Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)

Typically teams have more injured players late in the season than they do early in the season, but for the Chargers it has been the opposite. 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 have since returned. Now the Chargers head into week 14 without any regular players on the injury report and only a pair of expected starters on injured reserve, center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Travis Benjamin, neither of whom was playing that well.

The Chargers more or less have the same roster right now as they did last season, when they went 12-4 and won a playoff game. However, while they went 5-1 last season in games decided by a touchdown or less last season, the Chargers are just 2-8 in those games this season, including last week’s embarrassing finish in Denver. Record in close games tends to be very inconsistent, so the Chargers aren’t necessarily more likely to lose close games going forward, just like they weren’t necessarily more likely to win close games this year after last year’s impressive record in close games. On the season, the Chargers rank 9th in first down rate differential at +2.51%, losing close games primarily because of a -10 turnover margin, which is also very inconsistent. The Chargers haven’t faced a tough schedule, but with their roster basically at full strength they rank 12th in my roster rankings and they are definitely better than their record suggests.

The Jaguars have the same record at 4-8, but have played much worse, with a -72 point differential that ranks 25th in the NFL and a -5.35% first down rate differential that ranks 28th in the NFL. They’re changing quarterbacks, benching highly paid veteran Nick Foles for 6th round rookie Gardiner Minshew, who made 8 starts when Foles was injured earlier this season. That move is unlikely to help much, as their problems go far beyond the quarterback position. 

At their peak, the Jaguars had a dominant defense, but with Marcell Dareus and Myles Jack on injured reserve and Jalen Ramsey in Los Angeles, the Jaguars have just 3 players left from their top-11 in terms of snaps played from their dominant 2017 defense. They rank just 22nd in first down rate allowed on the season at 36.93% and have been even worse in recent weeks, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed at 38.19% and 31st in first down rate differential at -7.92% since week 7. Meanwhile on offense, even in Minshew’s 8 starts, the Jaguars had just a 31.70% first down rate, which would be 27th in the NFL on the season, and Minshew saved his worst start for last, leading to a 26-3 loss to the Texans in London. After a hot start, Minshew seemed to fall back to earth in his final few games, so going back to him is unlikely to make much if any positive impact.

The Chargers are on the road this week, but location hasn’t really mattered much for the Chargers since they moved to Los Angeles, where they basically have no fans. Since the start of the 2017 season, they are 7-12-1 ATS at home and 14-8-2 ATS on the road. I typically only use 1 point for homefield advantage in Chargers games instead of the standard 2.5. For this line to be accurate, the Chargers would have to only be 4 points better than the Jaguars, but I have them 8.5 points better and have this line calculated at Chargers -7.5. I don’t love the spot the Chargers are in with a tough home game against the Vikings on deck (road favorites are 45-25 ATS before being home underdogs since 2012), but we’re getting a ton of value with the visitors this week.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) in Mexico City

The Chargers have gotten off to a disappointing 4-6 start, a year after going 12-4. They’ve been better than their record suggests though. While their six losses have come by just a combined 29 points, with none coming by more than 7, their four wins have come by a combined 42 points, giving them a point differential of +13 that ranks 13th in the NFL. They’ve done that despite a league worst fumble recovery rate at 30.43% and a -6 turnover margin that is tied for 5th worst in the NFL. Both of those stats are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and the Chargers rank 8th in the NFL in terms of first down rate differential at +3.09%. Given how close all their losses have been, they could easily be 6-4 or so right now if they had an even turnover margin.

That’s despite the fact that the Chargers have been shorthanded for most of the season. Key contributors like tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), defensive end Melvin Ingram (3 games), left tackle Russell Okung (7 games), center Mike Pouncey (5 games), safety Derwin James (10 games), and running back Melvin Gordon (4 games) have all missed time for various reasons. The Chargers still aren’t 100%, with Pouncey, James, and possibly left tackle Russell Okung, who didn’t practice all week, still sidelined, but relatively speaking they’re not in a bad injury situation right now. They enter this game ranked 12th in my roster rankings and would fall to about 15th without Okung. 

The Chiefs have had injury problems as well, most notably quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who missed about two and a half games with a knee injury. The Chiefs were able to tread water without Mahomes because their defense played at a high level in his absence, with 31.44% first down rate allowed in the 3 games in which he missed time, a massive improvement from the 41.85% first down rate they had allowed in the previous 22 games with Mahomes over the past two seasons. 

When Mahomes returned last week, the question became whether or not the defense had legitimately turned a corner or if they were just playing extra hard without Mahomes. A 46.94% first down rate allowed in Mahomes’ return against the Titans suggests it was much more the latter than the former, but the good news is Mahomes didn’t look limited in leading the Chiefs to a 39.47% first down rate last week and they get their whole offensive line back healthy this week for the first time since week 2. 

The Chiefs still have injury concerns on defense, however, especially at defensive end, where Alex Okafor and Emmnauel Ogbah are out and Frank Clark is playing at far less than 100%. Meanwhile, cornerback Kendall Fuller is questionable to return from a 4-game absence. I have the Chiefs as just a couple points better in my roster rankings, so we’re getting line value here with the Chargers as 4-point underdogs on a neutral field in Mexico City. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so we’re getting good protection if the Chargers can’t pull the upset, and I like the Chargers’ chances of at least making this another close game, having not been blown out all season. I’ll elevate this to a high confidence pick if Okung ends up suiting up for the Chargers.

Final Update: Okung is out for the Chargers, but this line has moved all the way up to 6 to compensate. Even without Okung, the Chargers are not 6 points worse than the Chiefs on a neutral field right now, as the Chiefs have serious concerns on defense, especially with top edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah now out for the season. They’ll also be without top cornerback Kendall Fuller for the 5th straight week. The Chargers, who haven’t been beaten by more than a touchdown all season, should keep this game close and are only about 2.5 points worse than the Chiefs in my roster rankings. I like them a lot at +6.

Kansas City Chiefs 33 Los Angeles Chargers 31

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +6

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-5) at Oakland Raiders (4-4)

The Chargers had an impressive 26-11 victory over the Packers last week, but that wasn’t necessarily surprising. The Chargers, who went 12-4 last season, are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Left tackle Russell Okung, edge defender Melvin Ingram, and tight end Hunter Henry all healthy back healthy and playing well after missing significant time, leaving safety Derwin James as their only key injury absence. 

James was one of the top safeties in the league last season, but even without him the Chargers are a playoff caliber team. They rank 12th in my roster rankings and, despite their early season injuries, the Chargers actually rank 11th in first down rate differential on the season at +2.54%, albeit against an easy schedule. With all five of their losses coming by a touchdown or less, the Chargers rank 13th in point differential at +15, despite not benefiting from turnovers, at -3.

The most impressive part of the Chargers’ win was that they played so well at home, in front of a crowd that had so many Packers fans that the game might as well have been in Lambeau. The Chargers have underwhelmed at home since moving to Los Angeles, where they have no fans, going 7-12-1 ATS, but the flip side of that is they’ve traveled well, going 14-6-2 ATS away from Los Angeles. 

Despite the Chargers’ impressive win, this line has not moved significantly in the past week, going from Oakland -2.5 on the early line last week to Los Angeles -1 this week, which barely matters because only about 8% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer. Using 1 point for homefield advantage instead of the standard 3 points because the Chargers travel so well, this line suggests that the Chargers are only a couple points better than the Raiders, which I disagree with.

While the Chargers are a playoff caliber team now that they are healthier, the Raiders still are a middling team at best, ranking 24th in point differential at -34 and 26th in first down rate differential at -3.98%. They’ve faced a tougher schedule than the Chargers and could have their starting five offensive linemen together for this game for the first time all season if center Rodney Hudson can return from a one-game absence, but both Hudson and right tackle Trent Brown are dealing with injuries that could limit them or be re-aggravated mid-game. Their defense, meanwhile, is still horrendous, allowing the second highest first down rate differential in the league at 41.53%. I have these two teams about four points apart, suggesting the Chargers should be favored by a field goal on the road (and by five points if this game was in Los Angeles). In a game the Chargers just need to win to cover, they’re worth a small bet this week.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -1

Confidence: Medium

Green Bay Packers at Los Angeles Chargers: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (7-1) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)

The Chargers have gotten off to a disappointing 3-5 start, a year after going 12-4, but all five of their losses were decided by a touchdown or less and they are getting healthier as the season has gone on. They’ve already gotten back tight end Hunter Henry (who ranks first in the NFL in yards per game by a tight end), talented defensive end Melvin Ingram, and top offensive lineman Russell Okung, who is likely to pull a full set of snaps this week after being limited in his return last week. They rank 12th in my roster rankings and could go on a surprise run down the stretch.

Unfortunately, they are only 3.5-point home underdogs here against the Packers. Not only are the Packers one of the top teams in the league, but the Chargers have next to no homefield advantage in Los Angeles (6-12-1 ATS since moving there, as opposed to 14-6-2 ATS on the road) due to their inability to draw home fans. The Packers are one of the most popular teams in the country, so I imagine the vast majority of fans at this game will be rooting for the road team. With the Chargers lack of homefield advantage taken into account, I have this line calculated at Green Bay -4.5, so, while we’re not getting much line value with the Packers at -3.5, they seem like the right side.

