Atlanta Falcons (2-0) at San Diego Chargers (2-0)
The Chargers are one of just six 2-0 teams left in the NFL. Have they conquered their early season woes? They certainly look good. They’ve used 7 of their last 8 picks in the first 3 rounds on defensive players and it seems to have paid off while veterans like Quentin Jammer and Shaun Phillips seem to be holding things together for one more year. Meanwhile, on offense, Philip Rivers might be the MVP of the league for the first 2 games, leading this team to a 2-0 record despite not having much to throw with. He’s playing behind the league’s worst offensive line in terms of pass block efficiency and he’s doing it while throwing to Malcom Floyd, Robert Meachem (just kidding, no one ever throws to Robert Meachem), and one game of Antonio Gates. His running game isn’t helping him much either as none of their backs have really gotten much going in Ryan Mathews’ absence.
The good news for Rivers is that Mathews will be back this week. Mathews is injury prone, but he’s one of the most talented backs in the league and they were planning on using him as an everything back so he should definitely help their offense. Gates is also expected back. The problem is their schedule is getting much harder this week. I don’t fully believe they’ve conquered their early season problems just because they’re 2-0 after beating two crappy teams. They started 4-1 last year beating up on crappy teams before eventually going on a 6 game losing streak once things got harder. Before last year, they were 14-12 from weeks 1-5 under Philip Rivers and 41-11 (41-11!!!) from weeks 6-17. Including last week, they’re actually just 4-7 ATS as favorites during the first 4 weeks of the season in the Philip Rivers era.
This week, the Falcons come to town and they represent by far their toughest opponent so far. Matt Ryan and this passing offense has been as advertised, completing 70.1% of his passes for an average of 7.7 YPA, 5 touchdowns and no interceptions, and the defense has been okay despite the loss of Brent Grimes for the season.
However, I wasn’t overly impressed with the Falcons’ performance last week on Monday Night Football. I felt like they should have been up 20 given how badly the Broncos started and how much they turned the ball over, but they didn’t capitalize like they should have. They lost the yardage total battle and the yards per play battle and if it wasn’t for those 4 turnovers, they probably would have lost at home by double digits. They can’t keep relying on winning the turnover battle to win games.
As a result of that game, they actually have a yards per play differential at even, +0, and that’s my favorite stat and what I feel is the best indicator of how a team has played and how they will play in the future. For what it’s worth though, the Chargers sit at only +0.3, so it’s not like they’re much better. Neither team’s yards per play differential is as good as their record. On top of that, I don’t really trust the Falcons outside on the road, especially on just 5 days rest coming off Monday Night Football.
I’m really torn on this one. I don’t believe the Chargers have gotten rid of their early season problems and I feel they could be due for a stinker now that they’re playing an actually good opponent. However, I wasn’t that impressed with the Falcons on Monday Night Football at home, where they’re best and now they go on the road on short rest. Besides, the Chargers never blew out a team last year in their strong start against an easy schedule like they did last week.
I’m picking the Chargers because the Falcons are one of the heaviest public underdogs you’ll ever see. Not only do I love betting against the public when the action is heavy in one direction (the public is getting killed on these types of games this year), I love it even more when the publicly backed team is an underdog. The Chargers are getting their due respect against a Falcons team that, like they are, is hasn’t really played as well as their record would suggest. I’m taking the home team for a small play.
Public lean: Atlanta (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if San Diego covers)
San Diego Chargers 28 Atlanta Falcons 24
Pick against spread: San Diego -3 (-110) 1 unit