By the looks of things, the San Diego Chargers are heating up just in time to make a playoff push behind quarterback Philip Rivers, and they should have no problem handling the Oakland Raiders.
The Chargers are in a familiar spot, sitting at 7-7 and still optimistic while regretting a few games that got away. On the flip side, the Raiders are 4-10 and hopeless as coach Dennis Allen sits on the hot seat.
San Diego, off a stunning 27-20 win at Denver on Dec. 12, is a 10-point home favorite today.
“The Chargers had their most impressive win, and the Raiders were thoroughly demolished by Kansas City last week,” handicapper Doug Fitz said. “But judging strictly by what happened in any team’s last game is a recipe for disaster when betting the NFL.”
Fitz, the leader in the Review-Journal NFL Challenge with a 44-29-2 record against the spread, is taking the ugly double-digit underdog.
The Raiders intercepted Rivers three times and upset the Chargers 27-17 on Oct. 6. Terrelle Pryor, Oakland’s quarterback in that game, has been replaced by rookie Matt McGloin.
“McGloin has been very serviceable, and the Raiders actually won the statistical battle against the Chiefs and the Jets in their past two games despite losing each game by double digits,” Fitz said. “They still play hard, and I’ve seen no signs of them giving up. The line is too high to lay against a division opponent.”
Oakland is 9-2 ATS as a division underdog of at least 3½ points when coming off a loss. San Diego is 1-6 ATS at home versus division opponents off a loss. Double-digit ’dogs in conference games are 11-6 ATS this season.
Fitz (Systemplays.com) scouts the rest of today’s Week 16 schedule:
■ Miami (-2½) at Buffalo: The Dolphins have covered five games in a row, including their past two on the road. Ryan Tannehill passed for 312 yards and three touchdowns against New England last week and has topped 300 yards in three of the past four games. The Bills are 2-5 ATS over their past seven games. Buffalo always seems to fall apart in the latter part of the season. Laying less than a field goal, Miami is the side to consider.
■ New Orleans at Carolina (-3): Each team has played under the total nine times, and that’s the only way to look in this game with the total at 45½. The Saints’ offensive production on the road is nowhere close to what they do at home. Drew Brees is a different quarterback on the road, and the grass surface at Carolina doesn’t fit the Saints’ style of play. The Panthers have a fierce defense, especially against the run, where they rank No. 2 by allowing 85 yards per game, and New Orleans does not run the ball well.
■ Dallas (-3) at Washington: Both defenses are terrible. The Cowboys rank last in total defense, giving up 427.3 yards per game, and the Redskins allow 362.7 yards to rank 20th. Both teams can score. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins is more than capable of generating big offensive numbers, and we know Tony Romo can put up points. Romo usually is good for one or two turnovers, which could lead to more scoring. Look over the total of 53½.
■ Tampa Bay at St. Louis (-4½): The Rams have been solid underdogs under coach Jeff Fisher, but putting them in the favorite’s role is a different story. Over the past three seasons, St. Louis is 2-5 ATS as a favorite. The Buccaneers have a little revenge motivation from getting beat last year at home by the Rams. I’ll take the points with Tampa Bay.
■ Cleveland at New York Jets (-2): Passing should be the name of this game. Neither team has much of a rushing attack, and both defenses are good against the run. The Browns have played over the total eight times this season, and the Jets have played to nine overs, so look over 41.
■ Indianapolis at Kansas City (-7): The Chiefs’ Jamaal Charles leads the AFC with 1,181 yards rushing, and this game will be contested mostly on the ground. But what should keep the scoring down is both teams are tied for the fewest turnovers in the league with 14, equating to a plus-7 turnover ratio for Indianapolis and a plus-21 ratio for Kansas City. Look under the total of 46½.
■ Minnesota at Cincinnati (-8): Nonconference games this season have gone over the total an astounding 75 percent of the time, and this NFC-AFC matchup should continue that positive trend. The total is 47½ to 48. Running backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart return for the Vikings, and Matt Cassel has passed for 890 yards in his past three games. The Bengals scored 42, 41 and 49 points in their past three home games.
■ Denver (-10) at Houston: It appears the Texans are playing out the string on a 12-game losing streak, but I’ll still recommend them in this spot. Playing double-digit favorites, especially road favorites, is suicide in the long run. I don’t care how bad the opposition is, either. It might not be a plus, but Matt Schaub is back as Houston’s starting quarterback. Peyton Manning is missing slot receiver Wes Welker, a key Broncos weapon.
■ Tennessee (-5) at Jacksonville: Maybe the only reasonable justification I can give to side with the Titans as road favorites is they allowed the Jaguars to get their first win of the season after an 0-8 start. Tennessee will be out for payback. Jacksonville’s leading receiver, Cecil Shorts, is out. I’ll side with the Titans.
■ Arizona at Seattle (-10½): This is another conference game with a double-digit ’dog, but what sets this apart even more is that the Cardinals are surprisingly good. Arizona is 4-2-1 ATS on the road. It’s no secret the Seahawks are the NFL’s best home team, but they failed to cover against Tennessee and Tampa Bay as big chalk, and Arizona is far better than either of those teams.
■ New York Giants at Detroit (-10): The Lions cannot be trusted laying this many points because they make too many mistakes and are poorly coached. The season has been a disaster for the Giants, but Tom Coughlin is a great coach with a lot of pride, and I think he will have his team playing hard despite a 5-9 record.
■ Pittsburgh at Green Bay (-2½): Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is out, but I still see a high-scoring game that should go over 44. Matt Flynn has found rhythm in the Green Bay offense over his past two games, completing 50 of 71 passes for 557 yards and five touchdowns. The Pittsburgh offense has come alive in the second half of the season, scoring at least 20 points in each of the past seven games.
■ New England at Baltimore (-2): The Ravens are hot, but installing them as favorites in this spot is perhaps giving them too much credit. The Patriots had another week to adjust to the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, and Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichick are masters at adjusting game plans. A significant trend that’s hard to overlook is Brady is 11-2 straight up and 12-1 ATS as an underdog off a loss, including 8-0 straight up and ATS when facing a team off a win.
■ Chicago at Philadelphia (-3): If the Cowboys lose early in the day, the Eagles will be playing to clinch the NFC East. The total is 56, and this is a great spot for a high-scoring game as both teams have potent offenses and soft defenses. The Eagles surrender 291.5 yards passing, and the Bears have an outstanding pair of big wide receivers in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS