Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 12:40 PM EST.
18 months removed from celebrating a Super Bowl championship, our assessment on the Broncos is dark (compared to most other sites) and reflects a conceivably grim reality for this franchise. In fact, if the juice wasn’t so high, we would’ve bet the Broncs to go under the posted total of 8½ faster than fantasy players were picking up Kareem Hunt. Some early injury issues have the potential to further push this recently elite operation toward the league’s lower middle class.
Most of Denver’s defensive line suffered injuries during the preseason, and the team’s best facet — the Von Miller-fronted pass-rush crew — is suddenly vulnerable. Miller’s high-end sidekicks are depleted. Shaq Barrett is set but he missed months with a mysterious hip injury. This group being compromised could limit the effectiveness of the Broncos defense, and given how much will be asked of that unit again this season, that would begin a domino effect to mediocrity. Seems a lot will be placed on the offensive line and ground game, with the former comprised of another new group with questions and the latter consisting almost entirely of injury-prone cogs. All of the issues would qualify as additional concerns if this veteran-led operation had an answer at quarterback but they don’t. The signing of Brock Osweiler as backup is the Broncos warning us that their QB situation is not good. The Broncos might have the best receiving tandem in the AFC West but they have the worst quarterback. Marcus Siemian led the Broncos to eight wins last season, which may inspire hope, but here’s the important thing. Just one of those victories came against a playoff team that had its starting quarterback healthy and ironically, that lone victory came against the Houston Texans with the now-departed Brock Osweiler starting. There’s a reason seventh-round picks don’t typically commandeer starting quarterback jobs and through little fault of his own, Siemian could be at the forefront of the Broncos’ steady descent. A lack of a viable alternative thrust Siemian, who would be a backup for most teams, into a difficult spot, making the Broncos a team you do not want to spot spots with against quality opposition like the one they’ll face here.
We’d be playing the Chargers over their posted win total but we don’t play overs in football because every over bet is vulnerable to injuries. If we did play overs, this one would’ve been at the top of our list. The numbers for the Chargers were onto something last season. The one notable exception was their won/loss record, as they seemed likely to vault forward after a 4-12 season in 2015 in which they went 3-8 in one-score games.
While the 2016 Chargers did improve by one win, nobody could argue that they looked better in those close contests. San Diego was an incredible 1-8 in games decided by one touchdown or less. It's one thing for the Chargers to blow a league-high five games they led at halftime. It's another to give away four games in which they either led or were in a tie game with the ball at the two-minute warning. Some of these losses blend together, but it's worth reiterating how many ways the Chargers blew games last season:
In Week 1, they lost to the Chiefs after going up 27-10 with 13 minutes to go, aided by a 17-yard punt inside the two-minute warning that set up the Chiefs with excellent field position.
Two weeks later, the Chargers had a two-point lead against a Colts team facing fourth-and-7 on its own 20-yard line. They allowed a conversion and a 63-yard touchdown pass to T.Y. Hilton three plays later.
The next week, San Diego was up 13 points on the Saints with the ball and 6:50 to go. The Chargers fumbled away the ball on each of their next two plays from scrimmage, setting up the Saints for two short touchdowns.
A week later, the Chargers were stuffed on third-and-2, down three points with 3:05 to go. Punter Drew Kaser subsequently muffed the hold on the ensuing 36-yard field goal attempt, costing the Chargers a shot at tying the game. Three weeks later, the Chargers couldn't punch the ball in with four chances from the 2-yard line down eight late against the Broncos.
With 1:13 left in a tie game against the Dolphins, the Chargers needed a few more yards to advance from the Miami 42-yard line and set up a game-winning field goal attempt. Philip Rivers threw a slant under duress to Kiko Alonso, who took it to the house for a game-winning Miami touchdown.
Josh Lambo missed a 45-yard field goal that would have sent the Chargers to overtime against the Browns. Check that again: They lost to the Browns.
That's an unreal string of brutal losses, with three in the first month of the season alone. There was a decent team here. Four of their five wins came against teams with winning records, including a 33-30 victory over the Falcons in Atlanta. The Chargers are 4-16 (.200) in one-score games over the past two seasons. That’s a ringing endorsement that the Chargers are very likely to be much better this year because they’re good and because luck evens out over time. No organization since 1989 has lost more one-score games over a two-year span than the 2015-16 Chargers but the good news is that teams’ who were bad at this got better. The 29 teams who lost 12 or more one-win games over a two-year stretch were a combined 154-423 (.267) during their period in the wilderness. The following year, those same teams posted a winning record in close games, going 123-113 (.521) and they improved their overall win-loss record by an average of 3.2 wins. Perhaps most notably is that the Chargers have more talent than any of those teams, thus, they’re in line for a dramatic win increase.
The Chargers are in a much better place in terms of personnel too. For one, they won't be without star pass-rusher Joey Bosa for the first four games of the season. By the time Bosa made his debut, injuries had sapped the Chargers of several key contributors. Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett went down for the season after four games, while fellow starting corner Brandon Flowers missed 10 games with a pair of concussions. The receiving corps was even further picked apart. Stevie Johnson hit injured reserve with a torn meniscus before the season even began. Star wideout Keenan Allen tore his ACL during the first half of Week 1. Receiving back Danny Woodhead suffered his own season-ending knee injury the following week. Philip Rivers was throwing to afterthoughts like Dontrelle Inman, Tyrell Williams and Hunter Henry for most of the season. Flowers, Johnson and Woodhead are gone but Verrett and Allen are ready to go here. Furthermore, the Chargers look awful deep at several critical positions and if you give Rivers time and some talented playmakers, he instantly becomes one of the NFL’s best. Simply put, the Chargers are too good to keep losing games and getting off to a good start is absolutely on the table here against an inferior opponent. Chargers outright get this call.
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San Diego +130 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 2.60)