As the New England Patriots prepare for a Week 8 clash with the Los Angeles Chargers at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, here are some pregame story lines to keep in mind:

Coming In Hot- Both teams come into the game on hot streaks as they've each won three games in a row. The Pats, of course, enter the game at 5-2 overall and with sole possession of the top spot in the AFC East. LA started the year off 0-4, but have clawed their way back into a crowded and cluttered AFC West with three straight wins. though they are under .500, LA should present a true test for the Pats as they really could make a case for being a better team than their record reflects. In their first four losses, the Chargers lost by a combined 11 points or an average of 2.75 points per game.

Will They Pass The Test?- The LA defense has been superb against the pass so far this season, creating an interesting match up between that unit and Tom Brady. While the Chargers rank fifth in the league, holding teams to just over 185 yards through the air, the Pats league-best offense has been paced by its second ranked passing unit. Led by Brady, the Pats have averaged an even 300 yards passing per game. With just about all his offensive weapons healthy and ready to go, look for Brady to find a way to neutralize the pass rush and downfield coverage.

A Running Problem- LA has bounced back nicely, after a tough start to the season, though two similar phases of their game have failed them in the early going. The Chargers rank 31st in the league in both rushing offense and run defense. Averaging a tick over 79 rushing yards per game and allowing opponents to run for just under 141 yards on average, the Chargers have struggled mightily to do much in either capacity.

Going To The Run?- With the LA defense having proved to be so inept against the run thus far this season and with a full stable of healthy backs in the backfield, the Patriots might opt to utilize a heavy rushing attack on Sunday. With an offense that has been so chameleon-like over the years, New England has proven to have what it takes to switch up its game plan week to week and attack its opponent's biggest weakness. Look for the Pats to feed the ball to Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee early and often.

Good Game For Gillislee- New England running back Mike Gillislee has yet to really flourish in the power back role, since coming over to the Pats on a free agent deal this offseason. This might be the perfect game for him to bust out and finally have the type of impact many thought he might, when he was signed this summer. Through seven games, he has carried the ball 87 times for 321 yards and four scores. Sunday might just mark his first 100+ yard effort in New England.

A First Look- Though they've played without him already this season and in the past, Sunday's game will give a first look at how the Pats will move forward without star linebacker Dont'a Hightower. After leaving last week's win over Atlanta with a shoulder injury, reports have surfaced that Hightower tor his pectoral muscle and will be out for the rest of the season. Without Hightower, the Pats defense struggled early on this season. They had seemingly found a bit of a groove the past couple weeks, playing better as a unit and bring their overall numbers back towards the pack. In the absence of Hightower, the Pats will need to rely heavily on the likes of Kyle Van Noy, Elandon Roberts and veteran David Harris, who has played an extremely small role thus far this season. If Harris can regain some of the form he had as a star backer with the New York Jets, he could help to fill the void, though Hightower's significance goes far beyond what he can do himself. With Hightower on the field, the other players on defense get opportunities to make plays and typically play up to a higher level.

How He'll Factor- Sunday may mark the return of free agent cornerback Stephon Gilmore, as he has been back to practice this week after missing multiple games with a concussion. Gilmore struggled maybe more than anyone else on the defense in the early going, failing to get on the same page as his teammates and thrive in the team's oft used zone scheme. In the two weeks that he's missed, the defense has seemed to flourish a bit. Obviously, a player, who is owed the kind of money that Gilmore is, will need to factor into the game plan in a legitimate way. it will be interesting to see what the pats do with him, if he's good to go Sunday.

Prediction- While the Chargers have been soaring lately and the Pats have some new issues defensively, New England should be able to win on Sunday. The success the Pats have had at home against AFC opponents can't be understated, either. With the backfield healthy and Tom Brady under center, the Patriot offense should be able to put up the points they are capable of, while the home crowd could help the defense keep up their string of solid play.

Pats 31, Chargers 17 





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