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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Week 15 NFL Predictions: Thursday Night Edition

Early picks for week 15.  Check here for the latest odds.

San Fransisco 49ers vs San Diego Chargers: SD -8.5

When the 49ers travel across town to SD this week they will be meeting a team that has them completely overmatched.  It isnt' very often that I lay more than a touchdown on a favorite, but this is one of those exceptions to the rule.  Even with the high number, I think SD is an undervalued favorite this week and that is a rarity at this time of the year.  Most of the lines we see at this time are very sharp so it becomes harder and harder to find that edge.  However, this game has all the makings of a double digit win for the home team.

To begin with, there are clearcut problems for SF in the air this week.  Smith and company will be going against one of the top passing defenses in the league and they will have a lot of trouble keeping up with Rivers.  I don't really care how this offense looked last week against SEA, this is a whole different animal that they will be facing now.  Usually a great way to counteract this mismatch is to rely on a solid running game and establish good pass protection.  The only problem?  SD have a big advantage in both of those categories too.  I love Brian Westbrook for what he has done in this league, but at the moment he is not Frank Gore.  The route running, vision, and catching ability are there, but he no longer has that breakaway speed or ability to accelerate around defenders playing on a shredded knee.  What he can help with thought is blitz pickup.  SF will need all of his experience because they have not done a good job protecting their QB's this season.  SD will continue to be disruptive in the backfield making it a long day for this offense.  SF continue to be one of the worst offensive teams in the other important categories as well.  Red zone and third down offense are embarrassingly bad and they rank near the bottom in points from long drives and completed offensive plays per game.

If that wasn't enough to convince you to ride SD this week, let's take a look on the other side.  Is anyone in the league playing better at QB this season than Philip Rivers?  Ok the Tom Brady debate aside, Rivers has continued to put up gaudy numbers this year even with a receiving core put together with duct tape.  Even with Gates hobbled, McMichael has stepped in and picked up the slack.  Now he has Mathews and Jackson back in the mix so things might only get better down the stretch.  Ignoring the OAK game (please), this offense has been virtually unstoppable.  Rivers is poised for another big game against a defense that has continued to under-perform.  The 11 guys on SF's defense have been together for 4 years straight, but they don't resemble that on the field.  They continue to take too many penalties and remain average on third down and red zone defense.  Meanwhile, their reward is to play against a team that averages a league-leading 20 points per game from long drives.  Look for them to wear down as the game goes on because their offense isn't going to be giving them many breathers.

This doesn't mean that I think SF is going to roll over and die, but their will be supremely tested and by the fourth quarter it could be broken.  I also don't like Singletary in a prime time spotlight. The bright lights often bring out the best and worst in coaches and he has already had some questionable moments in these spots this season.  He knows he's under the gun and a loss here could be the end of his head coaching career. Don't be surprised if he makes some impulsive changes on the fly as he desperately tries to save his job.  Too bad for him it won't make a world of difference. Prediction: Bank SD -8.5.
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