Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Atlanta Falcons vs San Diego Chargers: SD -3 (5Dimes)

Markets

The look-ahead line for this game had the Chargers -2.5.  It re-opened today at -3 and we've seen money come in on them all day.  There is a bit of extra juice attached if you want to lay the field goal now, which means we might see a move off a key number if the money keeps coming.  I would take a pass on it at anything over a field goal.

Flying Under the Radar

The Falcons might be getting all the headlines with their impressive 2-0 start, but the Chargers are also undefeated without anyone taking much notice.

A lot of people brushed off the Chargers Week 1 win over the Raiders because of the long-snapper issues on special teams, but I didn't feel that way at all.  I thought their defense smothered the Oakland offense and if it wasn't for some off-throws from Rivers in the red zone, it would have been a blowout.  They followed it up with a complete domination of a subpar Titans team and appear to be hitting on all cylinders early in the year.  How often have we said that about a Norv Turner team?

Don't look now, but San Diego is rising up the power rankings and could cement themselves on the relevancy-meter with another win this week.

Injuries/Suspensions?

I have to say that I'm a bit surprised at how meaningless some key injuries/suspensions have been in the opening weeks thus far.  Last week KC got back Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers, while Buffalo lost Fred Jackson and David Nelson, but it meant nothing on the field.  The Falcons lost Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens, but still picked off Peyton three times in the first quarter.

This game features more headlines in this category.  Ryan Matthews is expected to play and San Diego will welcome his ability to make people miss and burst in the open field.  The only problem is he'll probably be back on the trainer's bench by halftime.  The other big question is whether or not oft-injured Antonio Gates will suit up.  Keep an eye on whether he practices on Friday, but the good news is Dante Rosario finally capitalized on his athletic ability and gave Rivers an option in the red zone.  He'll have a tougher time lining up vs Sean Weatherspoon and Stephan Nicholas though.

On the flip side we have the DUI from Michael Turner.  It's not like he was producing much when he wasn't drinking, but Matt Ryan has been deadly on play-action this year as defenses continue to respect the run.  We'll see if he gets any discipline as the week unfolds, but Atlanta's offense is better off with him in the lineup than without.

Devil is in the Details

One of the less publicized issues facing both of these teams heading into 2012 was their putrid third down defenses.  Both teams made a concerted effort to upgrade the personnel and both replaced their defensive coordinators.

After two weeks?  I'm less impressed with the Falcons D.  Sure Mike Nolan has done a good job scheming his guys and providing confusing looks for opposing QB's, but they still rank near the bottom of the league on third down. This is something that will continue to be monitored until they prove that they have actually improved in the make-or-break moments.

As mentioned, Grimes is out and Chris Owens suffered a concussion vs the Broncos.  Look for Rivers to be a much different test for this secondary as they rely much more on the vertical passing game than the Broncos. They also scored 5 touchdowns in 6 red zone trips making Week 1's struggles seem like a distant memory. 

Test of the Season

Hey I'll be the first to admit that I've bashed Matt Ryan over the last 12 months.  He didn't win a single big game last year and didn't look too comfortable running a vertical offense or when he faced pressure.  The stats didn't lie and neither did the eye-ball test.

This game will be his toughest test so far.  KC was defensively inept and Denver didn't spend much time in the backfield either.  San Diego will change that.  They didn't get a sack on Jake Locker, but if you watched the game they were harassing him all game long.

The Chargers are using a nice blend of youth and vets in a heavy rotation of personnel. Atlanta might counter with some hurry-up no huddle to limit that, but it won't be an easy chess match to win.  Guys like Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram, along with new coordinator John Pagano, have rejuvenated this unit and so far it's paying off.

Bottom Line

By no means do I think this will be a cake-walk because the Falcons have proved to be a solid team through two weeks, but this week they walk into a hornet's nest coming off a short-week.  I'm rolling with the San Diego "Super" Chargers.

NFL Pick: SD -3.

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.