Denver Broncos (3-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)
I’ve thought the Broncos are underrated for most of the season, as they are about even in point differential (-8), despite their 3-6 record, with 4 of their losses coming by a combined 16 points to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice), who are all division leaders. In first down rate differential, they are even better, ranking 10th at +2.83%. However, the injuries have started to pile up for them, especially on the offensive line. Already missing talented right guard Ron Leary for the season, the Broncos lost center Matt Paradis, their best offensive lineman, for the year in their final game before the bye and then lost fill-in right guard Max Garcia with a torn ACL during practice this week.
The Chargers, meanwhile, might be getting stud edge rusher Joey Bosa back for the first time this year, after he returned to practice this week. He’s not a guarantee to play and likely wouldn’t be 100% in his first game back, but he’d be a big boost to a defense that was one of the best in the league with him healthy in 2017. The Chargers finished the 2017 season 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.09%, but they rank just 13th at 35.84% this season. Bosa’s absence isn’t the only difference between last year and this year for this Chargers’ defense, but, assuming he returns to form, he’ll be a huge re-addition for this team down the stretch.
The Chargers are also in a much better spot. While the Broncos have to follow this game up with a big home game against the Steelers, the Chargers get yet another easy game next week with the Arizona Cardinals coming to town. The Broncos obviously won’t look past their division rival Chargers, but it’s very tough for inferior teams to compete when they have another tough game on deck, as underdogs of 6+ are 47-71 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs of 6+ again. Teams are also 31-60 ATS in general since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6+, as big upcoming home games tend to be a bit of a distraction.
On the other side, favorites of 6+ are 88-53 ATS since 2014 before being favored by 6+ again, including a ridiculous 28-7 ATS if their opponent will be 6+ point underdogs again the following week. Big home favorites tend to take care of business with easy games on deck, especially against an opponent that has to play another tough game the following week. That situation definitely applies to this game.
It worries me a little that there will be more Broncos fans than Chargers fans at this game, as the Chargers still can’t draw fans in Los Angeles even at 7-2, but, even with the Chargers’ lack of homefield advantage taken into account, I still have this line calculated at Chargers -8 over a banged up Denver team, so we’re still getting some line value with the Chargers, who also happen to be in the better spot. They are worth a bet and I will probably make this a bigger play if it’s announced Bosa is playing and the line doesn’t move to compensate.
Sunday Update: Bosa is expected to play, but will likely be limited to about 10-15 snaps, so I’m leaving this pick as is.
Los Angeles Chargers 27 Denver Broncos 17
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -7