Las Vegas Raiders at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (7-8) at Denver Broncos (5-10)

The Raiders lost last week in crushing fashion, kicking what they thought was the game winning field goal with 19 seconds left in the game, only to allow the Dolphins to go 49 yards in one play with no timeouts left to get into position to kick their own game winning field goal, ending the Raiders’ faint playoff chances and effectively their season. Despite that loss, the Raiders have gone from being underdogs of 2.5 points on the early line last week to being 2.5 point favorites this week. That might be confusing at first glance, but when you look at how the Raiders played last week, it’s more understandable. 

Despite losing the game, the Raiders actually won the first down rate battle by 8.25%. They lost the game because they committed the game’s only turnover and because they went a ridiculous 0 for 10 on 3rd down and 1 of 2 on 4th down. Despite their futility on 3rd and 4th downs, the Raiders still managed 23 first downs in the game, meaning they picked up 22 first downs on first or second down. That’s very encouraging to see because performance on those downs tends to be more predictive. That they moved the ball as effectively as they did on first and second down and still lost makes that loss all the more crushing, but it helps their projection going forward, as they go into the final game of their season, so it’s understandable that this line would move. 

Five points of line movement (from +2.5 to -2.5) seems like a lot, but neither line crosses the key number of 3, so it’s not overly impactful line movement. In addition to how the Raiders played last week, the Broncos also lost their top defensive lineman Shelby Harris to injury, which is a big blow to an already injury plagued Broncos defense. The Broncos are very reliant on their defense, which ranks 8th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.20%, to cover for an offense that ranks just 31st in first down rate over expected at -3.86% and if their defense can’t perform up to their usual level because of injury absences, the Broncos would have a tough time beating most teams, so it’s understandable they’re no longer favored in this game.

Unfortunately for the Raiders, despite how they played last week, they’re still well below average in schedule adjusted first down rate differential, ranking 23rd at -1.53%. The Raiders’ 7-8 record isn’t bad, but 6 of their 7 wins have come by 10 points or fewer, while 4 of their 8 losses have come by 16 points or more, giving them a -45 point differential. Their one win by more than 10 points came against these Broncos in week 10, but that was a game in which the Broncos lost the turnover battle by 5, something that is highly unlikely to happen again this week, given the inconsistent nature of turnover margins. The Raiders only won the first down rate battle by 2.31% in that game, despite the final score being 37-12. I have the Raiders calculated as 1-point favorites in this rematch in Denver, so we’re getting slight line value with the Broncos at +2.5, but not nearly enough to take them with any confidence.

Las Vegas Raiders 26 Denver Broncos 24

Pick against the spread: Denver +2.5

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (5-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)

The Chargers are just 5-9, but most of their losses have been close, with 7 of their 9 wins coming by one score or less, including blown leads against high level teams like the Saints, Buccaneers, and Chiefs. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Chargers have been a middling team, ranking 20th at -0.52%. They’ve been more reliant on their defense than their offense though, with their offense ranking 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.60% and their defense ranking -1.08% in first down rate allowed over expected at 9th. 

That’s typically a bad thing going forward because defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive play. We’ve already seen the Chargers start to slip to recent weeks defensively and I would definitely expect that to continue in this one, with the Chargers missing their top-3 edge defenders Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Uchenna Nwosu, turning a position of strength into one of significant weakness. Ingram has been out for a while, but Bosa and Nwosu are both new absences this week. Missing the players they are missing, I have the Chargers ranked just 28th in my roster rankings. 

The Broncos are an underwhelming team, but I have them a point and a half better than the Chargers right now. With the Chargers being favored by 3.5 points at home with no fans in the stadium, this line is essentially saying the Chargers are about 3 points better than the Broncos, which is very off with the Chargers missing the key players they are missing. On top of that, the Broncos are in a significantly better spot than the Chargers, who have to turn around and play a much tougher game next week in Kansas City, while the Broncos will be playing a far less imposing Raiders team. 

