NFL Divisional Round: Chargers, Patriots, Eagles and Saints live on Sky Sports
Sky Sports NFL previews are powered by the guys at Pro Football Focus; watch live on Sky Sports USA (407) from 9pm Saturday, 5.30pm Sunday
By James Simpson
Last Updated: 14/01/19 1:09am
We preview this Sunday's night's NFL playoff action, featuring the Los Angeles Chargers @ New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints.
We are live on Sky Sports USA (channel 407) from 5.30pm on Saturday for half an hour's build-up to the first game of the night. Here is a look ahead to what you can expect over what is set to be a thrilling Divisional round...
Los Angeles Chargers (#5) @ New England Patriots (#2), KO 6.05pm
Overlooked after their Week 16 loss to the Ravens, the Chargers (12-4) showed up in a big way on Wild Card weekend, rolling into Baltimore and shutting down a previously-unstoppable rushing attack. Next up? Tom Brady and company. Los Angeles are built for success, and can win in multiple ways. Last week they used seven defensive backs on 58 of 59 snaps as part of a unique gameplan. What will they scheme up this time?
New season, same old story. Are the Patriots (11-5) finished? In a 'down' year, they still managed to win 11 games and wrap up the No 2 seed, beating every opponent they faced who made the playoffs (Texans, Colts, Chiefs, Bears). Yes, a two-week stretch where they were subject to the 'Miami Miracle' and had a bad offensive outing in Pittsburgh have taken away some of their invincibility, but it is the Patriots!
Last week, rookie kicker Mike Badgley converted five field goals, the most made field goals in a single postseason game since the 2016 season (Pittsburgh's Chris Boswell).
Ones to watch
Where to start with the Chargers? They have stars at quarterback (Philip Rivers), running back (Melvin Gordon), wide receiver (Keenan Allen), defensive end (Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram), corner (Casey Hayward) and safety (Derwin James). That is just brushing the surface.
Could this finally be Rivers' time? He has the 12th-most wins of all time, the eighth-most yards, the sixth-most touchdowns, yet still has not reached a Super Bowl. In the 2007-8 seasons, the Chargers were twice knocked out by New England when they had the talent to go all the way. It could be time for Rivers' revenge.
In his way? Tom Brady; the NFL's all-time postseason leader in games played (37), wins (27), completions (920), passing yards (10,226) and touchdown passes (71). It almost does not matter who his weapons are, but they just happen to include tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has 12 career playoff touchdown catches, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer John Stallworth for the second-most in postseason history - albeit 'Gronk' does not look 100 per cent.
Then there is trust target Julian Edelman, Sony Michel and James White in the backfield, and electrifying returner, gadget man Cordarrelle Patterson. Who will be the 'featured' player in the gameplan this week?
Philadelphia Eagles (#6) @ New Orleans Saints (#1), KO 9.40pm
What a finish in Chicago, eh? After Eagles' (9-7) season looked over with a Week 14 loss in Dallas, they proceeded to beat the Rams, Texans and shut out the Redskins in Washington to book the final playoff berth. Then they went into Chicago, against the No 1-ranked defense in the NFL, and drove down the field to win the game (holding on thanks to the 'double doink'). Nick Foles' legend continues.
New Orleans (13-3) finished alone with the best record in football. Yet again, it was mostly due to their dynamic, almost-impossible-to-defend attack, led by head coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees. They were 6-1 at home before resting starters - including a 48-7 beatdown of the Eagles - and are a perfect 5-0 at home in the postseason under Payton. The Saints will be hard to stop.
Brees set an NFL single-season record for completion percentage (74.4) and led the league in passer rating (115.7) in 2018.
Ones to watch
The last two seasons for Nick Foles have been simply insane. From getting traded, to being cut, to contemplating retirement, he has come back and had a pair of sensational stretches as the starter. Last postseason, he went 3-0, had a passer rating of 115.7, and was named Super Bowl MVP. He came up big when it mattered against the Bears, but can he keep up with the high-scoring Saints?
Foles will look to big targets Alshon Jeffery and Zach Ertz on offense, but on defense, the Eagles must get pressure on Brees - and Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett have played at an elite level during Philadelphia's winning run. It is worth looking out for safety Malcolm Jenkins, a former Saint, who is the defensive leader, and rookie corner Avonte Maddox, who had an outstanding first half in Chicago, but was burned in the second. Brees may target the youngster.
Drew Brees is a Hall of Fame quarterback, but he only has one Lombardi Trophy to his name. All he craves is another, and he might not have had a more balanced offense to support him in his career. Running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara are a formidable duo, while receiver Michael Thomas had 125 receptions and set a franchise single-season record with 1,405 receiving yards.
The offensive line can be dominant, so it will be fun to see if they can move the pile against one of the best D-lines in football. On the defensive side of the ball, the Saints need their playmakers to step up to help out the O. Cameron Jordan will be gunning for Foles, and corners Eli Apple and Marshon Lattimore will want to replicate the first time these teams met - no Eagles receiver had more than 50 yards.
@PFF will provide a host of in-depth analysis throughout the season across Sky Sports platforms including our live coverage on Sunday and throughout our weekly build-up and reaction on www.skysports.com/NFL