Los Angeles Chargers (6-4) at Denver Broncos (5-5)
The Broncos started 3-0 and, while all three games were against mediocre at best opponents, they won all three in convincing fashion, winning all three by double digits. However, since then, the Broncos have lost five of their last seven games to fall to 5-5. Part of the problem is their schedule got tougher, but they still have faced a below average schedule overall and, even when adjusted for schedule, their performance has dropped off significantly. The culprit has been injuries, as the Broncos have lost as much talent to injury since the beginning of the season as any team in the league.
In total, the Broncos are without a trio of offensive linemen, stud left tackle Garret Bolles, starting right tackle Bobby Massie, talented starting right guard Graham Glasgow, talented edge defender duo Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, every down middle linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson, talented starting safety Kareem Jackson, and impressive slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, who all played for this team week one this season. It’s possible Chubb returns this week, but he seems to be no better than 50/50 and, at the same time, Shelby Harris, their top interior defender, seems legitimately questionable as well and could miss his first game of the season, which would be a big absence.
The Broncos did beat the Cowboys in Dallas in a convincing win a few weeks ago, but that was more due to Dak Prescott not being 100%, stud left tackle Tyron Smith being out for the Cowboys, and the Cowboys being flat after giving their best effort to beat the Vikings in Minnesota without Prescott the week prior. That win is likely a big part of the reason why the Broncos remain overrated, but their only other win in their past seven games was a one-score game against Washington in which the Broncos blocked a pair of field goals and, missing all they are missing, I have the Broncos 4 points below average in my roster rankings right now.
Despite that, they are underdogs of less than a field goal at home against the Chargers, who are 2.5 points above average in my roster rankings. The Chargers only have one win by more than one score this year, after their only two wins by more than one score last year came in a meaningless game against the Chiefs backups and a game against the eventual 1-15 Jaguars, but they are still a more talented team than a year ago and their lack of blowout wins this season likely stems from the fact that they have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league.
They only won by one-score last week against an injury depleted Steelers team, who were arguably the easiest opponent they have faced to date, but they won that game despite losing the turnover battle and having a punt blocked, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead. Overall, the Chargers won the first down rate by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play, both substantial amounts. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Chargers rank 4th, 17th, and 32nd respectively on offense, defense, and special teams respectively on the season, while ranking 12th in mixed efficiency.
The Chargers also have done that despite not having any real homefield advantage, frequently playing in front of crowds that mostly favor the road team. That has been the case since they moved to Los Angeles in 2017 and, as a result, Chargers are 21-13 ATS on the road and 13-22 ATS at home since moving to Los Angeles. The Broncos, meanwhile, rank 24th in mixed efficiency and are even worse now than that suggests because of all of the missing talent. The Chargers shouldn’t have too much trouble handling them in Denver, which makes them an intriguing bet in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover, with only about 8% of games decided by two points or fewer.
I am leaving this as a low confidence pick for now and not placing a bet on the Chargers because of injury uncertainty, with not only the status of Bradley Chubb and Shelby Harris up in the air, but the Chargers also possibly being without talented left guard Matt Feiler, who is reportedly a gametime decision and would be a big absence if he didn’t. Depending on the status of those three players and where this line ends up, I may update this pick and bet on the Chargers. Either way, they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.
Los Angeles Chargers 20 Denver Broncos 16
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -2.5