At 40.5, Chargers at Broncos gives us one of the lowest totals on the slate — and with a spread of only 2.5, we don’t even have one team expected to pull away heavily. This is a spot where slate-breakers become less likely, and more duds may show up — but it’s not impossible for solid scores to emerge.
We’ll start on the Chargers side, where the bad offensive line on this team has led to Philip Rivers looking like he’s on the 18th hole of his career (or maybe already sitting at some bar called The 19th Hole and wondering why he still has his clubs in his hands). This week, he’ll be working against a Broncos defense that held him to only 211 passing yards on 48 attempts (how is that even possible?) at home — after which Keenan Allen threw shade on the Broncos, claiming what he has claimed before about this team that he apparently hates: that they suck. In that game, Allen went 4-16-0.
Allen will likely avoid Chris Harris, as Harris (somewhat inexplicably, after playing literally his entire career in the slot) has not only been moved to the outside to shadow top weapons this year…but has also been treated like the handful of shadow corners who don’t travel into the slot, with only a 6% slot rate on the year. Keenan has a “streak” going of eight straight games of 71 or fewer yards (with only one touchdown in that stretch), and he’ll still be taking on a Broncos defense that has allowed the fourth fewest yards to wide receivers, but he’s at least likely to get a decent chunk of his snaps in this game away from Harris’ shadow.
The next man up for the Chargers passing attack is Hunter Henry, who has target counts of 9 // 8 // 6 // 10 // 7 // 9 since returning to the field in Week 6. The Broncos have been more attackable with tight ends than with wideouts, ranking middle of the pack in yards allowed while giving up the ninth most catches to the position. It’s worth noting that Henry has beat up on one of the softest tight end schedules imaginable (and the Broncos are still tough on the whole), so add a dash of caution to the upside that’s available.
This passing attack wraps up with relative disappointment Mike Williams — though his “non-breakout” season has been due largely to him scoring zero touchdowns on the year. Williams is the league leader in aDOT at the moment and has 45+ yards in nine straight games, with 69+ in six of those. Week 9 was the first 100-yard game of his career, and the Broncos’ list of notable stat lines allowed to wideouts is not exactly littered with scores that jump off the page and implore you take on the risk:
But while Williams (likely to see plenty of Harris) has some of his paths to ceiling closed off, he also scored 10 touchdowns through the air last year (with another on the ground). He can find a place in the “scattered into tight multi-entry play” discussion.
The backfield split for the Chargers has Melvin Gordon playing around 60% to 65% of the snaps when games are close, with Austin Ekeler overlapping with Gordon a bit and having a shot at around 40% of the snaps. The matchup is tough against a Denver defense that has not yet allowed a running back to top 100 yards and score a touchdown. The Chargers are likely to tilt toward the run in this spot, so volume shouldn’t be a major concern on the whole — which has you betting on touchdowns or some big runs from Gordon on his typical range of looks. Game flow is unlikely to force the Chargers toward Ekeler, so you would be betting on a shift in emphasis (recent target counts of 4 // 8 // 3 // 4 // 2 // 12 — with the 12 chasing points against the Chiefs) or Ekeler hitting for multiple big plays.
The backfield is even less straightforward on the other side of the ball, where Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman split snaps exactly down the middle last week — one week after both coaching talk and follow-through had Lindsay operating in a 65/35 lead. The Chargers have faced a soft schedule of opposing offenses (which has caused their overall numbers to look solid on defense), but they rank 27th in DVOA against the run — creating a spot in which Lindsay (whose 4.8 yards per carry ranks fourth in the NFL among running backs with at least 11 carries per game) can still hit; but we seem less likely to see his role rise about the 15ish touch range in which he generally finds himself.
Through the air, the Chargers also may not be as good as the season-long numbers make it appear — though this may not matter much, either, with Casey Hayward able to deal with Courtland Sutton, and with either Brandon Allen or Drew Lock under center. Sutton will be emphasized in this offense no matter who’s covering him, as he has six or more targets in every game this year (and seven or more targets in all but one), but in this spot he’s merely a “bet on talent overcoming matchup and quarterback” play.
The Broncos were too busy last week forcing eight ineffective targets to Sutton (1-27-0) against Tre’Davious White to attack Levi Wallace with Tim Patrick (three targets; one catch for three yards), and there is risk of that happening again. But Patrick is still priced down, and he showed down the stretch last year (7-85-0 // 5-65-0 // 3-44-0 // 4-48-0) and again in Week 11 (4-74-0) that he can provide value at a scrape-the-bottom price. His floor is low, but his price-considered ceiling remains attractive.
Noah Fant is also in the mix here, with his targets likely in the “five to seven range,” and with the biggest drawback here being the overall offensive environment in this game.
JM’s Interpretation ::
With plenty to like in other spots on this slate, I’ll likely avoid the Chargers for the most part myself — with fear of missing out on a random multi-touchdown game from Mike Williams the only real draw for me here (and with no data to really support going there). Ekeler is interesting for his per-touch upside, and Henry is interesting at an ugly position; but there is nothing I’ll pencil in here as a piece to build around.
The low scoring expectations in this game as a whole will also dent the Denver side, while the role for Lindsay has apparently shifted away from “hey, let’s give our probably-elite running back the ball.” Lindsay is tourney-viable for his upside, but the floor remains a concern. Deeper down on this side of the ball: Patrick reminds me of Gage hitting last week after disappointing the first time it made some sneaky sense to really consider him (or Juszczyk seeing seven targets with Kittle out one week after seeing zero when it made some sneaky sense to target him). He has an outside shot for a solid game here and is low-priced enough that he won’t kill you if he misses. It’s not clear yet who will be starting, but Allen has been predictably poor enough that Lock can likely come in and do the same or better. Ultimately, though, everything in this game is fairly thin (unsurprising with Vegas giving almost no confidence to this spot).