Playoffs on the Line, Detroit Lions host San Diego Chargers

Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions will make life difficult for the San Diego Chargers' secondary.

Despite one of the worst runs of form in recent memory, the San Diego Chargers (7-7) still find themselves in the hunt for the playoffs, but will have to get around the Detroit Lions (9-5), who seek to clinch their first trip to the postseason since 1999. In a battle of two exciting offenses on Saturday night, this game filled with playoff implications will undoubtedly be one of the best options for betting on sports at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewedright here.

After reeling from 6 straight losses from October 23rd to November 27th, the San Diego Chargers have finally started to look once again like the Chargers most NFL fans have come to know. Winning three straight games while averaging better than 36 points per contest and holding opponents to an average of under 13 points per game, the Phillip Rivers-led Chargers are definitely back to playing confident football, and winning out the final two weeks is essential for them to have any chance at securing a playoff bid. Rivers has been at the center of the Chargers’ change in fortune, going 4 straight weeks without throwing an interception while throwing at a 75 percent completion rate with 7 touchdowns in the last three wins. His 132.2 QB rating in December ranks as one of the very best in the league, and there’s no doubt that he’ll need to be on form heading into a match-up against the high-scoring offense of the Detroit Lions led by quarterback Matthew Stafford. However, with the San Diego running game looking solid of late behind Ryan Mathews (221 carries, 1033 yards, 6 TDs) and Mike Tolbert (107 carries, 425 yards, 7 TDs), the Chargers have been able to open up the passing game with Vincent Jackson (56 catches, 1036 yards, 8 TDs) and Antonio Gates (55 catches, 632 yards, 6 TDs), but have also gotten good performance in the flats from Mathews and Tolbert, who have combined for 94 catches and over 800 yards in the passing attack as well. With the Detroit Lions susceptible against the run this year (giving up 135.8 yards/game to opposing rushers), San Diego will certainly be looking to pound the rock from the get-go, as establishing the run will help open up looks downfield against a Lions defense that has been pretty good against the pass this year (12th in the league allowing just 218.8 yards/contest). However, with VJack looking questionable for tonight’s game, added pressure may be put on Vincent Brown and Malcolm Floyd to step up and perform, which could be a tall order against the swarming Detroit secondary.

As for the Detroit Lions, discipline has been the make-or-break factor in games for the young squad, and despite their wealth of talent on both sides of the ball, keeping penalties to a minimum may be the most important factor in tonight’s game against an opportunistic San Diego squad. Getting hit for 966 yards in penalties on the season (2nd most in the league), Detroit must stomp out the personal fouls, false starts and other avoidable penalties that kill off drives if they are to hang with the much improved offense of the Chargers. With both sides looking pretty evenly matched in the contest on offense production lines, the Lions defense really needs to stand on its head early to prevent Phillip Rivers from getting comfortable in the pocket. As we saw early in the season, Rivers is not a very mobile QB, and struggles a bit when forced out of the pocket under pressure. Therefore getting Ndamukong Suh and top pass rushers Kyle Vanden Bosch (8 sacks) and Cliff Avril (11 sacks) through the inexperienced and injury-plagued Chargers front line is essential. Detroit has been good at getting past offensive lines, ranking 8th in sacks and producing 16 forced fumbles (4th in the league), and they’ll want to see a continuation of those trends against Rivers, who is playing his best ball of the year. But, if the Detroit Lions lose their cool on defense as they have a tendency to do, the extra downs given to San Diego could come back to haunt them late in the game, as the Chargers can easily score behind Rivers and his impressive 2-minute offense.

For Detroit on offense, it goes without saying that quarterback Matthew Stafford has had a breakout season. Throwing for 33 touchdowns and 4145 yards, Stafford has finally brought stability at the QB position to a Lions team that has built itself up with plenty of viable weapons for him to use. The biggest challenge for San Diego in this match-up will be finding a way to cover Calvin Johnson (81 catches, 1335 yards, 14 TDs), as he’s a match-up nightmare for any type of defensive format. Megatron, an elite receiver no matter what offense he’s in, has seen his star rise even further with Stafford and a host of talented receivers supporting him this year; Nate Burleson (61 catches, 629 yards, 3 TDs) has provided the quickness in the short passing game, and Brandon Pettigrew (67 catches, 581 yards, 4 TDs) has been solid at distracting bigger defenders over the middle, leaving Calvin Johnson with thinner coverage than has been the case in past seasons. Throw the ball up, he catches it. End of story for opposing defenses. While San Diego has been very good this season against the pass behind the efforts of Eric Weddle (1st in the NFL in INTs), Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason, they will get their biggest test yet trying to cover arguably the best all-around receiver in the NFL in Calvin Johnson. However, in order for Johnson to get a reduction in coverage, Stafford is going to have to spread the wealth to his other receiving threats, and the Lions simply must get their running game in order against a Chargers D that has been prone to giving up big games to opposing backs (126.1 yards/game allowed, 21st in the league), but has improved markedly during their recent win streak. Turning the ball to the tandem of Maurice Morris and a should-be-healthy Kevin Smith early and often could help to further ease the pressure on the Lions passing game, giving room for Stafford to throw downfield to his biggest assets.

Betting Lines for San Diego vs. Detroit at Sportsbetting Sportsbook

You can pretty much throw out the historical aspects of this match-up, which shows San Diego winning the last 6 meetings between the two teams, because the teams haven’t met since 2007, and this is a wholesale different squad than what the Chargers have seen before. On home turf, the Detroit Lions enter today’s contest as a slight favorite to win, in perhaps the most balanced match-up they’ve had at home this season. Getting -120 odds on the money line at the Sportsbetting Sportsbook, Detroit could be a safe bet considering that San Diego is just 2-4 on the road this year, and has beaten just 1 team with a winning record (Baltimore, last week) all season long. However, coming into the game off a confidence-inspiring 3-game win streak, the Chargers could be a good bet to win outright at EVEN odds on the money line, considering the +1 given against the spread to the Chargers at -110 odds wouldn’t be worth the bother. In a shoot-out game this afternoon, look for the over/under to get a firm challenge as well, as you can be sure both top quarterbacks will be airing the ball out all night long, and the 52.5 points seems very beatable with two top-6 passing games in action and a scramble to the finish highly likely.

Our Pick to Win:

With Detroit on the verge of their first playoff appearance in 12 years, this match-up should be the Lions to win or lose at home in front of what will be a rockin’ 13th straight sell-out crowd. Matthew Stafford has certainly been the more consistent quarterback of the two over the year, but with Phillip Rivers return to form looming large, we likely can expect the game to be decided in the less-expected areas of the game, namely in the running game approach, and in the penalties and turnovers game. If Detroit can buck up and show some restraint in keeping penalties to a minimum, while putting plenty of pressure on Phillip Rivers, the Lions should be able to ride their high-powered offense to a victory. However, if San Diego can capitalize on a few Lions mistakes and keep their offense moving along with an efficient-passing Rivers, San Diego could easily walk out with their 4th straight win and keep Detroit waiting another week to clinch a playoff spot. Having to draw a line in the sand somewhere though, I think the improved discipline of the Lions combined with a better day down field for Calvin Johnson and the Detroit passing game works to give them the overall edge, especially with the Lions dialing up tons of pressure on Phillip Rivers in opposition. Detroit secures it’s playoff dreams with a 35-31 win at home, subsequently ending the hopes of the Chargers making the playoffs this season.

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