Merry Christmas eve! I hope everyone out there is with family and friends, sitting by the fire, sipping some egg nog, and gearing up for this week's BadNFL prediction! With no further ado, I like the Chargers +3 at the Titans. Here's why:
1. Explosive passing offense vs. porous pass defense
There's no two ways about it, Philip Rivers is playing at an MVP level. Granted, he probably won't win it because of Peyton Manning's historic year, but Rivers has been absolutely lights out this year; he leads the league in yards/attempt, he's third in passer rating, and he has a knack for exploiting his array of matchup-nightmare weapons at the right time. And now he faces the Titans' pass defense, which ranks as the second-worst in the NFL. And as Scouts Inc's Jeremy Green points out, Rivers' specialty is the deep vertical passing attack, something that both BadNFL readers and those who watched the Pats/Titans beatdown in the snow realize that Tennessee struggles with. Moreover, Tennessee's defense is banged up, as they just lost 2 of their 3 starting LBs, including their best cover LB in Keith Bullock. That should spell serious trouble for their ability to contain dynamic Charger TE Antonio Gates, still perhaps the most difficult match-up in the league. In other words, I love the Chargers' chances of putting up tons of points through the air.
Because of that, and the Chargers' corresponding likelihood of jumping out and getting a lead--they've outscored teams 140-53 in the 1st half this year--they may be able to somewhat contain Chris Johnson. The Colts this year have provided a blueprint on how to accomplish that, and I think the Chargers might actually have some similar success. Strikingly, Johnson runs for fewer than 3 yards-per-carry in the 2nd half of games this year. In other words, if the Chargers manage to obtain a lead at some point during the game, the Titans are going to be in trouble. And as BadNFL's week 7 Lesson Learned this year argued, explosive passing attacks against bottom-ranked pass defenses are particularly good candidates to generate big leads early or midway through the game, and when the team that's down relies mainly on the run, they can get in trouble.
2. The Chargers love December.
As I pointed out a few weeks ago in the Lock Of The Year Chargers +3.5 pick against Dallas in December, Philip Rivers and Norv Turner love December. In fact, Norv as the coach of the Chargers is 12-0 in the month, while Philip Rivers is 16-0. That is pretty incredible. The Chargers are also on a 9-game winning streak and are playing absolutely lights out football. The way things go for them in this month, close games and lucky bounces will end up in their favor. And Tennessee, for all its recent VY-inspired success, is only 1-8 ATS in games against teams with a winning record. In fact, they've only played one team--the Colts--of San Diego's caliber since VY took over, and they lost handily. While I'm not confident enough to predict a similarly sizable Chargers win, as Peter King's 24-22 or Jeremy Green's 24-20 seem closer to the mark, it surprises me that the Chargers are getting 3 points, and thus even a narrow Titans victory is acceptable.
THE COUNTERARGUMENT: EAST COAST TRAVEL ON A SHORT WEEK
The Chargers are forced to travel 3 timezones on short rest, to play a team that has been at home for 3 straight weeks. This is a serious concern, as the last team faced with similar circumstances--the Giants traveling to Denver on Thanksgiving--played a terrible and lifeless game. This is undoubtedly the reason the line has moved so far in the Titans' direction, as wise guys famously love to fade West Coast teams who are traveling to the East Coast. But the Chargers have shown great tenacity on the road this season, going a remarkable 6-1 so far. They also successfully traveled 2 timezones east on short rest earlier this year, resulting in a line-shattering 37-7 mauling of the Chiefs. But most importantly, the Chargers despise the Titans as few teams do, as they still blame the Titans' dirty play for the 2007 season-ending injury to Shawn Merriman. As a result, you can expect the Chargers to be fired up and emotional, perhaps countering the ill effects of playing on the road at Christmas.
And remember, it's the Chargers in December, and they're playing on Christmas, the quintessentially December day. They should at a minimum be able to keep this close, and thus I like them to cover.