LA Chargers vs. Baltimore Ravens Pick
Los Angeles Chargers (12-4 SU, 9-7 ATS) vs. Baltimore Ravens (10-6 SU, 8-8 ATS)
Date/Time: Sunday, January 6, 1:05 PM EST
Where: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD.
By Keith Allen, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LAC +2 / Balt -2
Over/Under Total: 41½
The Chargers travel across country to play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in a rematch of their week 16 game that saw the Ravens win 22-10 in LA. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has started the last 7 games and led the Ravens to a 6-1 record and their first AFC North championship since their Super Bowl championship season in 2012, while Philip Rivers has led the Chargers to 11 wins in their last 13 games to tie for the best record in the AFC. It’s an old versus young play in the Wild Card round. Take the 2 points from your betting site and bet the Bolts. Here are 3 reasons.
Philip Rivers Will be the Best QB
Rivers has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league over the last 10 years, and in 2018 he was 3rd in yards per attempt while completing 68% of his passes and throwing for 32 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Had it not been for the mind-blowing performance of Patrick Mahomes this year Rivers would be in the MVP discussion. Rivers leans on one of the most balanced attacks in the league and one of the NFL’s best receiving corps. Keenan Allen is at least a top 10 receiver in the league, and Mike Williams is establishing himself as a top contested catch and red zone threat. Melvin Gordon is a workhorse back that can both get the tough yards and break off a big run every time he gets the ball and led the LA running backs with 50 receptions. LA’s offense was number 3 in the league at 6.3 yards per play and were 6th in points. LA makes defenses cover the whole field. In addition, Rivers will bring in a 4-5 playoff record to the game Sunday. He has been successful in the playoffs before and will not intimidated by the big stage.
Baltimore’s defense is one the most capable units in the NFL in 2018. In week 16 Terrell Suggs and company held the Chargers under 200 yards of total offense and forced 3 turnovers. On the season, Baltimore is second in the league in yards per play allowed and points allowed and they have been better since Jackson took over as QB. The run heavy approach has minimized the time the defense has been on the field. In this game, I look for the Chargers to move the ball better than other teams have done recently against the Ravens. They averaged 21 first downs per game this year but only managed 14 against Baltimore. In the first game, both Allen and Gordon were coming off injuries and were not 100%. Gordon tweaked his ankle last week but that shouldn’t be an issue and Allen is back at full strength. Rivers will prioritize protecting the ball and moving the chains. This is potentially Rivers last chance to reach and win a Super Bowl, so I look for him to play at an MVP level game and put points on the board.
The Rematch will Favor the Chargers Defense
The Chargers will be the first team that Jackson will have to face for a second time. Jackson and the Ravens have perplexed the league over the 7 games that Jackson has started. Baltimore has averaged 230 rushing yards per game since Jackson took over with Jackson personally accounting for 80 of those yards and running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon picking up the majority of the remaining 150 yards. Against LA in week 16, Jackson managed only 39 yards on 13 carries with one of those rushes going for 27 yards. LA basically shut down Jackson and the 2 RBs reached 120 yards on 22 carries. LA was easily the most effective team at slowing Jackson and this game represents the first time a team will be able to watch game film of their own team defending Jackson. This will allow Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley to see what worked and what adjustments have to be made and come out with a game plan that will pressure Jackson and Ravens OC Marty Mornhinweg to adjust. This pressure could magnify the biggest weakness of Baltimore’s offense since turning to Jackson which is turnovers. They have given the ball away 9 times in the last 7 games.
If Jackson has to throw the Ravens will be in trouble. Jackson completes less than 60% of his passes and has only thrown for 6 touchdowns. LA’s pass defense is middle of the pack for the year but have only allowed 1 passer to reach 300 yards on the season. Baltimore has a capable group of wide receivers and tight ends for Jackson to utilize but nobody that a defense would be afraid of. Jackson was 12 for 22 in week 16 for 204 yards, but 68 of those yards came on one play to tight end Mark Andrews. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa will get after Jackson and make him get rid of the ball or tuck it and run in a hurry. Defensive rookie of the year candidate Derwin James will be a key player for Jackson to keep track of. James tied for the team lead with 3 interceptions and blitzed enough to get 3.5 sacks. He could make a play that will determine the outcome of the game.
Chargers Love the Underdog Role
LA comes in to this game thriving as a road underdog. They are 4-1 in that role ATS and 7-1 ATS on the road for the year. The Chargers were also 3-0 ATS when playing their division opponents in the rematch game this year. Baltimore is just 3-5 ATS (and straight up) as a home favorite this year, and failed to cover in any of their division rematch games in 2018. Rookie quarterbacks are just 1-5 straight up in the last 6 years so Jackson has another hurdle to overcome. Baltimore was on the verge of losing to Cleveland last week and repeating last years script of losing in week 17 to be eliminated from post season. There was a giant sigh of relief when C.J. Mosley intercepted the Baker Mayfield to seal the victory. Baltimore and Jackson have exceeded all expectations in the last 7 games of the season. LA might be able to catch Baltimore on their heels early, get ahead and then make the Ravens play the game on the Chargers game script.
Play the Chargers on the Road
Take LA and the 2 points on Sunday against Baltimore. They have the experienced quarterback and will be able to contain and frustrate Lamar Jackson.