I do a lot of volunteer work as a High School pigskin reporter, and it’s amusing to look at how all 3 classic “levels” of the sport – prep, college, and pro – are becoming more alike all the time. For instance, it used to be taken for granted that a contender for a state championship would blow-away every fair-to-middling local school on its way to the playoffs. That’s changing now as some states put all comparable teams together in gigantic playoff brackets with no play-in element, and wise coaches play small-ball during the season while keeping an eye on the big picture.
It’s still considered pretty important for a prep-school contender to get some blow-out wins, which are good medicine for any team on any level. But now that scientific scheduling has eliminated most old “cross-town” rivalries between huge and tiny campuses (the prep-school version of thrash-for-cash) and left only well-matched titans and 1-horse towns to do battle in their own weight classes, “any given Friday night” is actually becoming a thing.
The NFL is considered the ultimate in parity – and yet some of the 2019-20 match-ups are starting to feel like those old “predetermined” High School outcomes like “Big City Prep 66, Horse & Saddle Academy 0.” The Miami Dolphins are putrid, the Washington Redskins rancid, and the Denver Broncos have lost 8 times in a row. Point spread wagers on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are giving (+16) points to the woeful ‘Skins at FedEx Field, and the handicap is hardly a freak in an early-autumn landscape of blow-outs and wider-than-usual NFL spreads.
Yet just as in prep and college sports, there’s nothing that will tighten a handicap faster than a rivalry. The “San Diego” Chargers of lore may have recently become the L.A. Chargers, but they’re still in a vicious AFC West rivalry with the Broncos that will persist even when and if the clubs are ever separated by-division.
The Chargers are a hopeful 2-2 and visiting Broncos 0-4 headed into Sunday’s afternoon’s clash in Carson. But bookmakers and gamblers agree that the most-likely outcome involves nary a full touchdown’s difference.
Who: Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers
When: Sunday, October 6th, 4:05 PM EST
Where: ROKiT Field at Dignity Health Sports Park, Carson, CA
Lines: DEN (+6) at LAC (-6) / O/U Total: (44.5)
Denver has been hit worst where it hurts the most. What was believed in preseason to be a well above-average defense has played well enough to keep the Broncos in games up to this point, but to add injury to insult, the team lost star linebacker Bradley Chubb for the season to an ACL tear last week.
Von Miller recorded his 99th and 100th career sacks against Jacksonville in Week 4 and continues to do his thing, but he doesn’t have a lot of help coming off the edge. Opposing OCs are running at the Bronco front-7 to nullify the pass rush, and it’s working wonders. Leonard Fournette sliced and diced the Orange “Slush” with 225 yards on 29 carries, surely causing Melvin Gordon III and Austin Ekeler of L.A. to lick their chops a little bit.
Despite moving pieces on the offensive line and below-average play from the unit as a whole, the Charger offense is producing. Ekeler has scored 36 points already but appears to be handier as a 3rd-down receiving back. The return of Gordon from his holdout means Ekeler’s role will change as soon as this week:
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn confirmed the star running back (Gordon) will play a role in Los Angeles’ game plan Sunday against the Broncos but said the team doesn’t want to push him too soon. “He’s getting more work [in practice] this week, and he’s definitely going to have a workload this week, but not too big,” Lynn said. “I want to work him in, but I don’t want to overdo it.” Lynn couldn’t confirm how heavy Gordon’s workload would be, adding that it would depend on his performance at practice this week, but left the door open for the 2015 first-round pick to possibly resume his starting role. “We have a package for him — a role for him in this game. He may even start this game. But we’re going to see how he looks at the end of the week and go from there.”
Gordon decided to end his contract holdout and report to the Chargers last week, though he didn’t see action in the team’s 30-10 win over the Dolphins despite being activated with the hope of taking on a limited role. The 26-year-old averaged 5.1 yards per carry as he rushed for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while adding 490 receiving yards for four touchdowns.
Los Angeles has played well in each of its 2 losses and is closer to a 3-1 team in form. That will be enough to overwhelm any twists and turns of momentum in a rivalry game.
Take a well-oiled Philip Rivers and the ‘Bolts to cover (-6) ATS.