Market WatchDespite San Diego's convincing Wild Card win over the Bengals, they still didn't receive a lot of respect when Las Vegas opened the lines for the Divisional round. To start the week, the Broncos were listed as -10 point favorites.
Since then we've seen some support for the Chargers. The line has moved to -9, but I'd be surprised if it moved lower than that. If it drops even a half point more, the sportsbooks will open themselves up to the teaser window (-7.5 to -8.5).
So what should be the true line for this game? That's not an easy question to answer because the Broncos have been covering inflated point spreads all season (9-5-1 ATS). By the numbers, this game should be -7, but it really comes down to whether or not you buy into the Chargers recent play or not.
Thus far, 59 percent of the bets are coming in on San Diego.
Keep an eye onOf all the games this weekend, this one could have the highest degree of variance. No one would be surprised if the Broncos won by three or four touchdowns, but it could easily be another upset in the making.
The biggest factor in determining what type of game we see will likely come from the defenses.
During the season, it was hard to bet on the Chargers with any sort of confidence due to their horrific play on that side of the ball. In fact, in the first 12 weeks they were historically bad. It wasn't until December that this defense began to turn things around.
Over their last five games, their defense has performed like a middle of the pack unit. As I mentioned last week, a big reason for the resurgence has been the return of Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram. They aren't dominant players, but they are significant upgrades from what they had before.
The question is whether or not the Chargers defense can maintain this level of play for one more week.
On the other side, there are just as many doubts about the Denver defense. They were nothing more than average throughout the entire season, and now they are severely undermanned. For this game, they'll be without Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, and Rahim Moore. One could argue that those are the three best players on the Broncos defense.
Some might point out that they get Champ Bailey back for this game, but he's been a shell of his former self this year. Injuries and age have finally caught up to the perennial Pro Bowler. They also expect to have Shaun Phillips on Sunday, but he only had 3.5 sacks in the final eight games of the season. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence, especially when he's now their primary pass rusher.
Offensively, the big key for the Chargers will be their run game. Ryan Mathews is listed as "questionable", and it appears as though his ankle has gotten worse. This is definitely bad news for the Chargers, despite how well Woodhead and Brown have played. The ground game has been the backbone of their five game win streak, and it has allowed them to control the clock better than every other team this season. If they hope to limit Peyton Manning's opportunities, they'll need to stay productive in this area.
And speaking of Manning, that brings us to the final key factor to this game. Once again, all eyes will be on the future Hall of Famer. It's been talked about to death, but it does bear repeating. Can he replicated what he does in the regular season in the playoffs? Throughout his career, Peyton gets a little more edgy in the post-season and it's not uncommon to see the "happy feet". While it might not be anywhere near an Andy Dalton level, there is still a lingering doubt about Peyton in these big games.
One thing that does bode well in his favor is the big difference between this game and the last time they played San Diego. In that Week 15 loss, they didn't have Wes Welker, and only had three days to adjust and prepare. This time, Welker is back and they've had two weeks to get ready. That could spell really bad news for San Diego.
Personally, I think it's a bit crazy to be giving San Diego this many points. With an improved defense and a top flight offense, an easy case can be made for the Chargers - especially when you look at all the injuries on Denver's defense and Peyton's history of sub-par playoff performances. And even if Denver are up two scores in the fourth quarter, I like the chances of Philip Rivers leading them down for a backdoor cover.
I'll take the Chargers and the points.
NFL Pick: SD +9.