San Diego Chargers at Indianapolis Colts (-3, 51.5 o/u)
It’s the game that the football-world has been waiting for since the opening kickoff to the 2016 season: the San Diego Chargers (1-1 SU, 2-0 ATS) head east on Sunday (September 25) to take on the Indianapolis Colts (0-2 SU, 0-2 ATS) at Lucas Oil Stadium (4:25 PM ET). Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but are you really going to complain about watching two of the best quarterbacks the game has to offer? (We are still calling Andrew Luck “elite,” right?)
San Diego is coming off a dominant 60 minutes in Week 2, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, pummeling them 38-14. If not for one of the worst ever second-half collapses in Week 1, the Chargers would be 2-0 and tied for the AFC West lead.
Apparently Matt Slauson has corrected all of their offensive line woes, and the result is the second-most points in the league (32.5 per game), the third-best rushing attack (152.5 yards per game), and an MVP-like performance from Philip Rivers (42/60 for 463 yards and five touchdowns, 120.3 passer rating).
While all of that looks great, the Chargers were dealt another major blow in Week 2 when Danny Woodhead went down with a torn ACL. Woodhead’s absence opens the door for Melvin Gordon (38 carries for 159 yards and three touchdowns) to expand his role while newly acquired Dexter McCluster learns the offense.
The Chargers have already shown resiliency in having to fill holes created by injury, as Travis Benjamin (13 receptions for 147 yards, and two touchdowns) and Tyrell Williams (five receptions for 132 yards, and one touchdown) have proven to be worthy options in the passing game filling in for Keenan Allen.
But, if San Diego wants to legitimize itself as playoff-worthy, the defense will have to improve: they’re allowing 400.5 total yards (23rd) and 23.5 points per game (18th). Their offense has been good, but without Allen and Woodhead, they may not be able to carry their defense against better competition.
Are the Colts better than the Jags and Chiefs? They played competitively in their first two, dropping a tight, one-score affair to the Lions (39-35, home) and giving up a late defensive TD to the Broncos which made the final score (34-20, road) belie how close the game actually was. But the reality is that the team is 0-2 and replete with holes. They have a great quarterback, but a lousy offensive line and a defense that bleeds yards.
Luck and his offensive weapons are putting up 27.5 PPG (ninth in the league) but it hasn’t been enough to mask the defensive woes (36.5 points per game, second-worst in the NFL; 424 total yards per game, third worst).
It’s stats like those that have their defensive-minded head coach, Chuck Pagano, feeling the heat.
Luck actually deserves some of the blame for the inflated defensive stats. The matchup with the Broncos was a very winnable game for the Colts. But their franchise quarterback coughed the ball up twice, and Denver went the other way for six both times – the second turnover effectively ended the game in the final two minutes of play.
Just from looking at his numbers, Luck appears to be back to his pre-2015-self – 52/87 for 582 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. Watching the film would suggest the same, outside of those two costly turnovers. Luck has been making the smart throws, while utilizing all of his weapons in the passing game: seven Colts receivers have five receptions or more, five of which have more than 70 yards as well.
In a game that promises to showcase offense, the outcome will be determined by which team can play a smidgen of D. Although the Chargers are without two of their best weapons in the passing game (Allen and Woodhead), the Colts will likely enter this game without their top-three corners, and have yet to prove that they can get much pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Rivers is going to have all day to find his receivers, and Melvin Gordon will run free through the Colts’ weak front-seven. Andrew Luck may be able to turn this into a shootout, but I’ll dub the Colts less-likely to get a stop – I refuse to use positive terminology when speaking of either defense.
San Diego is 7-1 ATS in their last eight against Indianapolis (and 6-1 SU in the last seven). They’ll add to both those trends this week.
Pick: Chargers +3.
Photo Credit: FF Swami (Flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/].