Thursday Night Football brings us a divisional showdown between two teams with arrows pointing firmly up when the Chargers head to Oakland to take on the Raiders. The Chargers are coming off an impressive 26-11 beatdown of the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, while the Raiders took down the Lions at home 31-24.
While the Chargers are 4-5 overall and have found ways to lose games this year, the 4-4 Raiders find themselves as home underdogs on Thursday. The oddsmakers must know more than everyone else because this line screams “wrong team favored.”
Of course, when you can’t find a reason for the line to be this far off, you have to pause and consider not placing a bet on the game. If you don’t know why the spread is where it is, you probably don’t have enough information to make an intelligent bet. However, when handicapping games on your own, having a different opinion than the oddsmakers is the entire reason why you place a bet on a game. So, let’s get to the bottom of this handicap and see if there’s any value in the spread or total.
Chargers Offense vs. Raiders Defense
If the Chargers are going to cover this game, it’s because their offense took advantage of a limited Raiders defense. Oakland has a pass defense ranked 29th in the NFL, and if the Chargers offensive line can give Rivers time, he may be able to exploit this weakness. With the Chargers offensive line ranked 7th in adjusted sack rate, it could be a long day for the Oakland secondary.
What the Chargers have not been able to do on offense is get their running game going. The Chargers rank 28th in rush yards per game with just 78.4 and their offensive line is 21st in the NFL in adjusted line yards. This is also an area where the Raiders defense excels, ranking 4th in the NFL in adjusted line yards.
While the Chargers should be able to move the ball through the air, if Oakland is able to wipe out their running game and make them one-dimensional, they may ultimately have an advantage when their defense takes the field.
Raiders Offense vs. Chargers Defense
While the Raiders defense takes away the opposition’s running game, Oakland attempts to control the clock with an excellent running game of their own. The Raiders get this done with an impressive offensive line, and potentially the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in running back Josh Jacobs.
A first-rounder out of Alabama, Jacobs is ranked 10th in the NFL in yards per carry at 4.9 among running backs. The Oakland running game could become a problem for the Chargers, who rank 26th in stuff rate on the defensive line and 17th in adjusted line yards.
The Chargers also rank 17th in adjusted sack rate on the defensive line, despite having game-breaker Joey Bosa on the edge. Bosa has 8.5 sacks already this season and containing him will be crucial for Oakland to come away with a victory. Luckily for the Raiders, they rank #2 in the league in adjusted sack rate on the offensive line.
While Oakland wants to establish the run, they stay balanced on offense with the third most efficient passing attack in the league complemented by the 6th best rushing offense. The Chargers will try to combat that offense with the 26th ranked defense per DVOA. This looks like a clear mismatch in favor of Oakland.
When you look at these two teams overall from an efficiency standpoint, the Raiders have the slight edge, ranking 16th in weighted DVOA to the Chargers at #19. In total DVOA, the Raiders are at #15, compared to the Chargers again at #19.
It’s curious, then, to see this line open at pick’em, and even more head-scratching to see the line move to Chargers -1. Part of the reason for this is likely an overreaction to the Chargers' impressive victory over a top 10 team in the Packers last week.
It’s also partially due to the fact that the Chargers are hoping to get back two defensive tackles from injury in Brandon Mebane and Justin Jones. However, injured on Sunday were linebacker Denzel Perryman, and offensive tackle Sam Levi, so health does not seem to be a sound reason for action on the Chargers. It’s also worth noting that All-Pro safety Derwin James is on IR.
While the Chargers are currently getting 67% of the bets, bigger wagers are on the Raiders as that 67% accounts for only 57% of the money. Oakland has potentially the worst home-field advantage in the NFL, with an ATS record of just 43% since 2003. However, the Raiders home field should be worth at least 1.5 points to the spread, and I’d estimate more for a primetime game. Add it all up and I can't help but see value on the home team.
This game should feature plenty of points, and it's no surprise that the total has been bet up from 47.5 to 49. While it's never smart to chase after steam moves, it's entirely possible that this game easily ends up in the mid-50s.
by Kyle Johansen