Handicapper: All signs point to Chargers covering on road against Texans

An emotional halftime speech from coach Norv Turner inspired the San Diego Chargers to a comeback victory over Tennessee a week ago. Turner’s talk, according to several players, was one of his best.

But the Chargers have been at their worst on the road, losing all four times. Halfway through the season, San Diego (3-5) seems to have arrived at a turning point.

“While it’s hard to trust Turner, he is 23-7 straight up during the second half of the season with the Chargers,” handicapper Mark Franco said. “The Chargers need another one of their second-half surges to reach the postseason, and I feel it starts here.”

Franco is throwing his support behind Philip Rivers and the Chargers as 2½-point favorites at Houston today. The line is 3 at some sports books.

Rivers has passed for 2,649 yards and 15 touchdowns, so San Diego’s ills have little to do with his performance. Sloppy play leading to turnovers and special teams breakdowns have hurt the Chargers the most.

Injuries are a factor, too, and star tight end Antonio Gates (foot) is a game-time decision today. Gates has not missed a game because of injuries in his eight seasons.

Houston’s defense, which has allowed an NFL-worst 404 yards per game, has a young secondary that Rivers could expose.

Franco ( noted San Diego was 4-0 against the spread last November and is 7-3 ATS in its past 10 games versus teams with winning records. The Chargers also are 16-3 ATS against the AFC South, including 3-0 ATS versus Houston.

The Texans have dropped four of their past five ATS and have covered only one of their past five games at home.

Franco analyzes the rest of today’s Week 9 schedule:

■ Chicago (-3) at Buffalo: This is the Bills’ annual home game in Toronto. Buffalo hung tough the past two weeks with overtime losses at Baltimore and Kansas City. The Bears have one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines and a quarterback in Jay Cutler that I can’t trust. I’ll pass on the side. I see a mistake-riddled game and will look over the total (41).

■ New Orleans (-6½) at Carolina: The Saints (5-3) have not shown any consistency. The Panthers have the NFL’s worst scoring offense, averaging just more than 12 points per game. They did play the Saints down to the wire in the first meeting, losing 16-14 in New Orleans. Carolina has covered four straight and six of the past seven meetings, but I’ll go against the trend and say the Saints get the cover.

■ Arizona at Minnesota (-8): The Vikings’ playoff hopes are fading fast. It’s like a soap opera in Minnesota, and I can’t justify laying this big a number with a dysfunctional coach in Brad Childress. The Cardinals’ defense can’t seem to stop anyone, so I expect the Vikings put up points by riding running back Adrian Peterson. The Cardinals are 47-28 over the total in dome games, and the Vikings are 10-2 over in their past 12 games in Weeks 5 through 9. I’ll follow the trends and look over the total (41).

■ Tampa Bay at Atlanta (-9): These 5-2 teams are tied for the lead in the NFC South. The Falcons are 3-0 at home, while the Buccaneers are 3-0 on the road. I’m not sure Atlanta warrants being this big of a favorite. The Bucs have covered their past three trips to Atlanta. Tampa Bay was roughed up in two games against quality opponents (Pittsburgh and New Orleans), but I see the Bucs keeping it close.

■ N.Y. Jets (-4½) at Detroit: The Jets, 3-0 SU and ATS on the road, look to prove their 9-0 loss to the Packers last week was the exception rather than the rule. Jets receivers dropped pass after pass in the wind last week and should rebound. The Lions are the league’s top team against the spread at 6-1, but they are on an 0-6 ATS skid in November home games. Expect big plays and look over the total (42).

■ Miami at Baltimore (-5½): After winning at Cincinnati, the Dolphins stand 4-0 on the road. The Ravens, who had a bye last week, were lucky to get out with a win the last time out in an overtime victory over the Bills. Baltimore’s offense has playmakers, but consistency is missing. The Ravens’ pass defense has been shaky. Miami will find success on offense, and its defense is underrated. The Dolphins are on an 11-3 ATS run as road underdogs. I’m taking the points.

■ New England (-4) at Cleveland: The Patriots (6-1) own the NFL’s best record and might be the best team in the NFL. Their balanced offense has been solid and their defense improving. The Browns have played almost every opponent close and upset Cincinnati and New Orleans. But I don’t see Cleveland bringing enough here. The Browns have been outgained in six consecutive games by an average of 367 to 284 yards. I’ll have a small recommendation on the Patriots, with the coaching edge going to Bill Belichick. New England is 30-14 ATS following three straight ATS wins.

■ N.Y. Giants (-7) at Seattle: The Giants, off a bye after winning four straight, are playing their best football of the season. The Seahawks suffered a beatdown at Oakland. While they are a better team at home, they will be outclassed here as the Giants are better on both sides of the ball. With starter Matt Hasselbeck ruled out because of a concussion, backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst will make the start, and that spells trouble for an already weak offense. Eli Manning and the Giants’ running backs should do enough to cover this inflated number.

■ Kansas City at Oakland (-1): The Chiefs lead the NFL in yards rushing. The Raiders hung 59 points on Denver and 33 on the Seattle the past two weeks. But I don’t see the Raiders continuing to score at will. Kansas City should have enough offense with its running game, good special teams and defense to pull out a win. The Chiefs have won and covered seven straight times at Oakland.

■ Indianapolis at Philadelphia (-3): The Colts hit an emotional high with a win on Monday. The Eagles are off their bye week, when coach Andy Reid is at his best with an 11-0 record. Both offenses have edges over the defenses, and the Eagles will start a healthy Michael Vick at quarterback. I will lean to Philadelphia, but my stronger opinion is over the total (46½).

■ Dallas at Green Bay (-7): Why has Cowboys coach Wade Phillips not been fired? This is one of the most dysfunctional and disorganized NFL teams I’ve seen. Dallas has nothing to play for, so I don’t see things getting better just because the pressure is off. Green Bay is off two big wins over the Jets and Vikings and should continue to build momentum. If not for two overtime losses, the Packers would be 7-1.

Compiled by Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans.


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