Denver Broncos (9-2) at San Diego Chargers (3-8)
The Chargers’ 3-8 record is one of the worst in the NFL, but they have played better than their record. Their record is largely the result of a 3-5 record in games decided by a touchdown (3-6 in games decided by 8 points or fewer), a -6 turnover margin, a -4 return touchdown margin, a -8.2 yards per kickoff return margin, and a -4.5 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 7 of 11 games and could easily be 5-6, 6-5, or even 7-4. They rank 13th in rate of moving the chains differential, just 3 spots behind the 10th ranked Denver Broncos, who they play this week.
The Chargers are also healthier than they’ve been all season, as tight end Antonio Gates, tight end Ladarius Green, safety Eric Weddle, left guard Orlando Franklin, left tackle King Dunlap, middle linebacker Manti Te’o, middle linebacker Denzel Perryman, right guard DJ Fluker, and wide receiver Keenan Allen have missed a combined 30 games this season with injury. Fluker, Dunlap, and Allen are out, but other than Ladarius Green, who is listed as probable, none of the other guys even come up on the injury report. The Broncos, on the other hand, lost safety TJ Ward to a high ankle sprain last week and will be without outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware for the 4th straight game. Those are two key missing defenders on a defense that’s otherwise been really healthy this season.
Making matters worse for the Broncos this week is that they’re coming off of a huge, emotional overtime victory over the New England Patriots, as home underdogs. They could be overconfident coming off of that game, as teams are 43-71 ATS since 2012 off of a win as home underdogs and 8-19 ATS since 2002 off of win as home underdogs in overtime. Despite that, and the fact that the Chargers are underrated and this line is too high, and that the Chargers are getting healthier while the Broncos are going the other direction, the public is still all over the Broncos, as 4 point road favorites. I love fading the public whenever it makes sense, as they always lose money in the long run, and it makes sense here.
There are three reasons why this is just a medium confidence pick and not a Pick of the Week. One, the line did move from last week to this week, so the Chargers are only 4 point underdogs now. We’re still getting value with them, but it’s less and I typically like to fade significant week-to-week line movements whenever it makes sense because they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play. It doesn’t make sense here, but I’d like the Chargers more at 6, though close to 3 in 10 games are decided by four points or fewer.
Two, the Broncos are playing better football over the past two weeks thanks to the play of Brock Osweiler. Osweiler hasn’t been amazing or anything, but he’s been a noticeable upgrade over Peyton Manning, who looked done before going down with a foot injury. Osweiler has completed 61.3% of his passes for an average of 7.16 YPA, 4 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions and the Broncos moved the chains at a 70.62% rate in his 2 starts, as opposed to 66.43% in Manning’s 9. That definitely offsets their defensive injuries somewhat.
Three, the Chargers have had basically no homefield advantage this season. They seem to have no fans in San Diego, so their stadium has been overrun with visiting fans pretty much every game this year, meaning they essentially have to play 16 road games this season. I feel bad for the few Chargers fans 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. The Chargers are 1-5 ATS at home this season, as opposed to 3-2 ATS on the road. They’re still my pick though. This is a classic trap game for the Broncos, banged up, coming off of a tough and hugely important home win, on the road, with everyone singing their praises, against an underrated team that’s gotten healthier.
San Diego Chargers 24 Denver Broncos 23 Upset Pick +170
Pick against the spread: San Diego +4