Jason’s record on his final NFL picks for 2013-14, up to January 7 inclusive:
1-1 ML (+0.71 units)
Peyton Manning rarely has to take a back seat to anyone, but in the Divisional Round, it seems not a lot of people are interested in the game between Manning’s Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers. As we go to press, this is the only one of the four Divisional games yet to record enough data for our expanded beta consensus report. It also happens to be the least competitive of the four matchups on paper. San Diego is a 10-point road dog, holding steady since the NFL odds opened on Sunday.
That doesn’t mean nobody cares. Our standard, non-beta consensus reports show San Diego pulling in 58 percent support at the online sportsbooks, again holding steady since the open. A quick trip to the Strip shows the same betting patterns. Looks like the sharps are with me on this one, although it’s hardly unanimous. I’m a bit divided about this pick myself.
On one hand, you’ve got Peyton Manning. You already know about the records he set this year and how the Broncos (13-3 SU, 10-5-1 ATS) have one of the best offenses ever to grace a football field. By the way, Football Outsiders has updated its efficiency stats to include Wild Card Weekend, and Denver has slipped to No. 3 on the charts (No. 1 offense, No. 9 defense, No. 28 special teams), but that’s neither here nor there. At least that defense looks better after checking in at No. 15 last week.
On the other hand, you’ve got the Chargers (10-7 SU, 10-6-1 ATS) moving up from No. 12 overall to No. 10 (No. 3 offense, No. 25 defense, No. 10 special teams). San Diego had the worst defense in the league at the end of the regular season, then the Cincinnati Bengals came along and coughed up the ball four times in their 27-10 Wild Card loss, handing the Bolts (+6.5 away) some rainy-day spending money.
Speaking of the weather, we’ve gone from a 40 percent chance of rain at kick-off (4:40 p.m. ET, CBS) to a 15 percent chance of rain or maybe snow. And you thought predicting the outcome of football games was difficult. As I’ve been preaching for the past couple of months, we really need to know the weather before we place our NFL bets. Rain and wind are good for the underdogs. A little bit of snow doesn’t change things much. Neither do cold temperatures.
We’re also getting mixed reports on the availability of Chargers RB Ryan Mathews (4.4 yards per carry). This was a solid bounce-back season for Mathews after injuries messed up his 2012 campaign (3.8 yards per carry), but the former first-rounder aggravated his sprained ankle against the Bengals and sat out most of the second half. Mathews was listed as questionable for Sunday’s contest, then upgraded to probable.
It’s not a complete disaster if Mathews ends up with limited touches this week, not with Danny Woodhead (4.0 yards per carry) and even Ronnie Brown (3.5 yards) available to tote that rock. But Mathews is key; he pounded the Broncos for 127 yards on 29 carries in Week 15, as the Bolts (+10 away) prevailed 27-20. If that was a dress rehearsal for Sunday, then San Diego looks ready – especially after Denver LB Von Miller tore his ACL in Week 16.
And yet… Peyton Manning. I’m sticking with the Chargers as my NFL pick in this situation, but I’d say there’s about a 40 percent chance of heavy precipitation over the Bolts end zone on Sunday, and it’s in the form of footballs.
NFL Pick: Take the Chargers +10 at Hertiage