Favorites cover at just a 42.8% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 50% (Broncos are 5-9, Chiefs are 13-1), including a 41.7% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage that is 40%+ better than their opponent’s next opponent (Raiders are 7-7, Chiefs are 13-1). On top of that, favorites cover at just a 41.7% rate at home against a sub-400 divisional opponent before going on the road and facing a divisional opponent with a record better than .700. 

Between the line value and the great spot, there is a lot to like about the Broncos this week, so this is my Pick of the Week at +3.5. At the very least, I would expect the Chargers to win by a field goal if they manage the win (3 of their 5 wins have been by exactly a field goal), but the Broncos have a good chance to pull the straight up upset against a banged up Chargers team that has been eliminated and has a much tougher game on deck to look forward.

Update: Both Bradley Chubb and Keenan Allen are expected out in this game. I originally had both factored in as likely to play, but possibly limited. Both being out doesn’t change this projection much. If anything, Allen is slightly more important to the Chargers than Chubb is to the Broncos. This is still my Pick of the Week.

Denver Broncos 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (10-3) at Denver Broncos (5-8)

The Chiefs are consensus favorites in the AFC, as not only defending Super Bowl Champions, but also the NFL’s last remaining 1-or-2-loss team, but there is plenty of debate over the 2nd best team in the AFC. In my opinion, it is the Buffalo Bills because they are the only team with a comparable offense to the Chiefs and offensive performance tends to be much more predictable week-to-week than defensive performance. 

In fact, after last week’s strong performance against the Steelers’ strong defense, the Bills have actually jumped ahead of the Chiefs for the league lead in first down rate over expected (+4.13% vs. +3.97%). The Chiefs still lead the conference in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+2.81% vs. +2.39%), but that’s only because of the Bills’ defensive struggles, as the Bills rank just 25th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.74%.

As I mentioned, defensive performance is much less predictable week-to-week than offensive performance, but beyond the inherent unpredictability of defensive performance, the Bills are also healthier than they’ve been all season on defense and they are much more talented on paper than their overall season performance, so I would say they’re much more likely to be improved going forward than your typical 25th ranked defensive unit. If they can even be a middling group defensively going forward, the Bills should be a tough out in the post-season for anyone because their offense is likely to continue playing at a very high level.

The Broncos, on the other hand, have a terrible offense, ranking 31st in first down rate over expected at -3.96%, and they’re arguably even worse than that suggests, as their interception rate (4.82%) is significantly higher than the 2nd worst team (3.88%). They’ve been better in both metrics with Drew Lock under center, but only by default, and his 4.02% interception rate is still worse than any other team in the league.

The Broncos’ saving grace has been their defense, which ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.08%, which actually puts the Broncos only slightly below average in first down rate over expected (-0.87%), but it’s far from a guarantee that they’ll continue playing that well, especially since they are very short handed in the secondary and have overachieved their talent level thus far. 

We saw the Bills’ offense prevail against an even stronger defense last week against the Steelers and the Broncos’ offense is much less likely to keep them in the game than Pittsburgh’s was. My calculated line is Buffalo -7, so we’re getting some line value with them as 5.5-point favorites. There isn’t quite enough here for the Bills to be worth betting, but that could change depending on which questionable players are able to suit up for the Broncos, particularly their talented right guard Graham Glasgow.

Buffalo Bills 27 Denver Broncos 19

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -5.5

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-8) at Carolina Panthers (4-8)

The Broncos have been a tough team to predict this season, as they’ve played within one score of teams like the Titans, Steelers, and Chiefs, while beating teams like the Dolphins and Patriots, but they’ve also lost 4 times by at least 18 points and in only one of those instances they weren’t allowed to use a real quarterback. The reason they’ve been so unpredictable is twofold. For one, they are led by their defense, which ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.37%, and defense is inherently a more inconsistent and unpredictable side of the ball. 

On top of that, not only has their offense struggled with a -4.55% first down rate over expected (31st in the NFL), but their quarterback play has been so bad at times that they haven’t had a chance to even be competitive in games, as they lead the league with a 5.13% interception rate. They’ve been better with Drew Lock in the lineup, but only by default, as his 4.39% interception rate is still higher than any other team in the league and by quite a bit over the next team (3.88%). 

The Broncos had one of their good performances last week, as their defense held the Chiefs in check and their offense didn’t make major mistakes and allowed the game to stay close in a 22-16 loss against the defending Super Bowl champs, but if there was ever a time to predict a bad performance from this team it would be this week, as they’ve effectively been eliminated from post-season contention and just lost what amounted to their Super Bowl in Kansas City on Sunday Night Football last week. I don’t expect them to give their best effort for a fellow 4-8 team, particularly a non-conference opponent like the Panthers.

I thought I would like the Panthers more earlier this week, as they seemed to be getting healthier coming out of their bye, with starting left tackle Russell Okung (6 games missed), starting left guard John Miller (2 games) returning before the bye and top cornerback Donte Jackson (2 games) returning this week, but a COVID outbreak not only disrupted their week, but it will force them to be without top wide receiver DJ Moore and top defensive tackle Zach Kerr, which are both big losses. We’re not getting any line value with the Panthers are -3, so, while I still am taking the Panthers, it’s only because I expect a poor performance from the Broncos.

Update: The Broncos will surprisingly be without stud left tackle Garret Bolles due to COVID concerns. With him and Graham Glasgow both out, the Broncos will be without their two best offensive lineman, further crippling one of the least’s worst offenses. The line has moved to Carolina -4 to compensate, which is a little high given the Broncos’ talented defense and the players the Panthers are missing, but I’m still on the Panthers for a no confidence pick because the Broncos could easily be flat for this game.

Carolina Panthers 19 Denver Broncos 14

Pick against the spread: Carolina -4

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-1)

When these two teams met in week 7, the Chiefs won with ease by a final score of 43-16, but the Broncos played close in first down rate, only losing by 1.75%. The Chiefs’ big win was primarily because of a +3 turnover margin (+5 if you include the Broncos 0 for 2 on 4th down) and two return touchdowns, including a kickoff return touchdown, as the Broncos’ defense held the Chiefs to a 33.33% first down rate that is their 2nd lowest mark of the season and 4.60% behind their league leading season average of 37.93%. This is nothing new for a Broncos defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.01%. I expect a closer game this time around, as the primary reasons why this was a blowout last team were things that tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.

My calculated line is Kansas City -10 and the Broncos should be the much more focused team as well. In fact, after being embarrassed by the Chiefs earlier this season and being embarrassed by the NFL and having to play without a quarterback last week against the Saints, I think the Broncos are viewing this Sunday Night Football game as their Super Bowl, especially since they haven’t beaten the Chiefs in years. The Chiefs, meanwhile, probably won’t be fully focused for a team they already blew out when they have a more important conference game against the Dolphins next week and are coming off of back-to-back big close wins against the Buccaneers and Raiders. 

The Chiefs should still be able to win, perhaps easily, but with this line at 13.5, we have plenty of cushion. Pat Mahomes is 28-18-2 ATS in his career (including 18-10 ATS after his MVP season), so you always need really good reasons to bet against him, and I am not sure there is quite enough here, but if this line moves up to two full touchdowns, I may reconsider. Either way, the Broncos should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes as their defense could easily keep the Chiefs in check as much as you can and keep this game relatively close.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +13.5

Confidence: Low

New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Denver Broncos (4-6)

Sean Payton is getting a lot of credit for starting Taysom Hill over Jameis Winston in a 24-9 win over the Falcons, but the decision probably didn’t matter, as that win was really more about the Saints’ defense, which held a decent Falcons offense to just a 23.72% first down rate. That allowed the Saints to run the run heavy offense they wanted to run, which allowed Taysom Hill to avoid being exposed as a passer. The jury is still out on Hill as a starting quarterback, going into just his second career start, but there’s no denying the talent on the rest of this team, and, even with Hill being a questionable starting quarterback, the Saints still rank 6th in my roster rankings. 

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Saints rank 3rd at +4.15% and are the only team in the league to rank in the top-10 in first down rate over expected on offense (4th at +2.48%) and on defense (8th at -1.67%). That’s despite the fact that the Saints had a lot of injury problems even when Brees was in the lineup, with top wide receiver Michael Thomas (6 games missed), talented defensive linemen Marcus Davenport (4 games) and David Onyemata (1 game), starting cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (2 games) and Marshon Lattimore (2 games), starting tight end Jared Cook (1 game), and #2 wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (2 games) all missing time with injury earlier in the year and having since returned.

