You can hear the gears whizzing, and you can see the steam rising. Handicappers around the world are thinking very, very hard about betting on the NFL. Some of the matchups on tap for Week 1 are easier to figure out than others; we’ve got one of the trickier situations developing out on the West Coast, where the San Diego Chargers are getting ready to host the Houston Texans on Monday night (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).
As we go to press on Thursday, the NFL betting lines for this matchup remain fairly stable, with the Texans (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS in 2012) laying 3.5 or four points to the Chargers (7-9 SU and ATS) depending on where you shop. Our consensus reports show nearly 70 percent support for Houston, and I’m one of those supporters – check out my first article on this contest to see why.
The Soft Machine
Support, yes, but I’m not about to make this a five-star pick. The Chargers are getting more than a field goal at home, and one more time, I’ll remind you of the Week 1 NFL betting trend that has seen non-playoff teams go 38-22-1 ATS versus playoff teams since 2004. I’ve also pointed out the small improvements the Chargers have made to their defense over the past week, and the assorted injuries the Texans have accumulated since training camp started.
Today, I continue to play devil’s advocate for San Diego, this time looking at the Chargers offense, which is probably going to be in over its head facing a Texans defense that ranked No. 3 in the league last year in terms of efficiency – and that was without LB Brian Cushing for the most part. However, San Diego has made some key changes in this department that need to be recognized.
For the first time in his NFL career, Philip Rivers learned what it’s like to be a loser. His 2012 campaign wasn’t a total disaster; 26 TD throws, 15 INTs and an 88.6 passer rating would be more than welcome in some towns. But it sure felt like a disaster for Rivers, as he absorbed a career-high 49 sacks for a league-high 311 yards while the Chargers finished below .500.
That’s not the way you treat your meal ticket. So the Chargers cleared out their front office, hiring Tom Telesco as their new GM, Mike McCoy as their new head coach, and Ken Whisenhunt as their new offensive co-ordinator. McCoy was the OC for the Denver Broncos the past four seasons. He’s also a former Utah Utes quarterback, and was able to get solid results in Denver from Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow by adapting his playbook to fit the needs of his QBs.
Run the Damn Ball
It’s probably going to take a few games for Rivers and the rest of the offense to get used to the new playbook. But there are two important changes that should pay off right away by keeping Rivers upright and conscious – and they both have to do with the running game.
First off, we have D.J. Fluker playing right tackle. The No. 11 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft is a mountain of a man at 6-foot-5 and 340 pounds. Fluker also comes from the Alabama Crimson Tide program, where he won two National Championships creating running lanes for Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy.
Which brings us to the second important change. McCoy and the Chargers plan to run the ball a hell of a lot more in 2013, after finishing last year ranked No. 27 in rushing yards (91.3 per game) and No. 28 in rushing efficiency. Ryan Mathews (3.8 yards per carry) is looking for a bounce-back season, provided he can stay healthy, and RB Danny Woodhead (4.0 yards per carry, 40 catches with the New England Patriots) will help spread the workload on third downs.
As far as Monday night football picks are concerned, I still expect this retooled offense to run into a brick wall named J.J. Watt, with Cushing cleaning up whatever residue is left. But keep an eye on how the Chargers perform. There are 15 other games in the regular season where they might be your best NFL bet.
NFL Pick: Take the Texans –3.5 at Bet 365