Not too many people expect the San Diego Chargers to beat the football odds this Sunday night, not with the New England Patriots coming to town. But we’ll try to make a case for the Chargers anyway.
Jason’s record after Week 13: 34-46-1 ATS, 17-20-1 Totals
How much difference does one game make? It means the whole world. The New England Patriots are 9-3 (7-5 ATS), and they might be the best team in the NFL. The San Diego Chargers are 8-4 (6-6 ATS), and they might be the league’s most average team. The NFL odds are definitely on New England’s side for Week 14; the Pats opened as 3-point favorites for Sunday night’s game (8:30 p.m. ET, NBC) at The Q, and our consensus reports show two-thirds of bettors sticking with New England at –3.5.
Spoiler alert: We’re going with the Patriots for our NFL picks too. But we’re also going to play devil’s advocate and tell you why San Diego might be able to pull this one out. Obviously, any team can win on Any Given Sunday and all that. The Chargers could back into a victory, but to paraphrase John Houseman, they could also make money the old-fashioned way. They could earn it.
Check Out this NFL Pick for Patriots vs. Chargers
It starts with QB Philip Rivers (102.8 passer rating). He’s enjoying another one of his Pro Bowl-quality seasons, connecting on 69.1 percent of his passes for 25 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions through 12 games. According to Football Outsiders, Rivers ranks No. 3 in the league in passing DVOA, one spot ahead of Patriots QB Tom Brady (101.1 passer rating). They flip positions when you look at other advanced stats, like DYAR and QBR, but never mind that. The takeaway is that Rivers is playing at the same elite level as Brady.
As Brady can tell you, having some quality receivers to throw at makes life a lot easier. Keenan Allen (72 catches, four TDs) turned out to be a steal as last year’s third-round pick out of Cal; he was named the 2013 Sporting News NFL Rookie of the Year after racking up 1,046 receiving yards, and Allen is well on his way to eclipsing that mark now that he’s become Rivers’ preferred target.
Not that TE Antonio Gates (47 catches, nine TDs) has completely dropped off the radar. He’s still in the mix, but he has to share targets in San Diego’s new three-WR sets, with Allen, Malcom Floyd (39 catches, four TDs) and Eddie Royal (43 catches, six TDs) all getting their licks in. Royal caught the winning touchdown in last week’s 34-33 nailbiter over the Baltimore Ravens (–6.5) as Rivers marched the Bolts 80 yards downfield in the final two minutes.
Gates could turn out to be the one delivering the knockout blow to the Patriots this week. New England only ranks No. 16 in the league in defending the pass, but the secondary has actually done a commendable job against opposing receivers. The DVOA stats have the Pats ranked sixth against No. 1 wideouts like Allen, seventh against No. 2 WRs, and ninth against other receivers.
Against tight ends, on the other hand, New England falls to No. 31 in the league in defensive efficiency. The Patriots have been very thin at linebacker this year without two-time Pro Bowler Jerod Mayo, who suffered a torn patellar tendon in Week 6. Rookie LBs James Morris (ankle) and Cameron Gordon (undisclosed) were also stashed on injured reserve, leaving the Patriots defense even more vulnerable at the second level.
That’s the glass jaw Gates will try to hammer on Sunday. Otherwise, there aren’t too many concerns for New England supporters. The San Diego Chargers only rank No. 25 in rushing efficiency, and their defense is even worse at No. 28 overall (No. 30 pass, No. 17 rush). It’s as if every other part of San Diego besides the jaw is made of glass.
Free NFL Pick: Take the Patriots