Week 8 of the NFL season is here, and this week offers some interesting matchups. The Cleveland Browns host the Pittsburgh Steelers in a heated divisional rivalry matchup, while the reigning Super Bowl Champs, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, visit New Orleans to take on the Saints. Along with the fantastic Thursday Night Football matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Green Bay Packers, week 8 is shaping up to be a major improvement over last week’s boring matchups.
The Los Angeles Chargers, fresh off their bye week, will now host the New England Patriots at SoFi Stadium. The game’s kickoff will be at 1:05 p.m. PST. But what should fans look forward to? Are there any interesting stories or matchups that will unfold? Find out here in the Chargers-Patriots preview!
Staley vs. Belichick – The Newbie Challenges the All-Time Great
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley has exceeded all expectations for a rookie coach. The Chargers are currently sitting at 4-2 after a brutal stretch of games to open the 2021 NFL season. Sure, there have been games where Staley has looked vulnerable as a coach. Staley was completely outdone by Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, as well as John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6. Chargers fans may point fingers at questionable officiating for the Cowboys’ loss, but the fact of the matter is that the Chargers committed too many mistakes and penalties for a single game. In the Ravens game, though, Staley was simply outmatched by Harbaugh and his ability to scheme for the Chargers’ offense. That Ravens game will serve as a harsh, yet important lesson going forward.
Now Staley faces off against yet another talented coach in Patriots head coach and general manager Bill Belichick. That is to say, describing Belichick as a ‘talented coach’ doesn’t even begin to do him justice. Starting as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants back in 1985, Belichick has been a looming figure over the NFL’s history. After winning Super Bowls with the Giants in 1987 and 1991, Belichick took over the reins of the floundering Cleveland Browns in the 1991-92 season. He had five mediocre seasons with Cleveland, then three more as the head coach of the New York Jets.
In 2000, when Belichick arrived in New England, though, is when everything changed. In 21 full seasons with the Patriots, Belichick has amassed a staggering 247-96 record with six Super Bowl rings. To put that into perspective, Belichick has finished only a single season with a record below a .500 win percentage. That is the kind of coach Staley will be facing off against.
Justin Herbert vs. Mac Jones
Justin Herbert has been nothing short of the savior for the Chargers franchise after Philip Rivers’s departure for Indianapolis in 2019. Fans should feel blessed that the football gods shine brightly on the Chargers franchise in regards to quarterbacks. After the notorious Ryan Leaf, the Chargers have been able to seamlessly transition between franchise quarterbacks. First Drew Brees, then Philip Rivers, then Justin Herbert, the Chargers have always had a dependable starting quarterback. Herbert is square in the MVP race so far this season, not slowing down at all after his historic rookie season.
Meanwhile, the Patriots have a talented rookie quarterback of their own. After the departure of legendary quarterback Tom Brady for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2019, the Patriots spent the 2020 season with the future in mind. That future comes in the shape of Mac Jones, a rookie quarterback out of Alabama. Jones had his fair share of doubters, having come from a team with an unheard-of amount of wide receiver talent at Alabama. However, Jones has been a solid starter during his rookie campaign.
Last week, the Patriots faced off against the New York Jets, and Jones led the team to a 54-13 crushing of the Jets. Sure, pundits could say “it was only the Jets”, but it must be taken into consideration that at the end of the day, the Jets is a team of NFL-level talent. Jones, with 1779 passing yards on 174 completions (247 attempts) and 9 touchdowns, shows flashes of pure talent. It will be interesting to see how Jones’s career plays out. But first, he needs to face off against Justin Herbert, who makes his impressive rookie campaign look meaningless.
Damien Harris vs. The Chargers Run Defense
The Chargers’ run defense is just plain bad. They are second-worst in the entire league in average rushing yards per game allowed. Sure, they have faced off against three of the four best rushing offenses in the entire league (Cowboys, Browns, Ravens). However, the fact of the matter is that they have been routinely embarrassed in almost every game. After a bye week to regain composure, it will be interesting to watch whether the Chargers run defense fares against another good running back.
Damien Harris is a solid running back. He’s certainly not on the level of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt on the Browns, or Ezekiel Elliot on the Cowboys, but he is definitely an above-average starter in the NFL. With 437 yards on 95 carries (4.6 yards per carry), as well as 5 touchdowns, Harris will be a good challenge for the Chargers.
As emphasized earlier, this matchup will set the tone for the Chargers’ run defense. After a full two weeks to reset their mindset, this game will be crucial. The Chargers run defense needs to shut down Harris to keep their momentum and confidence high for the future.
This matchup will be a crucial one for the Chargers. After going into their bye on an embarrassing loss to the Ravens, a win here would be massive for confidence. That being said, the Chargers are all-around a far more talented team than the Patriots. The Patriots have an advantage with a legend like Belichick at the helm, but it likely won’t be enough to overcome that ‘talent’ hurdle. Chargers fans can expect a strong statement win for the Chargers come Sunday. This has been the Chargers-Patriots preview.