San Diego Chargers (4-11) at Denver Broncos (11-4)
The Chargers are just 4-11, one of the worst records in the NFL, but rank 11th in rate of moving the chains differential. How can that be? Well, their record is largely the result of a 3-7 record in games decided by a touchdown (3-8 in games decided by 8 points or fewer), a -8 turnover margin, a -5 return touchdown margin, a -6.5 yards per kickoff return margin, and a -2.8 net punt margin. On the season, they’ve actually outgained their opponents by 344 yards.
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 9 of 15 games and could easily be 6-9, 7-8, 8-7, or even 9-6. 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. They don’t have a tremendous ATS record on the season because they were pretty highly valued to start the season, but they’ve covered 4 of their last 5.
They’ve also been way better on the road than at home. At home, they were just 2-6 ATS this season, as they seemingly have no fans. As a result, their stadium has been overrun with visiting fans pretty much every game this year, meaning they’ve essentially had 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 at this point. 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, as nice as San Diego weather is.
Meanwhile, on the road, they are 5-2 ATS on the season, with one of those non-covers being a 5 point loss as 3 point underdogs in Cincinnati week 2, against a Bengals team that turned out to be one of the best in the NFL. They have just one road loss by more than a touchdown, relevant considering they’re underdogs of 9 points here in Denver. If they can keep it within a touchdown against the likes of the Bengals, Packers, and Chiefs, they can do so here in Denver. All 3 of those teams rank higher in rate of moving the chains differential than the Broncos, who come in 12th.
Despite a 7 game lead over them in the standings, the Broncos actually rank one spot below the Chargers in rate of moving the chains differential. They’ve benefitted an 8-3 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, have lost the rate of moving the chains battle in 5 of 15 games, and have just three victories of more than a touchdown. They beat the Chargers by 14 earlier this year, but that was in San Diego and that would have been a touchdown game if not for a return touchdown. The Broncos had just one offensive touchdown in that game. This figures to be a pretty close game, so getting 9 points with the visitor seems like a good deal.
It does hurt the Chargers that they’re coming off of a road overtime loss, as teams are 81-105 ATS in that spot since 1989. However, they’re also in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 130-94 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 106-64 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 225-227 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.51 points per game, as opposed to 321-438 straight up in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 2.75 points per game. Road underdogs in their 2nd of two road games off of an overtime loss are 21-20 ATS since 1989, so those two trends cancel out. It’s just too many points to pass on.
Denver Broncos 17 San Diego Chargers 13
Pick against the spread: San Diego +9
Confidence: Pick of the Week