Hill is unlikely to be exposed this week either, with the Saints being 6-point road favorites in Denver. The Broncos rank 30th in first down rate over expected at -4.27% and have one of the most turnover prone quarterbacks in the league under center in Drew Lock, so I would expect them to have a very tough time moving the ball against a Saints defense that is legitimately one of the best in the NFL, which would allow the Saints to run their offense the way they want to run it again this week. 

The Broncos do have a strong defense, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.15%, but they’re missing one of the top defensive players in defensive tackle Shelby Harris and defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense, so the Broncos’ defense is unlikely to be as reliably good as their offense is reliably bad. The Saints are a balanced team that is still one of the better teams in the league without Brees and they’re on an impressive run right now, winning 7 straight since starting 1-2, something they seem to do every season, going 89-57-7 ATS in weeks 3-17 since 2010, as opposed to 4-17-1 ATS in weeks 1-2.

The Saints are also in a better spot than the Broncos, who have to turn around and play another tough game against a Chiefs team that has dominated their division in recent years and that blew them out earlier this season, while the Saints only have a rematch against a Falcons team that they just beat easily last week, so they should be fully focused. The Broncos are 13-point underdogs on the early line in Kansas City and teams cover at just a 37.5% rate all-time before being double digit underdogs.

We’re not getting line value with the Saints as 6-point favorites, as New Orleans -6 is right where I have this line calculated, but the Broncos have some key offensive players that seem legitimately questionable in wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, right tackle Demar Dotson, and right guard Graham Glasgow, who would all be big absences if they were unable to go. Depending on what happens with the Broncos’ injury report, I may decide to place a bet on the Saints, especially if this line drops back down to 5.5, where it was on the early line last week. Even if not, the Saints should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: Saints left tackle Terron Armstead is going to be out after testing positive for COVID on Saturday, which is a big blow for a Saints offense against a tough Broncos pass rush. Meanwhile, all three of the Broncos questionable players are expected to play. Despite that, this line has gone up to 6.5 in favor of the Saints in some places. Given all of that, I’m changing this pick to the Broncos. This is a no confidence pick because of the bad spot that the Broncos are in, but my calculated line is now New Orleans -4.5, so this line is off. The Saints should still be able to win this game, but it would be hard to lay this many points with them on the road without Brees and Armstead against a team that isn’t terrible.

Update: Losing Terron Armstead to a positive COVID test the day before the game was a big blow for the Saints, but that’s nothing compared to the Broncos’ situation, as somehow they couldn’t manage to keep their four quarterbacks separate and, as a result, will have to be without all of their quarterbacks this week, with Jeff Driskel testing positive and their other three quarterbacks being close contacts. Instead, the Broncos will have to turn to an undrafted rookie practice squad wide receiver who averaged 5.99 yards per attempt on 251 passes and 4.69 yards per carry on 186 carries as a dual threat quarterback at Wake Forest from 2015 to 2018 before converting to a wide receiver in his final collegiate season in 2019. As a result, this line has ballooned from 6.5 to 14.5.

This is an unprecedented situation so it’s hard to say this with confidence, but that seems like an overreaction. The Broncos’ quarterback play had already been terrible this season and extreme run heavy offenses have had more success than you’d think in the modern NFL. The Broncos still have a great defense and, even with their quarterbacks set to the lowest possible value, I still have the Broncos ahead of the Jets, Bengals, and Jaguars in my roster rankings. My calculated line is Denver +7.5, so we seem to be getting significant line value with them at Denver +14.5. I say seem to be because, again, this is a highly unprecedented situation, so it’s tough to know how to address it. The Broncos should be able to cover that huge spread in what should be a low scoring game overall (teams are 30-20 ATS as underdogs of 14 or more in a game with a total of 39 or less), but I’m not sure if I actually want to bet any money on it. Maybe I’ll be bolder before gametime. For now, it’s a low confidence pick.

