Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Free Majority Pick: Ravens -2.5 Opening Line
Best Line Offered: BetOnline
Sucks to be the Chargers as they finished tied for the most wins in the AFC yet instead of getting a home game – not that they have much of a home-field advantage in that soccer stadium – they have to fly across country and play in chilly Baltimore. The Bolts have a history of flopping in cold weather, and the Ravens own West Coast teams at home under John Harbaugh. It’s time to worry about Philip Rivers as he has thrown two interceptions in each of the past three games, including a 22-10 Week 16 home loss to the Ravens in which the Bolts had just 198 yards. Sure doesn’t look like either Melvin Gordon or Keenan Allen are close to 100 percent healthy, either.
I suppose if the Chargers have one advantage here, it’s that they are the first team who will have faced Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson twice. That might help some, but that dude is just a different cat. The former Heisman winner is 6-1 as a starting quarterback and has averaged 79.4 rushing yards in those games, a record for quarterbacks since the 1970 merger. Baltimore collectively is averaging 229.6 rushing yards since Jackson joined the lineup Nov. 18. It had 159 in the first meeting with L.A. The Ravens have covered their past seven playoff games and will make it eight with a field-goal victory.
The LA Chargers have won five of their last six and covered the number in four of those contests. They ended their regular season with a 23-9 win over the Broncos at Mile High but Bolts’ quarterback Phillip Rivers was far from his normally prolific self in throwing for only 176 yards with one passing touchdown and two picks, both thrown in the first-quarter (only the third time in his 15-year career that has happened). It’s not exactly the way LA wanted to end the season but it was still good enough to capture a 14-point win on the road. The Ravens have been rejuvenated with the immersion of rookie Lamar Jackson under center in place of the now healthy Joe Flacco. Jackson is conjuring images of Michael Vick in his prime as he is running roughshod over opponents and Baltimore has won six of seven with Jackson in the starting role. Baltimore ends the season as the No. 2 rushing team in the league behind only Seattle, and Jackson has a great deal to with that lofty ranking.
These clubs met just two weeks ago and the Ravens held the explosive LA offense to under 200 yards for the first time since 2014. Lamar Jackson broke the 200-yard passing barrier for the first time in his brief career and led Baltimore to a 22-10 victory on the road in Los Angeles. So, what’s changed enough to suddenly believe that the Chargers will reverse course from their recent performance against the Ravens and subsequent lackluster effort in Week 17 against Denver? Well, the Chargers were surprised by the thuggish Ravens’ defense but after getting two weeks to study that game film, you can be certain they will do things much differently. In addition, explosive offenses don’t stay dormant for long and when Rivers’ starts hitting his targets and the scoreboard lights up, the Ravens will have to try to maintain with a rushing attack because they have little in the way of a passing offense. That won’t work. The Chargers are solid against the run and are tremendous on the road as evidenced by their 7-1 straight up and ATS record away from the StubHub Center.
There is something about Philip Rivers on the road as compared to at home that is different. There is a level of prickliness that stands out and he’s edgier and even more combative. A rather strong case was being made that the Chargers were the best team in the AFC until they lost to Baltimore two weeks ago. Now, we get to take the Bolts away from home, where they are 7-1 SU and ATS in true road games and have quick, turnaround revenge in their favorite role. If you had told me Baltimore would have 467 yards of offense, including 296 yards rushing, with their defense against Cleveland, that sounds like a 17-point win over the Browns.
Instead, the Baltimore barely hung on to win the AFC North. Twice, Baker Mayfield threw for over 300 yards on the Ravens and the L.A. Chargers coaches need to go to school on this, which is make quick reads and throws towards the near sidelines and use misdirection to connect down the middle of the field to soften up the Baltimore defense. Could not be more impressed with the job John Harbaugh did in transitioning the Ravens offense, however Chargers familiarity will help and Baltimore is 0-6 ATS after allowing seven points or less in the first half of two straight games.
These two met in LA with Ravens winning 22-10, but Bolts better Road team (7-1). The Chargers are 8-0 when they board a plane for a game this season, including road wins against the Steelers, Chiefs, Seahawks and a home game in London against the Titans. That lone road loss was at the Rams. Bolts will have two key offensive players for this one. Despite limping off in the fourth quarter against the Broncos, Melvin Gordon will play. Tight end Hunter Henry, tore his ACL during the offseason, also is expected to play, the source said. Chargers have gotten little from their tight ends, whlie Henry totaled 12 TD catches his first two years.
“We get a chance to redeem ourselves,” Antonio Gates said of facing Baltimore again. “Me personally, I get a chance because I fumbled the ball at the end. That absolutely motivates me. I always go about my business in a professional manner. To me, it was all about letting the team down more so than it was about me getting over it. And now I have that chance to help this team get a win this time.’
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has faced two top-five pass defenses three times. L.A. lost at home to Denver 23-22 thanks in part to Rivers throwing a season-high two picks. L.A. faced Baltimore at home, where Rivers produced a season-low 51.7 passer rating. L.A. scored only 10 points and lost. The Chargers rematched Denver and mustered 14 offensive points. Rivers managed 176 yards and a 60.4 passer rating. Baltimore’s pass defense ranks third in DVOA. It enjoys solid depth and quality in its secondary, led by Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle. Its run defense is highly-ranked. L.A. won’t do much on offense.
L.A. also has a great secondary. The problem is that Baltimore is run-first with the shifty Lamar Jackson at quarterback and a duo of running backs in Kenneth Dixon and Gus Edwards who average at least 4.5 YPC. Baltimore has an extremely physical offensive line that ranks both top-five in short-yardage situations and stuff rate, meaning that it will help the Ravens sustain drives. L.A. possesses zero top-30 interior defenders and will do little to stop the Ravens from running over them.