The San Diego Chargers (6-7) are all too familiar with a late season burst of effort towards the playoffs, but time may be running out in the chase for a final playoff spot this year, especially with the Baltimore Ravens (10-3) coming to town riding a 4-game winning streak.
While San Diego may be struggling to find an open door to squeeze in to the playoff picture, Baltimore has already produced another great season, winning 10 games for the 3rd time in 4 years, but coming into this Week 15 NFL match-up the team will not be taking the foot off the gas pedal, as a 4-way tie exists for the best record in the AFC, with a playoff bye on the line. Not only that, with a chance to clinch a playoff berth tonight with a win against the late-improving Chargers, the John Harbaugh-led Ravens will be putting their best feet forward to win their 5th straight game for the first time since 2006, banking on the continuing outstanding play from the league’s 3rd-ranked defense, which has held opposing offenses to 10 points or less in the last three contests. Even without the presence of the veteran leader Ray Lewis in the line-up, Baltimore has relied on the talented linebacker Terrell Suggs (13 sacks, 58 tackles) to lead the defense, along with a host of some of the most aggressive, hard-working defensemen in the league including nose tackle Haloti Ngata (49 tackles, 5 sacks), safeties Bernard Pollard (58 tackles) and Ed Reed (43 tackles, 3 INTs) and cornerback Ladariuis Webb (62 tackles, 4 INTs). Ranking 4th against the passing game allowing just 192.3 yards per contest, Baltimore enters this match-up well prepared to face the likes of San Diego’s Phillip Rivers, who finally appears ready to compete on a level consistent with his talent.
While it may be too late for San Diego’s playoff hopes this season, as they’ll need to win out their final three games and will need Denver and Oakland to finish with 3 straight losses, nonetheless the Chargers’ push towards the finish line should be an exciting one to watch as the team finally starts to show signs of playing up to their collective abilities. The Chargers are probably one of the most disappointing teams in the league this season, respective to their talent level, but with two commanding wins under their belt this finally looks like the team we expected them to be from the start of the season onward. Phillip Rivers (3.745 yards, 22 TDs, 17 INTs) has been the key towards the Chargers’ recent success, albeit the turnaround from a devastating 6-game losing streak has come at the expense of the flailing Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars, two teams nowhere near the caliber of play of the Baltimore Ravens. Nonetheless, with Rivers finally throwing back to back 3-TD games and issuing no interceptions in his last 3 outings, the offense finally looks to be clicking once again, especially with running back Ryan Mathews (943 yards, 4 TDs) finally coming into his own in the ground game. Ripping off 3 straight 100-yard rushing games, Mathews’ presence will be a huge area of focus against the league’s 2nd-rated rush defense of the Ravens, which is allowing just 85.8 yards/game this season. While it may be difficult for Mathews, or the Chargers as a whole to find the 100-yard marker in tonight’s game against the Ravens, nonetheless it will be important for the Chargers to feature the run game in order to help set up the pass, with Vincent Jackson (952 yards, 8 TDs) and tight end Antonio Gates (601 yards, 6 TDs) likely to see plenty of balls down field.
For the Baltimore Ravens, their defense can pretty much be assumed to play at a top level week-in and week-out, however for this match-up it will be interesting to see how the Ravens offense, led by quarterback Joe Flacco (3122 yards, 15 TDs, 9 INTs) works against the Chargers defense, one which has done well to contain the pass but has struggled mightily with good opposing running backs. That will certainly be one area Baltimore seeks to exploit tonight, with the league’s 2nd-leading rusher in Ray Rice sledding against a defense giving up almost 130 yards on the ground per outing. Rice (1029 yards, 10 TDs) has been a threat not only on the ground but also via the air, generating 593 yards on a team-leading 62 catches, and should be seeing lots of action tonight against San Diego as the offense sticks to a run-first offense to control ball possession. While it can be expected that both receivers Anquan Bolding (55 catches, 836 yards, 3 TDs) and Torrey Smith (37 catches, 693 yards, 6 TDs) will both get involved in the offense tonight downfield, Baltimore is going to try and pound away at San Diego first and foremost, attempting to lull the Charger defense into forced man-to-man coverage that should open up the passing game. If the Ravens can get out with a lead on the road and keep the ground game going, relying on Joe Flacco to carry the team late in the game may not be necessary, unless Phillip Rivers decides to engineer a brilliant comeback effort, which he certainly has the talent to do.
Betting Lines for Baltimore vs. San Diego at Betonline Sportsbook
Betonline Sportsbook features all the best NFL match-ups each and every week for online sports betting on NFL Football, and for Week 15′s featured match-up between the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers, we’re using this tried-and-tested sportsbook as our go-to for the top lines on Sunday Night’s game. Despite getting home field advantage, the Chargers come into tonight’s match-up as a slight +120 underdog on the money line, something that may entice underdog pickers especially considering San Diego’s urgent need to win tonight’s game in order to keep playoff hopes alive. The Ravens on the other hand get -140 odds on the money line while being favored with a minimal 1.5 point margin to cover against the spread (-125 points), with San Diego getting 1.5 points in their pocket at +105 odds. Though both teams have been putting up big numbers on the board in recent weeks, this match-up looks to be defense-first, as evident by the bookmakers’ over/under at Betonline, posted at 44 1/2 points (-110 odds either direction). Though I expect this game to be tight early on, as San Diego looks more and more to the passing game to help them put up points, we could see the over bet become the best option, as late scoring could easily lead to a busted points total with two talented offenses on the field tonight.
Our Pick to Win:
While I find that a wager on the Chargers is perhaps one of the best looks for underdog pickers this week, I also find that the Baltimore Ravens are running one of the tightest, most confident game plans in the NFL right now, and will be a very tough challenge for San Diego to overcome. With Ray Rice likely having success against a mediocre rush defense, the Ravens are set up nicely to control the football game tonight, giving their vaunted defense enough rest to stay sharp against a very good San Diego offense. Make note that Baltimore has laid eggs on the road this season (their game at Seattle specifically comes to mind), but with so much on the line for the Ravens’ playoff picture, I expect the veteran Ravens to be just too much for San Diego to overcome. In a great game on Sunday night, we’re siding with the Ravens to shut the door on San Diego’s season, winning a close game, 27-24.