Update: I can’t believe I’m doing this, but I’m going to bet on a team that doesn’t have a quarterback. This line has ballooned to 16.5 in some places. With the total at 36.5, the Broncos have a presumed total of 10 points in this game, but they have a decent running game, offensive line, and kicking game, especially at home with the elevation, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Broncos exceed that total.  They would just need to bust one long run and kick a couple of field goals. The Panthers hit that total exactly in 2006 when they ran 52 times for 183 yards in 10-3 win over the Falcons in a game in which they attempted just 7 passes and frequently played without a quarterback on the field.

Even if the Broncos can only hit to 10, the Saints will still need to get to 27 to cover this spread, which is going to be a tough task without their starting quarterback and left tackle against a good defense in a game that figures to have a very slow pace. I mentioned earlier that big favorites typically have trouble covering in games with big totals, but a team being favored this many with this small of a total almost never happens and teams are 1-4 ATS in this spot over the past thirty years. This is a highly unprecedented situation so it’s hard to be too confident, but the Broncos should be a reasonable safe bet at this number.

New Orleans Saints 20 Denver Broncos 10

Pick against the spread: Denver +16.5

Confidence: Medium

Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (6-3) at Denver Broncos (3-6)

Perhaps no team has been kept down by their quarterback play more than the Broncos. The Broncos have a strong defense, ranking 6th in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed at -3.64%, and aren’t even that bad around the quarterback on offense, but their quarterbacks have combined for a 56.4% completion, 6.50 YPA, 12 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. They’ve been slightly better when regular starting quarterback Drew Lock has been healthy and in the lineup, but he’s struggled mightily as well and he’s going to be playing at less than 100% with a rib injury. 

The Broncos rank 30th in schedule adjusted first down rate at -3.78% and are even worse than that suggests because their quarterbacks have combined for a league worst 4.68% interception rate. Offense is much more consistent on a week-to-week basis than defense and the Broncos’ defense is pretty depleted by injuries and COVID absences and has not played as well in recent weeks. All that being said, my numbers still suggest the Broncos should be the right side this week, though that’s more about the Dolphins being overrated than anything, favored by 4 points in Denver this week, where the Broncos will have at least some fans. 

The Dolphins are 6-3, but they have faced a pretty easy schedule and they have benefitted from things like a +5 turnover margin, a +3 return touchdown margin, and a 55.56% opponent’s field goal percentage, three things that tend to be totally unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Dolphins rank 22nd at -0.61%, suggesting they’re more of a middling team than their record. I can’t bet on the Broncos in their current injury state, especially with several key players considered truly questionable for this game. I may revisit this pick when inactives are announced, but I don’t imagine betting on Denver, even if they are probably the better side for pick ‘em purposes.

Miami Dolphins 19 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-5) at Las Vegas Raiders (5-3)

The Raiders won last week to improve to 5-3, but they have a negative point differential on the season at -11 and are even worse in first down rate differential at -1.59%. The Raiders have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, but even when you include schedule adjustment, the Raiders are still a middling team, ranking 19th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -0.17%. 

Making matters even worse, the Raiders are extremely banged up, missing left tackle Kolton Miller, right tackle Trent Brown, left guard Richie Incognito, possibly right guard Gabe Jackson, and also top defensive lineman Maurice Hurst, leaving them in rough shape in both trenches. When their absences are factored in, they rank just 24th in my roster rankings, one spot behind their opponents this week, the Denver Broncos.

The Broncos’ defense didn’t perform well last week in Atlanta, but they were missing a significant amount of players on that side of the ball and still rank 6th on the season in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.47%. The Broncos are still without some key players on defense this week, but they’ll get back top outside cornerback AJ Bouye and top slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, while their offense will also get a key re-addition, with talented starting guard Graham Glasgow returning from a two-game absence. The Broncos might not be quite as good defensively going forward, but they can make it for it with improved offensive play and we’re getting good line value with them as 3.5 point underdogs against a similar caliber team playing in a home stadium without fans.