Green Bay Packers 31 Los Angeles Chargers 27

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -3.5

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (2-5) at Chicago Bears (3-3)

I’ve picked against the Chargers every week this season except their blowout win against the hapless Dolphins because I’ve thought the Chargers, who won 12 games last season, were overrated by a public that didn’t understand the value of the players this team has been missing with injury, including stud safety Derwin James, their top-2 offensive linemen Russell Okung and Mike Pouncey, and talented starting edge defender Melvin Ingram. So far, it’s been a good strategy because I am 7-0 ATS picking Chargers games this season, but I think we’re now getting value with the Chargers. 

Now 2-5 a year after going 12-4, the Chargers have been better than their record has suggested, as their five losses have all come by seven points or fewer. They’ve also had bad turnover luck, with a league worst 23.81% fumble recovery rate leading to a -4 turnover margin that is the 5th worst in the NFL. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and in terms of first down rate differential the Chargers actually rank 11th at +2.21%. They’re also getting back some of the aforementioned injured players, as both Melvin Ingram and Russell Okung are expected to play, though the latter is expected to be on a snap count in his season debut. 

Despite that, the Chargers are the biggest underdogs they’ve been all season this week and it comes against a Bears team that also hasn’t been nearly as good as they were a year ago when they went 12-4. The public might not have fully caught on because the Bears’ 3-3 record isn’t horrible, but a year removed from finishing 1st in first down rate differential at +6.64%, the Bears rank just 26th at -3.51% this season. 

Their defense is still strong, ranking 9th in first down rate allowed, but without free agent losses Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan, departed ex-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and injured defensive end Akiem Hicks, they are merely good defensively this year, as opposed to last year’s dominant unit. On offense, they rank 28th in first down rate, as Mitch Trubisky has seemingly regressed behind an offensive line that has definitely regressed and none of their skill position players outside of Allen Robinson can get anything going. Add in a tougher schedule after playing one of the easiest in the league last season and it’s not a surprise that the Bears have been underwhelming this season. 

Earlier this week I locked in this line at Chargers +4.5 because I thought it would continue to fall, after being +6 on the early line last week and opening at +5 this week. It did fall slightly to +4, but the Chargers had top wide receiver Keenan Allen suffer an injury during the week and he’s expected to be on a snap count if he plays at all. That doesn’t scare me off from taking the Chargers at +4.5 or +4, as I still have the Chargers slightly higher than the Bears in my roster rankings, but I’m no longer considering this as my Pick of the Week. If this game were in Los Angeles, I’d probably pick the Bears because the Chargers have no homefield advantage there (6-12-1 ATS since moving in 2017), but they are 13-6-2 ATS on the road over that time period. Even if the Chargers are unable to pull off the upset in Chicago, this should be another close game for a Chargers team that has been competitive in every game this season. 

Chicago Bears 20 Los Angeles Chargers 19

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +4.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Tennessee Titans: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (2-4) at Tennessee Titans (2-4)

Going into the season, part of the reason why I liked the Titans was because they added Ryan Tannehill as a backup quarterback in the off-season, in case Marcus Mariota got hurt or struggled again. After Mariota led the Titans to a shutout in Denver last week, Tannehill is now under center for Tennessee. Tannehill is not a great quarterback, but he’s an experienced starter and is still arguably one of the top-32 quarterbacks in the league, so he’s a big upgrade over the kinds of backup quarterbacks they’ve had in the past. 

The Titans don’t need a great passing game to win either. Last year, led by a defense that ranked 4th in first down rate allowed, they went 9-7 despite Mariota struggling through injuries for much of the year and they went 4-5 in their league leading 9 games against playoff qualifiers. They had an 8-game stretch after the bye last season where Mariota was healthy and they went 6-2, including multi-touchdown wins over the Cowboys and Patriots. 

This year, they are just 2-4, but they rank 4th in first down rate allowed and 12th in first down rate differential, as much as their offense has struggled. Even with last week’s shutout loss in Denver, the Titans still have a +6 point differential, best among teams with a losing record, and that’s despite having a game in which they missed 4 field goals in a 7-point loss. If Tannehill can even be a little bit of an upgrade over a struggling Mariota, this could be a really competitive football team going forward, despite their underwhelming record.

The Chargers are actually the other team with a losing record and a positive point differential, at +2, but that’s in large part due to the fact that they’ve faced the Dolphins, who they beat by 20 points. Their only other victory came in overtime against the Colts in a game they would have lost if the Colts hadn’t missed multiple makeable kicks. Having already matched their loss total from 2018, the Chargers are clearly not the same team without left tackle Russell Okung, defensive end Melvin Ingram, center Mike Pouncey, and most importantly safety Derwin James. We’re not getting much value betting against them any more, but this line at Tennessee -2 suggests the Chargers are slightly better and I have that the other way around, so the Titans are worth a bet this week. If Okung, who could make his season debut after returning to practice this week, does not play, I will consider increasing this bet. 

Tennessee Titans 23 Los Angeles Chargers 19

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -2

Confidence: Medium