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The Denver Broncos host the San Diego Chargers in the final Divisional Playoff game of the weekend on Sunday at 4:40 pm est. in a game that can be seen on CBS. The Broncos opened up as -9.5 point favorites at 5 dimes sportsbook as well as most other most shops and were initially bet up to -10 before Charger money forced the number back down to where it sits now, as low as -8.5 at some shops and likely still dropping.
Bettors at sportsbook.com are backing the Chargers to the tune of 59% while the action on the total is fairly balanced with 55% on the under 55.
The Chargers have become everyone's hot pick this week and many are calling for not just a pointspread win, but a straight up win as well. Some of the reasons for this thinking are legit, while others aren't. For example, did you know that since 2009, every team that has faced the Philadelphia Eagles in the Eagles home opener, has gone on to win the Super Bowl? Guess who the Eagles played in their home opener this year? Yep, the Chargers. File that one under the category of meaningless trends, but still. Imagine if?
But the Chargers have indeed become a hot upset pick this week, and I get it on several points. For starters, we can all accept the fact that you need a big time QB to win championships in the NFL. Sure, once in a blue moon there's a Trent Dilfer who's defense carries him to a title. But by and large, the Captain of the ship needs to be a big time player and Philip Rivers is a big time QB. He's got the 3rd best winning percentage in December (I realize it's now January), crunch time, of all QB's in the history of the NFL, behind only Tom Brady and Roger Staubach and he has playoff experience under his belt. He's 4-4 in the playoffs and has yet to make it to the Super Bowl, but how many other QB's can even claim 8 playoff appearances? Only the good ones.
The Broncos are a defenseless scoring machine. The Broncos simply outscore their opponents, a testament to just how great Peyton Manning is. There are very good NFL teams that you could replace their QB and the team is so solid at so many positions on both sides of the ball that the team would continue to be very good, but in the case of Broncos, if you took Peyton Manning away, they'd likely be .500 at best. That fact that Manning carries this team is yet another reason to justify an upset pick with the Chargers. A bad day for Manning, an injury, whatever, and it's all over. Also, Philip Rivers may be 4-4 in the playoffs, but against a defense that's not in the top 5 of the league, Rivers is 4-0! The Broncos are far from the top 5 defensively and by the way, they just upset the Broncos a few weeks ago, 27-20 in Denver.
I'd be careful using the Chargers upset of the Broncos a few weeks ago as an argument for a repeat performance though. The week before playing the Chargers the Broncos beat up on the Titans 51-28 and clinched a playoff spot in the process. Funny things can happen to a team psychologically after clinching a playoff spot. The sense of urgency is gone. They now have a safety net. They can now breath a little easier. No matter what happens the rest of the way, they are in the playoffs. Teams that clinch early are ripe for an upset and that played a big role when these two last met. Not to take anything away from the Chargers and their potential for an upset this week, but you'll see a different, more focused Peyton Manning and company this Sunday.
This is a game where I'm going to toss the numbers out the window and go with my gut. I rarely do that. Certainly, I understand the upset calls on the Chargers and in fact can give you numbers to back that up. Start with our NFL model which predicts an outright Chargers win in 2 of it's 3 sets of predictions and in the other prediction, using full season data, it's the Broncos by a TD. So an across the board sweep for the model in favor of the Chargers at the current line.
If you read my football write ups you know I love the yards per point stat as a predictive tool and a measuring stick of a teams capabilities on both sides of the ball and I'll save you all of the details of those numbers here but will just say that using those numbers in any combination of home and away or full season to date, they favor the Broncos to win but by less than the posted line, indicating some value with the Chargers and the points.
But my gut says this is a Broncos win and likely a Broncos cover. I'll use one stat from the yards per point numbers to show why I think the Broncos take this one and that stat is the offensive yards per point number at home for the Broncos and the road offensive ypp number for the Chargers. This game is about the two QB's and the two offenses. The Broncos offensive ypp number at home is a blistering 11.5, the best of all playoff teams and way above average while the Chargers off ypp number on the road is 16.2, not very good and way below average.
It's really a simple equation. The Broncos win by overwhelming teams offensively. They score with ease at home (anywhere really, but with even more ease at home) while the Chargers have to work much harder on the road to put points on the board. Peyton Manning gets to work against the Chargers 29th ranked pass defense and I think the fact that the Broncos lost at home to the Chargers a few weeks ago really works in the Broncos favor here. That, combined with last years early exit from the playoffs, courtesy of the Ravens, should have the Broncos full attention and we should see one of the more focused efforts we've seen in awhile from the Broncos across the board.
I just don't see the Broncos losing this game and I think if they win it, odds are it's by a TD or more. So I'd watch this line. If the Chargers money continues to flow, and by chance brings this line down to -7 by kickoff, I'd consider a play on Denver. If it doesn't make it all the way to -7, I'd consider using the Broncos as one leg of a teaser, bringing the line down to -2.5 or better. At -7.5 or worse, I'd call it a lean on Denver.
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