On top of the line value we’re getting with the Broncos, this is also a potential look ahead spot for the Raiders, with a home game against the Chiefs on deck. Teams are 39-67 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 6 or more and that will almost definitely be the case for the Raiders. The Broncos could easily come in and pull the upset against a Raiders team that is banged up and potentially giving less than 100% effort and even if the Broncos don’t pull the upset, I like their chances of keeping it close.

Las Vegas Raiders 17 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-4) at Atlanta Falcons (2-6)

Everyone knows the Falcons have blown three games where they had a very high win probability late and that the Falcons would be 5-3 if they hadn’t blown those leads, but the Broncos could also have a better record if quarterback Drew Lock had been healthy all season. Lock isn’t playing that well, but he’s supported by a strong defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.83% and he’s gone 2-2 in the four games he’s been healthy, with one of the losses coming on the road at Kansas City.

Defense tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offense and the Broncos offense hasn’t been good this season even with Lock under center, but the Falcons haven’t been particularly good on either side of the ball, ranking 21st in first down rate over expected and 20th in first down rate allowed over expected. Despite the fact that they could easily have 4-5 wins right now, they still rank 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.78% and haven’t played well overall. 

The Falcons’ offense should theoretically be better than this because they’re more talented than how they’ve played, but on the flip side, their defense is very underwhelming, especially missing their top-2 edge defenders in Dante Fowler and Takkarist McKinley. Despite that, the Falcons are favored by 4 points at home with limited homefield advantage. There isn’t quite enough here for the Broncos to be worth betting, but if Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley is unable to play through a questionable tag after not practicing all week and/or Broncos defensive tackle Shelby Harris is able to get cleared from the COVID tracing protocol, the Broncos would probably be worth a play as long as the line remains above a field goal. I will have an update if needed.

Update: Ridley is out for the Falcons, but the Broncos will not only be missing Shelby Harris, but also surprisingly slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, who practiced Thursday and Friday. Callahan is one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league and his absence is an even bigger deal because the Broncos will also be without top outside cornerback AJ Bouye. The Broncos are simply too depleted in the secondary and on the defensive line to continue playing like they have in recent weeks. I’m still on the Broncos, but I would drop this to the bottom of your pick ’em pool.

Atlanta Falcons 27 Denver Broncos 23

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (2-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-4)

These two teams are pretty similar. Both teams are 2-4, but have positive first down rate differentials (+0.73% for the Broncos and +1.49% for the Chargers), despite facing an above average strength of schedule. When adjusting for strength of schedule, the Chargers and Broncos rank 7th and 12th respectively in first down rate differential at +2.02% and +1.45% and both teams have achieved that in the same way, with a strong defense covering for a struggling offense. 

The Chargers and Broncos are at -2.17% and -3.31% respectively in first down rate over expected, with the Chargers struggling due to a weak offensive line and an inability to run the ball and the Broncos struggling due to poor quarterback play. On defense, the Chargers and Broncos rank 5th and 3rd respectively in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.19% and -4.76% respectively, but defensive production tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I wouldn’t expect either team to be quite that good going forward, especially since both teams are outplaying their talent level and have overachieved thus far this season.

Despite teams two teams being so similar, the Chargers are favored by 3.5 points here in Denver on the road, where the Broncos will have at least some fans in attendance. The Chargers are the slightly better team with the better quarterback, but this line suggests the Chargers are about 5-5.5 points better than the Broncos, which isn’t the case. The Broncos will be without guard Graham Glasgow, which hurts, but they’ve also been better offensively with Drew Lock in the lineup than his backups and they’ll have running back Phillip Lindsay back from injury this week.

The Chargers may get right tackle Bryan Bulaga back from injury this week, which would be a boost for their horrendous offensive line, but if he can’t play, the Chargers will be down to their 3rd and 4th offensive tackles against the Broncos tough pass rush. If that’s the case and this line remains 3.5, the Broncos are worth betting and they may even be worth if Bulaga can play because he could be at less than 100% in his first action since week 3. I’m leaving this as low confidence for now, but there may be an update before gametime.

Los Angeles Chargers 20 Denver Broncos 19

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: Low