Broncos-Chargers Monday Night Preview
DENVER/SAN DIEGO BATTLES WILL LOOM LARGE IN AFC WEST RACE
There's very little separating the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers right now in the big picture. They have comparable Power Ratings, which is why Monday Night's game is close to pick-em. They may track within a couple of games of each other all season long in the standings. Both are clearly better than the think bottom rung of teams in the struggling AFC right now...even if both may not be as good as what's historically considered"playoff caliber" in this conference.
Denver has lost to Atlanta, Houston, and New England already...three teams who are on the short list for bye probabilities in January. They did beat Pittsburgh at home, but so has Oakland and Tennessee.
San Diego's only game against what could be considered a playoff lock was a 27-3 home loss to Atlanta.
Once the season is in the books, these teams will have played extremely similar schedules because of the divisional rotations the league uses from season to season. Take a look:
Two games against each other...and they're close in current Power Ratings
Four games against Kansas City and Oakland in the AFC West
Four games against the teams in the AFC North
Four games against the teams in the NFC South
That's 14 of the 16 regular season games right there! The only variances hit Denver pretty hard. They finished first last year, which means they drew other first place teams for their bonus games.
Denver: Houston and New England
San Diego: Tennessee and NY Jets
Ouch. Making it ouchier...Denver has ALREADY LOST its two bonus games...while San Diego has already won one of theirs. Should these two teams split their regular season meetings...then the Chargers may steal the division just because of this schedule issue.
Denver is aware of this...and knows they need to SWEEP the season series if they want any sort of comfort level regarding making the playoffs. And, THAT'S the major issue looming over this game as the teams take the field for this week's edition of Monday Night Football...
DENVER BRONCOS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (8:35 p.m. on ESPN)
Las Vegas Spread: San Diego by 1.5, total of 49
Home field is worth three points in the NFL. This game opened right on that number, suggesting oddsmakers themselves had the teams rated dead even. Vegas Wise Guys have hit the underdog with enough passion to move off the key number and down even further. So, the sharps have Denver as a couple points better in terms of their consensus. On the whole, the"market" says Denver is the slightly better team right now.
Denver: 2-3 (vs. Pittsburgh, at Atlanta, vs. Houston, vs. Oakland, at New England)
San Diego: 3-2 (at Oakland, vs. Tennessee, vs. Atlanta, at Kansas City, at New Orleans)
San Diego has the better record, but Denver has played the significantly tougher schedule. Both have faced Oakland and Atlanta to this point. The"other three" for Denver were a murderer's row of New England, Houston, and Pittsburgh. For the Chargers? New Orleans, Kansas City, and Tennessee). This means you have to make some mental adjustments as you go through the stats because Denver's been facing much tougher obstacles. Also, should the Broncos win this to know up the standings at 3-3 for both teams...you can be fairly confident that they're a clearly superior team.
San Diego: +2
Much of that is schedule related. In fact, it could be ALL schedule related. If you flip-flopped schedules, you might flip-flop the differentials too. The Chargers lost this category 4-1 against the only playoff caliber team they faced. But, a 6-1 edge against struggling Kansas City helped neutralize that. For us, we're going to call this stat even regardless of what you see above. Both Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers can make poor decisions when trying to carry a team through crunch time. Well, the NEW Manning has shown those issues as he's still trying to figure out what his body can and can't do post-surgery. The current numbers are clearly polluted by early season strength of schedule issues.
Denver: 390.0 yards-per-game on 5.7 yards-per-play
San Diego: 334.8 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play
It's telling that Denver has much better offensive stats against a tougher schedule. This is a very good sign moving forward. But, there is a caveat here. Denver has been playing from behind on multiple occasions, allowing Manning to pile up yardage against prevent defenses. It's notable that he didn't really start clicking vs. Atlanta, Houston, or New England until the Broncos had fallen behind by more than one score. Some of those yards may be"hot air" in terms of telling you what really matters when a game is on the line. We'll give the nod to Denver...but we see the pollution in the air.
Denver: 335.2 yards-per-game on 4.9 yards-per-play
San Diego: 334.0 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play
There's less pollution here. Denver has about the same yardage with a half a yard edge on a per-play basis while playing a tougher schedule. That's a GREAT sign for their fans. Current evidence suggests Denver is better on both sides of the ball...which is why the sharps stepped in the way they did when the opener went up at a full field goal. Of course, your challenge NOW is to pick the game at the new line. Has the Broncos value been bet out of the market?
LAST WEEK'S BOXES
NEW ENGLAND 31, DENVER 21
Total Yardage: Denver 402, New England 444
Rushing Yards: Denver 70, New England 251
Passing Stats: Denver 31-44-0-332, New England 23-31-0-193
Turnovers: Denver 3, New England 1
Third Downs: Denver 54%, New England 65%
Vegas Line: New England by 6.5, total of 52
This was a replay of the Atlanta and Houston games...in that Denver fell behind by double digits then picked up yardage and points when the opposing defense backed off. You get a sense of how good Denver's defense has been playing in their other games given their decent overall stats after a bad game here. They're not facing Tom Brady this week...but they are facing a team with some weaponry. You can get the players appreciate the extra day to get ready after playing on one coast last week, and the other coast Monday Night.
NEW ORLEANS 31, SAN DIEGO 24
Total Yardage: San Diego 427, New Orleans 404
Rushing Yards: San Diego 117, New Orleans 53
Passing Stats: San Diego 27-42-1-310, New Orleans 29-45-1-351
Turnovers: San Diego 2, New Orleans 1
Third Downs: San Diego 33%, New Orleans 56%
Vegas Line: New Orleans by 3.5, total of 52
This is a game the Chargers could easily have won. They were up relatively comfortably in the second half, though nothing is every truly comfortable when you're facing Drew Brees indoors. The offense couldn't seal the deal...and much of the blame again fell on head coach Norv Turner who's made a career out of losing important games that should have been won. If you see the glass half full, then the Chargers are close to being a 4-1 team that should be getting more respect. If you see the glass has half empty...and it's a glass you've been drinking out of for several years...then you know the Chargers might get outcoached again this week if the game goes down to the wire.
There are still some doubts about how big an impact Manning is going to have this year. National pundits are making fun of what they're calling a"noodle arm" because he's lost some of his zip. He really hasn't faced a challenge like this yet with the Broncos where he's playing on the road in a game the sharps are expecting him to win. This is probably the night that sets the tone for the season. Either Manning isn't quite back yet...or the Broncos earn a statement win now before closing out strong when the schedule eases up.
JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his sources to get a read on where Manning really stands in the big picture. The staff has been watching game film from the parts of the game BEFORE opposing defenses have relaxed. They've found a key that has triggered a big Monday play. Our numbers say this current line is off by at least a field goal...and that's because of something that may have been overlooked by both oddsmakers and sharps.
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Back with you tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK to catch up with the ALCS matching the NY Yankees and Detroit. We'll have more baseball coverage Wednesday. Then, it's back to BIG GAME previews in pro and college football. Make sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's really happening in the world of sports. And, link up with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK for the best plays on the board!
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