportsbook has this game currently as a pick'em. That likely due to Bill Belichick's stellar record against rookie quarterbacks. Over his tenure, New England is 24-5 SU vs rookie signal-callers. Of course, there are exceptions to that near immaculate record as Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Mark Sanchez (2009), Colt McCoy (2010), Russell Wilson (2012), and Geno Smith (2013) have been able to get the better of Belichick in their first head-to-head.
Given what we've seen from Herbert, he certainly has the ability to go toe-to-toe with this Patriots team. If it turns into a shootout through the air, that only plays more into the rookie's hand. While New England has been getting wins as of late, they have struggled on the road going 1-4 away from Gillette Stadium in 2020. Our CBS Sports experts are generally pretty split on this, but Senior NFL writer Pete Prisco is leaning towards the Chargers to pull out the win.
The pick: L.A. Chargers 24, New England 21
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