Patriots will keep Chargers in decline

Even if some say his long hair makes him look like a girl, Tom Brady is still playing at the level of an elite quarterback.

Brady is sporting his typical impressive numbers, completing passes at a 67.5 percent rate with 1,203 yards and 10 touchdowns through five games. What’s more important is the New England Patriots, 4-1 straight up and 3-2 against the spread, are finding ways to win.

If games were won based on statistical comparisons, the San Diego Chargers would be crushing the rest of the NFL. The Chargers rank No. 1 in total offense (432.7 yards per game) and No. 1 in total defense (255.2).

Despite impressive numbers, the Chargers (2-4) find ways to lose.

San Diego is a 2½- to 3-point home favorite over New England today, and Las Vegas handicapper Doug Fitz is siding with the Patriots and their proven record of success.

“The Chargers’ reputation over the past several years is they start the season slow and then gain momentum. But the facts don’t bear this out,” said Fitz, pointing to San Diego’s 3-7 straight-up and ATS record in its past 10 October games.

New England has won three consecutive games since a loss to the New York Jets, and according to Fitz, road teams on a three-game straight-up winning streak are 37-20 ATS in the past four seasons.

“I’ll take the better team getting points against a questionable home favorite,” said Fitz, who offers his plays for free at

The Patriots’ Bill Belichick, who is building an improving defense with young players, owns an obvious coaching advantage over the Chargers’ Norv Turner.

San Diego also has injury concerns involving receiver Malcom Floyd (doubtful, hamstring) and tight end Antonio Gates (questionable, toe).

But quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers, 0-4 on the road, have won their two home games in blowouts.

“Everyone knows how good the Chargers played at home and how badly they have played on the road. The natural inclination is San Diego should have a strong advantage based on this,” Fitz said. “However, San Diego’s home wins were against Jacksonville and Arizona, not exactly teams who scare anyone when playing on the road.”

Fitz analyzes the rest of today’s Week 7 schedule:

■ Pittsburgh (-3) at Miami: Both the Dolphins’ home games have resulted in straight-up and ATS losses. This has been a pattern for Miami, which is 1-5-1 ATS as a home ‘dog of 3 points or fewer in the past seven games in that role. The Steelers are 2-0 straight up and ATS on the road. The play is Pittsburgh.

■ Cincinnati at Atlanta (-3½): The Falcons are 6-1 ATS in their past seven as favorites of 3½ points or more. Cincinnati is 4-1 ATS in its past five road games against teams with winning home records. The teams are so close statistically that I will pass.

■ Jacksonville at Kansas City (-9): The line has been going up due to the uncertainty of the Jaguars’ quarterback situation. It appears Todd Bouman will make his first start in almost five years with David Garrard sidelined by a concussion. I’ll pass.

■ Philadelphia at Tennessee (-3): Kevin Kolb will start at quarterback for the Eagles, and he has been excellent since taking over for injured Michael Vick. Both teams are playing well, but Philadelphia is a better road team than Tennessee is a home team. The Eagles are 12-4 ATS in their past 16 games as road ‘dogs. The Titans are 1-4 ATS in their past five at home. Philadelphia is the play.

■ Washington at Chicago (-3): No stats, trends, systems or otherwise are needed for this game. The Redskins are by far the better overall team. The Bears’ offense is a mess, and Jay Cutler has looked clueless most of the time. To say that Washington coach Mike Shanahan is superior to the Bears’ Lovie Smith would be a giant understatement. The Redskins have played well against a pretty strong schedule. Their only bad game came in Week 3 at St. Louis in an obvious letdown spot.

■ Cleveland at New Orleans (-13): Neither team has done much scoring. The Browns average 14.7 points and the Saints are scoring 21.7 per game. Cleveland could be without wide receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi because of injuries. This should be a relatively low-scoring game, so play it under 43½.

■ Buffalo at Baltimore (-13): I do not think the Bills can hang with Baltimore, but laying 13 points is not something I do in the NFL.

Under the total (40) seems to be the better alternative. The Bills allow 182 yards rushing per game. The Ravens should exploit that and run the ball, taking plenty of time off the clock.

■ San Francisco (-3) at Carolina: The 49ers have underachieved, and they don’t score much. Carolina might be the worst offensive team the NFL has seen in years. This would seem like an obvious play under the total (35½), but I’ll pass on the low number.

■ St. Louis at Tampa Bay (-3): The Buccaneers are 0-2-1 ATS at home. The Rams are much improved, and QB Sam Bradford seems to be developing into a good leader in his rookie season. St. Louis, an underdog in all six games, is 4-2 ATS. The Bucs appear to be settling back into mediocrity. I’ll take points with a competitive team that can win straight up almost all the time.

■ Arizona at Seattle (-6): Up-and-coming teams such as the Seahawks usually do not fare well when put into the uncustomary role as a favorite. In the past three seasons, Seattle is 2-13 straight up versus opponents with winning records. Seattle is 2-0 ATS at home. The Cardinals are 1-2 ATS on the road, and they were blasted in their past two road games. This one seems easy, but not so fast. Arizona can keep it close.

■ Oakland at Denver (-8): This number is way too high due to public perception that the Raiders are worse than they actually are. In the past three seasons, the Broncos are 1-8 ATS when favored by 3½ points or more and 2-10 ATS against teams with losing records. Play the Raiders, who should be able to keep Denver’s passing offense off the field enough to keep the game tight.

■ Minnesota at Green Bay (-3): It’s obvious the Packers are not playing up to most expectations. Their lack of a running attack has seriously hurt, and they have not played well at home. The Vikings are a disappointment, too, but their defense is solid and they have star running back Adrian Peterson. Play Minnesota in what should be a competitive game.

Compiled by Review-Journal sports writer Matt Youmans.

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