Cleveland Browns (1-2) at San Diego Chargers (1-2)
The Chargers are 1-2, but their losses both came on the road against Cincinnati and Minnesota, a pair of solid teams. They still rank 19th in rate of moving the chains differential, decent considering they’ve had a tougher schedule than most teams. They finished last season 13th and I thought they’d be even better than that this season, a goal that is certainly still in reach as the schedule gets easier. A borderline playoff team in 2013 and 2014, the Chargers’ secondary is significantly better than it was in 2013 thanks to the additions of Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett, while their offense should be significantly healthier than it was in 2014, when they led the league in adjusted games lost to injury.
The Chargers schedule does get easier this week as a mediocre at best Browns team comes to town. The Browns have a talented defense and a strong offensive line, but next to no offensive skill position players and a bunch of guys who are underperforming defensively. Their defense has the talent to turn it around and could do so this week, but they’re still an easier matchup for San Diego than anyone else they’ve played this season.
The Chargers’ offensive line is banged up as they’ll likely be missing 3 starters, left tackle King Dunlap, left guard Orlando Franklin, and center Chris Watt with injury, while right guard DJ Fluker is still working back from an ankle sprain, but they’re back at home now and also get both Flowers and Verrett back from injury. Flowers missed last week’s game in Minnesota, while Verrett was knocked out after 20 snaps with a foot problem. Both should start and play well this week, cancelling out some of their injuries on the offensive line. Despite their record, they definitely deserve to be favored by at least the 7 points they’re favored by here.
They’re also in a much better spot here than the Browns. While the Browns have another tough game on deck, a trip to Baltimore to play the division rival Ravens, against whom they are expected to be 8.5 point underdogs, the Chargers get to stay home and take on the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers, a game in which they are expected to be 6.5 point favorites. Teams are 105-65 ATS since 2010 as 6+ point favorites before being 6+ point favorites again, and, conversely, teams are just 70-95 ATS since 2010 as 6+ point underdogs before being 6+ point underdogs again.
Combining those two trends, 6+ point favorites are 34-13 ATS since 2010 before being 6+ point favorites again when their opponent will next be 6+ point underdogs. The Chargers are the significantly better team and should take care of business without any upcoming distractions against a Browns team that has a big upcoming distraction. The Chargers’ offensive line injury situation scared me off of making this my Pick of the Week, but I’d still put money on the Chargers.
San Diego Chargers 23 Cleveland Browns 10
Pick against the spread: San Diego -7