Tale of the Tape: Pats slight edge over Chargers

After studying the Chargers and Patriots on tape, here’s our position-by-position breakdown on who has the upper hand in Sunday’s AFC showdown:

QUARTERBACKS

Tom Brady has three rings. We get that. But Philip Rivers is the only quarterback with three straight seasons of 4,000-plus yards and a 100-plus passer rating. Also, we like Rivers’ ability to move around the pocket with bullets flying around him.

We know, we know — Brady is a future Hall of Famer. Nevertheless, Rivers has the leg up with his pocket presence in this matchup.

Judge’s score: San Diego, 10-9

RUNNING BACKS

New England has a back for every occasion. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is your straight ahead, goal line back. Danny Woodhead gets yards with his shiftiness in the open field. And rookie RB Stevan Ridley, who has yet to really play, has the whole package.

Mike Tolbert, despite never looking the part, is a great back. But he only cancels out one cog in New England’s threesome.

Judge’s score: New England, 10-9

Tale of the tape

Chargers
Patriots
X
QB
RB
X
X
WR
TE
X
OT
X
G/C
X
DT
X
X
Edge rush
X
LB
CB
X
X
S
ST
X
X
X-factors
Coaches
X
X
Significance
Winner
X

WIDE RECEIVERS

Battle of the quickest versus the biggest. While WR Wes Welker and WR Deion Branch have the route-running prowess to be where Brady needs them, WR Malcolm Floyd and WR Vincent Jackson give Rivers a larger catch radius. That’s not to say these big fellas can’t run.

Judge’s score: San Diego, 10-9

TIGHT ENDS

Here, you have the old guard at tight end versus the new. Antonio Gates has an imprint on the standard for the tight end position. His ability to post up linebackers and safeties has been unparalleled — until now. With a combo of TEs Rob Gronkowski (blocker/chain mover) and Aaron Hernandez (downfield threat), New England has the perfect mix of talent at tight end.

Judge’s score: New England, 10-9

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

We don’t know which trio of tackles will start for the Patriots on Sunday, because RT Sebastian Vollmer has been out, but coach Bill Belichick said he will play. Vollmer, LT Matt Light and OT Nate Solder, who proved he has the athleticism to play on either side of the line, are solid no matter the combination.

For San Diego, LT Marcus McNeil and backup Brandyn Dombroski are solid, but Rivers loves to wait for the downfield throw and that’s exposing from time to time.

Judge’s score: New England, 10-9

GUARDS/CENTERS

Center Dan Koppen is out for the Patriots and in steps Dan Connolly. While Chargers center Nick Hardwick has the advantage here, we like OGs Brian Waters and Logan Mankins flanking Connolly more than Kris Dielman and Luis Vasquez in San Diego.

Judge’s score: New England, 10-9

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

New England throws a lot of bodies at you up front — from Vince Wilfork and Myron Pryor to Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Love. That’s too much pork for one fork. The Chargers can’t match that, even with an unheralded mauler like NT Antonio Garay.

Judge’s score: New England, 10-9

EDGE RUSHERS

The Patriots made upgrades to their pass rush with Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis and Mark Anderson, but Shaun Phillips still plays for the Chargers. He’s a superior edge rusher with a quick first step off the snap. With Phillips aligning in different spots to rush, he could have Brady on the move.

Judge’s score: San Diego, 10-9

LINEBACKERS

Takeo Spikes, in his 14th NFL season, is the leader of a group that plays hard to the line of scrimmage and fills running lanes. Spikes, along with OLB Donald Butler, get from sideline to sideline with ease.

Judge’s score: San Diego, 10-9

CORNERBACKS

We don’t believe either team has great man-to-man, cover corners. But the Patriots do a better job of putting their back end in position to make plays. They get the nod by disguising their coverages and baiting quarterbacks into making bad throws.

Judge’s score: New England, 10-8

SAFETIES

The Chargers have two safeties who will hit you — Bob Sanders and Eric Weddle. They aren’t the greatest in pass coverage, but they are also more proven than Patrick Chung and Sergio Brown.

Judge’s score: San Diego, 10-9

SPECIAL TEAMS

With Nate Kaeding out and Nick Novak in for the Chargers, Stephen Gostkowski has the clear advantage in this matchup. Both punters — Zoltan Mesko and Mike Scifres — can change field position with their legs.

Judge’s score: New England, 10-9

X-FACTORS

Either Garay for the Chargers or Matthew Slater for the Patriots could tip the balance of this game. Garay, and his ability to take up double teams along the offensive line, could open up one-on-one opportunities for Phillips on the edge. Slater, who showed he could become a deep threat versus the Dolphins, could have a chance to run by San Diego’s secondary.

Judge’s score: San Diego, 10-9

COACHES

Belichick. They aren’t doing a documentary on NFL Network about him for no reason.

Judge’s score: New England, 10-8

SIGNIFICANCE

After a less-than-stellar showing versus the Vikings last week, the notoriously slow-starting Chargers showed they could be heading down the same track. They have to break out of that this week. Championship teams win games like these.

Judge’s score: San Diego, 10-9

Final score: New England, 143-140

The Chargers look overmatched on paper, but as always these things must be settled on the gridiron.

“Playbook”, the ultimate football Xs and Os show, airs Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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