San Diego Chargers (4-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4)
The Buccaneers are surging thanks to Doug Martin’s improved play and the improved chemistry between Josh Freeman and new free agent deep threat acquisition Vincent Jackson. Josh Freeman has a cannon for an arm, but he wasn’t using it last year, throwing 20 yards downfield or more on just 6.5% of his throws, by far least frequent in the NFL, despite being the 3rd most accurate deep ball thrower in the NFL. This year, with a reliable deep threat in Jackson, he’s going deep on 14.6% of his throws and, more important, he’s having a ton of success, going 18 of 37 for 753 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
On the year, Freeman is completing 55.7% of his passes for an average of 8.1 YPA, 16 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He ranks 9th in the NFL in QB rating, ahead of established veteran quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Tony Romo, as well as young hot shots like Robert Griffin and Andrew Luck, and he’s just 1 spot behind Drew Brees. Even better, he’s hot right now, completing 100 of 173 (57.8%) for 1556 yards (9.0 YPA), 12 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions in his last 5 games, and he hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 3. Jackson, meanwhile, is 7th in the league in receiving yards per game, leads the league in yards per catch, 2nd in yards per pass route run, 8th in quarterback rating when thrown to, 10th in drop rate, and 2nd in deep pass catch rate.
The Freeman to Jackson connection has opened up things underneath for Mike Williams, who is having a bounce back season, and of course for Doug “muscle hamster” Martin (worst nickname I’ve ever heard) who is having a breakout rookie year. They’ve won 3 of 4 since the bye and sit at 4-4 with a +41 points differential that ranks 6th in the loaded NFC (for reference, it’d be 4th in the AFC). They rank 12th in yards per play differential and 14th in rate of sustaining drives differential.
The Chargers, meanwhile, continue to fail to impress. They snapped a 3 game losing streak last week, but they did it against Kansas City in a game that would have been embarrassingly close if the Chargers didn’t get two defensive touchdowns in a few minutes of game time. They can’t count on that every week. Their last win against a team other than the Chiefs was week 2 when they beat the Titans, which isn’t much better. And their only other win was against Oakland in a game they could have lost if not for an injury to the Raiders’ long snapper, which led to 2 botched snaps and a blocked punt in an 8 point game. Again, not much better.
Meanwhile, they rank 18th in yards per play differential and 11th in rate of sustaining drives differential. Using those statistics to compute real line, we get -4.5 for the yards per play method and -2.5 for the rate of sustaining drives method. And that doesn’t even take into account that the Buccaneers have the momentum and come from a stronger conference (and have played a tougher schedule). The NFC is 23-13 against the AFC this year. In actuality, the line is at -2.5, so we’re getting better value with the Buccaneers.
In addition to being the better value, the Buccaneers are in the better spot. Technically, neither of these teams is in a good spot. Both are playing non-conference games before being divisional dogs. Teams are 43-68 ATS as non-divisional dogs before being divisional dogs, 11-29 ATS as non-conference dogs before being divisional dogs since 2002. That applies to San Diego, who goes to Denver next week. Meanwhile, teams are 32-60 ATS as non-conference favorite before being divisional dogs since 2002. That applies to Tampa Bay, who goes to Carolina next week.
That being said, using common sense, San Diego is clearly in the worse spot for three reasons. One, a game against Denver, who leads the division and who beat them in embarrassing comeback fashion earlier this year, is more likely to distract the Chargers than a game against Carolina, who is 2-6 and who the Buccaneers already beat this year, for the Buccaneers. Two, the Chargers will definitely be dogs in Denver next week, but you can’t say the same about Tampa Bay. The early line has them at just +1 in Carolina right now and that could easily flip to -1 or higher this week.
Three, the Chargers have to travel to Tampa Bay to play this game on the East Coast at 1 PM ET as a West Coast team, a situation teams generally struggle in. Under Norv Turner, the Chargers especially struggle, going 1-5 ATS in this spot. They’re also just 8-18 ATS on the road under Norv Turner before week 11, including 2-13 ATS outside of the division. The Buccaneers are the better team in the better spot and they’re laying less than a field goal at home. We also don’t have to worry about heavy public leans here because the action is pretty split. I really like the Buccaneers this week.
Public lean: Tampa Bay (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)
Sharps lean: TB 13 SD 7
Final update: No change. Still one of my two favorite picks this week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31 San Diego Chargers 20
Pick against spread: Tampa Bay -2.5 (-110) 4 units