San Diego Chargers (2-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6)
The Chargers’ 2-8 record is tied for the worst in the NFL, but they have played better than their record. Their defense has been horrendous, ranking 29th in rate of moving the chains allowed, but their offense ranks 5th, as quarterback Philip Rivers has played very well this season, despite a lot of issues around him on offense. In terms of rate of moving the chains differential, they rank 16th, hardly great, but certainly significantly better than any other team that has 2 or 3 wins.
Their record is largely the result of a 2-5 record in games decided by a touchdown (2-6 in games decided by 8 points or fewer), a -7 turnover margin, a -4 return touchdown margin, a -7.8 yards per kickoff return margin, and a -5.2 net punt margin. On the season, they’ve actually outgained their opponents. None of those things suggests anything deeply wrong with this team, but rather that they have the framework of a decent team and just need to clean some things up. They’ve won the rate of moving the chains battle in 6 of 10 games and could easily be 4-6, 5-5, or even 6-4. This team reminds me a lot of the 2012 Lions, who went 4-12 that season, but then 7-9 the following year and 11-5 two years later, with essentially the same framework of the team.
The Chargers are also healthier now than they were before their bye week a couple weeks ago. Tight end Antonio Gates, tight end Lardarius Green, safety Eric Weddle, guard Orlando Franklin, wide receiver Malcom Floyd, defensive end Corey Liuget, middle linebacker Manti Te’o, and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman have all missed significant time with injury this season, but are healthy for this one. They’re not at full strength, missing left tackle King Dunlap, right guard DJ Fluker, and wide receiver Keenan Allen, but few teams are at full strength at this point in the season.
Of course, none of this did them any good last week, when they got demolished at home by a surging Chiefs team, but the Jaguars are hardly the Chiefs, ranking 30th in rate of moving the chains differential. They too are healthier than they have been, as left tackle Luke Joeckel, cornerback Dwayne Gratz, and tight end Julius Thomas have all returned from early season injuries. They’ve been noticeably better since the first 3 weeks of the season, as they had a rate of moving the chains differential of -10.95% in their first 3 games, as opposed to -3.31% in their last 7 games. With outside linebacker Dan Skuta, right guard Brandon Linder, and defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks all injured, they’re not at full strength, but, again, few teams are by week 12. That being said, I still think the Chargers are the better team.
I think it also helps the Chargers to get away from San Diego, as weird as that sounds. The Chargers seem to have no fans in San Diego so their stadium has been overrun with visiting fans pretty much every game this year, so they essentially have to play 16 road games this season. I feel bad for the few Chargers fan who do show up because they’re going to lose their team, but the Chargers have a borderline obligation to move up to Los Angeles if this continues. It’s not fair to the team to not have any true home games and it also really hurts their chances of signing key free agents. On the road this year, they’ve nearly beaten Green Bay and Cincinnati so they could easily go into Jacksonville and win straight up.
Given that, getting 4.5 points with them is really nice. Close to 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer, and, even if the Chargers play poorly again, there’s plenty of room for a backdoor cover. This line was a field goal a week ago and I love fading significant week-to-week line movements whenever they make sense because they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play, in this case, San Diego getting demolished by an underrated Chiefs team for easily their biggest loss of the season.
Given that the Chargers are the better team and have had some success on the road this season, I actually think this line should be around a pick ‘em, so we’re getting a lot of good line value with the Chargers, as this line has cleared the key numbers of 3 and 4. The only reason this isn’t a higher confidence pick is because the Chargers host the Broncos next week, a game in which they are expected to be 6 point home underdogs, and teams are 41-86 ATS since 2010 before being 6+ point home underdogs. It can be hard to concentrate with such a huge home game on deck, but, at 2-8, on a 6 game losing streak, with barely a snowball’s chance in hell of making the playoffs, the Chargers can’t afford to not be completely focused for this one.
Jacksonville Jaguars 31 San Diego Chargers 30
Pick against the spread: San Diego +4.5