2008 AFC Divisional Playoffs: San Diego Chargers vs. Indianapolis Colts Preview and Pick

San Diego Chargers (12-5) +8.5, 47 O/U at Indianapolis Colts (13-3) -8.5, 47 O/U, RCA Dome, 1 PM Eastern, Sunday
by Badger of Predictem.com

The defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts open up their bid to repeat as champs when they host the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Divisional playoff game Sunday at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

The Colts, who will be playing their first game of the 2007 playoffs following an opening round bye, will be looking to do better than they did against the Chargers during the regular season. Back on November 11th the Chargers beat the Colts in Qualcomm Stadium, 23-21. Indy went on to win the next six games on the schedule following the loss, but you can bet the Colts haven’t forgotten the beatdown the Chargers gave them back before Thanksgiving.

For the Chargers, their victory over Indianapolis in early November was the springboard that turned their season around. They went on to win seven of their last eight games following that game, including last weekends 17-6 victory over Tennessee in the opening round of the playoffs.

Oddsmakers opened the game with Indianapolis as a 9-point favorite at home, with an over/under total of 48.

Indianapolis continues to feature one of the leagues best offenses, led by quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning threw for 4,039 yards and 31 touchdowns during the season, which for him is considered a down year. The loss of Mannings favorite target, receiver Marvin Harrison, to a knee injury for most of the season hurt the units effectiveness no doubt, but Reggie Wayne (1,510 yds., 10 TDs) and tight end Dallas Clark (11 TDs) more than make up for the loss. Running back Joseph Addai also helps to balance the offense with over 1,000 yards on the ground and 12 rushing touchdowns. At seasons end the Colts were the NFLs 5th ranked offense (358.6 ypg) and the 3rd best unit in scoring with a 28.1 points per game average.

San Diego finally won a playoff game last week, which is especially good news for quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers has taken his lumps this season, but his performance in the second half of the Titans game showed that he may be ready to turn the corner. His numbers on the season were decent (3,152 yds., 21 TDs), but he has struggled at times with ball protection (15 INTs). He needs running back LaDainian Tomlinson (1,474 yds., 15 TDs) to carry more of the load, something Tomlinson is very capable of doing. The Chargers may have to play without tight end Antonio Gates, who sprained a big toe in the win over the Titans last week and is listed as questionable. Overall the Chargers offense ranks 20th in the NFL (315.2 ypg), but their 25.8 points per game average was good enough for 5th best at seasons end.

Ironically, it was the Colts defense that worried fans last season as the unit gave up yards and points by the boatload. Not the case this season, as they ended the year as the 3rd ranked unit overall (279.7 ypg) but the top-ranked defense in points allowed with just a 16.4 points per game average. Safety Bob Sanders is finally healthy, and was named the defensive player of the year last week by the Associated Press. Sanders and the rest of the Colts secondary ended the year as the 2nd best unit versus the pass (172.8 ypg), but its Sanders support versus the running game that will be key in this weeks game against the Bolts and LaDainian Tomlinson.

San Diegos defense is statistically mediocre (14th overall; 13th vs. the pass; 16th vs. the run), but they have played excellent down the stretch during the Bolts last seven games. Not only have they won those last seven games, but theyve allowed only an average of just 11.5 points during the streak, well below their season average of 17.8 (5th). Linebackers Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips are the playmakers in the Chargers 3-4 scheme. Both seem to have a knack for finding the football versus the run, and both are dangerous as pass rushers, which is something Manning will be aware of at the line of scrimmage.

Prior to their game in November, these two teams last met on the field in 2005 (a 26-17 San Diego win). The Chargers seem to have the Colts number, in regards to “the number” at least, because the Bolts are 6-2 ATS versus the Colts in their last eight head-to-head matchups.

That fact would seem to match the season numbers as well, as the Chargers were the better wager for sports bettors with a 12-5 ATS record overall. The Bolts are also a whopping 10-1 ATS in their last 11 games versus AFC opponents too.

Indy does play well at home (5-3 ATS this season, 7-3 ATS in last 10 at home) and on turf in general (7-3 ATS). They also seem to play well when the competition get tough, as they sport a 10-4 ATS record versus teams with a winning record. On the season though the Colts were just 9-7 ATS overall.

Neither team offers a solid trend on over/under bets, as the Chargers ended the year 8-7-2 versus the total, while the Colts were 7-9 versus the total. Although the Chargers do tend to go over the total when playing on the road (10-2-2 in their last 14 road games).

Early betting on this game hasnt caused the numbers to move too much yet either. Most sportsbooks still list the Colts as 9-point faves, although a lot of offshore sportsbooks have dropped the number to Colts -8.5. The total has dropped a point at most books, down from the opening number of 48 to the current number of 47 at most places. BoDog is one of a few offshore books that have dropped it to 46 already. The Colts are a -407 on the moneyline, while the Chargers are a +367.

Badgers Pick: I am surprised to see the total dropping in this game, since the weather will be perfect and the turf offers a fast track to players on both sides. The best bet in this game might be on the over, especially if you go to BoDog and get it at 46 or lower. As far as picking a side, I like the Colts in this game simply because I like Manning over Rivers. The Chargers will have to blitz to put pressure on Manning, and he has the ability to change the play at the line. Rivers is not as skilled, or as seasoned, so I see the Colts pulling away to cover the number late in the fourth quarter. Take the over and take the Colts minus the points.