Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) at Denver Broncos (3-8)
A year after going 12-4, the Chargers have had a highly disappointing year, coming out of last week’s bye at 4-7, likely needing to win out to even have a shot at a playoff berth. They’ve been better than that record suggests though, as all of their losses have come by 7 points or fewer. A year after a 5-1 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer powered them to a 12-4 record, the Chargers are just 2-7 in games decided by 7 points or fewer this season. They have a positive point differential at +6, despite the 6th worst turnover margin in the league at -9. Turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and in terms of first down rate differential the Chargers rank 8th in the NFL at +2.52%, impressive even against a relatively easy schedule.
The Chargers also come out of their bye arguably as close to 100% as they’ve been all season and are really starting to resemble last year’s active roster. Tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), left tackle Russell Okung (8 games), defensive Melvin Ingram (3 games), running back Melvin Gordon (4 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), and safety Derwin James (11 games) have all missed significant time this season, but all of those players are expected to play this week. James’ return is especially big because he was one of the top safeties in the league last season and is just now making his season debut after off-season foot surgery. With him and the others back, the Chargers currently rank 11th in my roster rankings.
The Chargers’ opponents this week, the Denver Broncos, have also been better than their record, entering this game 20th in first down rate differential at -1.68%, but they’re going in the opposite direction injury wise, with a trio of key defenders, edge defender Von Miller, linebacker AJ Johnson, and defensive tackle Shelby Harris all considered highly questionable for this game after barely practicing all week. Miller, their best player on either side of the ball, would be a particularly big absence.
The Broncos also have uncertainty at the quarterback position. Original starting quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t play well in 8 starts before getting hurt, but his replacement Brandon Allen has barely looked like an NFL caliber passer, leading the Broncos to a 28.66% first down rate in 3 starts, about 3% worse than Flacco and most comparable to the last ranked Redskins, who have a 28.14% first down rate on the season. The Broncos could start second round rookie Drew Lock in this game, as he’s expected to be active for the first time this season, but Lock has barely practiced with the team since off-season thumb surgery and was considered very raw coming out of college.
This line has shifted from Chargers +1 to -3 in the past week, but that’s appropriate line movement given the injury changes that have happened in the past week. The Chargers are on the road here in Denver, but they essentially play 16 road games per year because they don’t have any fans in Los Angeles, so I don’t think the fact that they’re away from home this week is much of a big deal. Since moving to Los Angeles, they are just 7-12-1 ATS at home, but 14-7-2 ATS on the road. Rather than the standard 2.5-3 point homefield advantage, I typically only use 1 point for Chargers games. With these two teams about 6 points apart in my roster rankings, I have this line calculated at Chargers -5 and that would increase if any of the Broncos’ questionable players are ruled out. I may have an update on this before gametime, but for now I like the Chargers for a small bet.
Los Angeles Chargers 23 Denver Broncos 17
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3