Baltimore Ravens (8-2) at San Diego Chargers (4-6)
The Chargers haven’t beaten a team other than the Chiefs since week 2, when they beat the Titans, who aren’t exactly great either and then before that they beat Oakland. Why would anyone pick them to beat the Ravens? Well, that seems to be the public sentiment this week as the public is pounding Baltimore as small road favorites, but I’ll tell you why San Diego is a smart bet this week.
The first reason is pretty simple and it’s just that the public loves Baltimore. The odds makers always make money in the long run, so it’s smart to bet against public leans, especially heavy public leans. If you were to do that over the course of a season, you’d probably win money every year (the only way you wouldn’t would be the juice).This week, I think, it’s especially smart to do so because the odds makers haven’t had a good 3 weeks. They should be due for a big week.
It goes deeper than that too. This is right around the point every season when the Chargers start playing incredibly well. In his career, Philip Rivers is 31-19 ATS in week 11 or later. In the last 3 years, as mediocre as they’ve been, they’re still 10-5 ATS in week 11 or later, including a cover last week in Denver. As underdogs, as they are here, Rivers is 12-4 ATS in week 11 or later, including 3-0 ATS as home dogs. It’s rare that the Chargers have been home dogs in the Philip Rivers era, this is only the 5th time, but they are 3-1 ATS in the first 4 instances, including a late season (week 15) blowout win over these Ravens last year (34-14). More on that game later. The Chargers are also in a good spot as dogs before being favorites (they host Cincinnati next week). Teams are 96-53 ATS in this spot since 2011.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are in a bad spot. As good as they are at home (16 straight wins), they generally struggle as road favorites, going 1-5 ATS as non-divisional home favorites in the last 2 seasons. Last year, they lost to 4 non-playoff teams on the road, Tennessee, Seattle, Jacksonville, and these Chargers, in a game that was situation wise very similar to this one. I put a big play on the 6-7 Chargers against the 10-3 Ravens last year and I’m going to do it again this year. This year, they barely beat the lowly Chiefs in Kansas City. They also generally struggle on the West Coast (2-10 ATS in franchise history).
Besides, if you think about it, what’s their motivation here? They have a 2 game lead on the division after their win over Pittsburgh last week and next week they play the Steelers again. If they beat the Steelers next week, they’ll have at least a 2 game lead on the division and the tiebreaker even if they lose this game. This game means nothing. Teams, for whatever reason, tend to struggle after beating the Steelers anyway, going a ridiculous 18-40 ATS since 2002 (no other team has a trend like that). The Ravens are 3-6 ATS after beating them in that time period. They probably won’t get up for this game and will underachieve against a Chargers team that always gets hot at this time and who beat them in this exact situation last year.
The Ravens are overrated anyway. They’re only +61 in points differential and most of that came from two wins against Cincinnati and crappy Oakland. They’re 6-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less and they haven’t had a particularly tough schedule. They could have easily lost to Pittsburgh last week if Charlie Batch had stepped in for Leftwich when he got clearly hurt. They are just 9th in yards per play differential and 17th in rate of sustaining drives differential.
They allow more yards per game than they gain. Against Pittsburgh, they were outgained by over 100 yards and even against Oakland, a huge win, they got outgained. They’re doing really well with turnovers. Only New England (+20) has a better turnover differential than their +12, but that’s not sustainable and their wins have been close enough that it’s definitely something to worry about. They’re also only 4-6 ATS against the spread.
As you can imagine, we are getting some line value with the Chargers. Using the rate of sustaining drives differential method, this line should be San Diego -3 and using the yards per play differential method, this should be a pick em. Neither one says that the Ravens should be road favorites here and I agree, trends aside. With trends factored in, the Chargers seem like the clear choice, especially with the public heavy on Baltimore in a week where the odds makers need to make their money back. We might even see another 34-14 type game.
It’s a big play on the Chargers. I’m not worried at all that they’ve quit on Norv Turner. As bad of a Head Coach as he is, they have never fully quit on him and just given up on a season. Philip Rivers is a huge supporter of his Head Coach and this bunch will play hard to save his job, like they always do late in the season. They’re not getting run out of the building. The last game they played where they didn’t keep it even close was week 3. They’re still playing hard.
Instead of putting 4 units on the spread and one on the money line, I’m putting all 5 on the money line. Since 1989, there have been 414 teams who have been favorites of less than 2. Of those 414 teams, only 7 of those teams won by exactly 1 point, about 1.7%. It’s not worth the extra 15 cents for something that historically will only hurt me about 1.7% of the time.
Public lean: Baltimore (80% range)
Sharps lean: SD 14 BAL 4
Final update: Another heavy sharps lean lines up with one of my picks of the week, a very good sign.
San Diego Chargers 27 Baltimore Ravens 17 Upset Pick +105 5 units
Pick against spread: San Diego +1 (-110) 0 units