With a break here or there, the San Diego Chargers could be unbeaten and quarterback Philip Rivers’ hot start would be celebrated.
Instead, the Chargers are finding ways to lose, a theme that has carried over from former coach Norv Turner to first-year coach Mike McCoy, who is 1-2 after his team blew fourth-quarter leads in 3-point losses to Houston and Tennessee.
San Diego figures to be in another tight game today against the Dallas Cowboys, who ride into town at 2-1 and as 2-point favorites.
“I’ve followed the Cowboys enough to know that the previous week’s performance doesn’t necessarily mean an encore presentation,” handicapper Dana Lane said. “The talk this week has been how great Dallas looked running the football. The problem is, I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen them run well two weeks in a row.”
DeMarco Murray, fifth in the NFL with 286 yards rushing, went for 175 yards in Dallas’ 31-7 victory over St. Louis last week. But the Cowboys occasionally abandon their running attack and unleash quarterback Tony Romo to throw 40-plus times, as they did in a Week 2 loss at Kansas City.
Romo will be without injured wide receiver Miles Austin, and the Dallas defense was dealt a setback with the loss of pass-rushing end Anthony Spencer.
Lane (DanaLaneSports.com) is siding with the home underdog and counting on Rivers, who has passed for 798 yards and eight touchdowns with one interception.
“McCoy seems to have breathed new life into Rivers, who has completed 70 percent of his passes and appears to have renewed confidence,” Lane said.
The Cowboys are 5-14 against the spread in their past 19 games following a straight-up victory.
Lane, who is calling for the Chargers to win 23-20, analyzes the rest of today’s Week 4 lineup:
■ Pittsburgh (-2½) vs. Minnesota (at London): Expect running back Adrian Peterson to handle a heavy workload and find success against the Steelers, who own the 22nd-ranked rush defense (115.3 yards per game). The intrigue comes from Matt Cassel starting at quarterback for the Vikings due to a curious rib injury to Christian Ponder. I favor Minnesota a shade more with Cassel playing. Pittsburgh has lost six of its past seven ATS. Vikings, 23-21.
■ Baltimore (-3) at Buffalo: The Baltimore defense allowed 49 points to the Broncos in Week 1 but has not allowed a touchdown since. That’s bad news for Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel, who is averaging only 6.4 yards per passing attempt. The Ravens are 18-6-2 ATS in their past 26 games after rushing for fewer than 90 yards the previous week. Buffalo is 5-14 ATS in its past 19 games after allowing more than 350 total yards the previous week. Ravens, 31-24.
■ Cincinnati (-3½) at Cleveland: I’m not going to be scared off by the amount of injuries in the Bengals secondary. Look for Cincinnati to mix blitz packages to harass quarterback Brian Hoyer. The Browns have allowed 14 sacks, and Cincinnati has the best defensive line they have faced. Let’s not forget that Hoyer threw three interceptions against Minnesota last week. The Bengals are riding a 7-0 ATS streak following a week when they scored 30 or more points. The Browns are 3-7-1 ATS in their past 11 following a straight-up win. Bengals, 23-17.
■ Indianapolis (-8½) at Jacksonville: There is no denying that Blaine Gabbert has the arm and talent to win games anywhere except for Jacksonville. A quarterback change can be the best jolt for a sputtering offense. Before Gabbert was hurt against the Jets, he completed 13 of 16 for 165 yards with one touchdown. It’s not inconceivable the Colts will be less than inspired after their big win at San Francisco. The Jaguars lose but manage to cover. Colts, 24-16.
■ Seattle (-2) at Houston: I fully expect the Texans to bounce back after being embarrassed by Baltimore. The Seahawks are ranked first in total defense, but they are allowing 95 yards per game on the ground, 12th in the NFL. Seattle will have a hard time stopping running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The Texans are 20-7-2 ATS in their past 29 games on grass. The Seahawks are 16-33-3 in their past 52 games after winning the previous week by 14 points or more. Many may scoff at these trends, but I believe they can tell a story of the culture of an organization despite there being different players. Texans, 23-20.
■ Arizona at Tampa Bay (-2½): This is another situation where a team needs a new quarterback for inspiration. Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano is giving rookie Mike Glennon his first start. Tampa Bay’s offensive line should get progressively stronger with All-Pro guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph back in the mix. Doug Martin rushed for 232 yards in his past two games. If the Bucs could run on New England, they will against a Cardinals defense that was just shredded for 423 total yards by New Orleans. Buccaneers, 23-17.
■ Chicago at Detroit (-3): The Bears forced five Pittsburgh turnovers and had two defensive scores in their 40-23 victory last week. Since 2012, Chicago has 12 defensive touchdowns. The Lions have lost nine of the past 10 in this series while committing 27 turnovers. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is 7-1 against Detroit with 12 touchdown passes and one interception. I never feel good backing the Lions when they step up in class, and the numbers support that. Detroit is 5-13-1 ATS in its past 19 games against teams with a winning record. Bears, 30-26.
■ New York Giants at Kansas City (-4): Another week, another victory against the NFC East for Andy Reid? The Chiefs, led by their pass rush, forced the Eagles into five turnovers last week. Kansas City linebacker Justin Houston leads the NFL in sacks with 7½. I’m not going to fall into the public trap of thinking the Giants couldn’t possibly start 0-4 for the first time since 1987. I won’t back the Giants until I see their offensive line can protect Eli Manning. The Giants allowed seven sacks against Carolina, so it’s hard for me to imagine they will have success against a better Chiefs defensive front. The Giants are 0-6 ATS in their past six road games. Chiefs, 28-14.
■ New York Jets at Tennessee (-3½): The Titans will be coming at Geno Smith in an attempt to rattle the Jets’ young quarterback. Until Smith shows more maturity as a quarterback, I can’t back him financially, especially if the Jets continue to lead the league in penalties (34) and force him into long-yardage passing situations. Titans, 23-16.
■ Washington (-3½) at Oakland: There has been much debate about whether Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor (concussion) will start. But my concern is Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who clearly is not healthy. This game could turn into a battle of backup QBs. A cause for concern is a Washington defense that has allowed 98 points and 1,464 yards through three games. The Redskins are 12-27-3 ATS in their past 42 games versus teams with a losing record. Raiders, 27-23.
■ Philadelphia at Denver (-11): The Broncos won their first three games by an average of 16 points while scoring at least 37 in each. The Eagles have not shown offensive maturity yet, therefore it creates doubt they can counter every Denver punch for 60 minutes. The Chiefs’ Alex Smith threw for 273 yards at Philadelphia last week, so what will Peyton Manning do at home? Denver is 6-1-1 ATS in its past eight games. Broncos, 37-24.
■ New England at Atlanta (-2): You won’t find the Patriots catching points very often. So much has been made of the offense and the lack of weapons for Tom Brady, but the talk should be about New England’s strong pass defense. Falcons running back Steven Jackson is out, and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White have been dealing with nagging injuries. Patriots, 26-24.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL