Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:00 AM
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Game of the Night - Baltimore at L.A. Chargers (-4, 41.5), NFLN, 8:20 ET
The NFL has had a decent run on primetime games of late. Even last Saturday’s Browns-Broncos game at least managed to come down to the wire. Matchups like this one, where both teams still have division titles in their sights as Week 16 begins, are the dream.
It remains to be seen how vivid this one is, but there’s certainly potential that we could see something special given the implications for both. The Ravens would make the playoffs if they started today, but their grip on a spot is tenuous given the number of teams behind them with more favorable schedules.
The Chargers share the AFC’s top record with division-mate Kansas City, which would emerge with the No. 1 seed in the conference due to a better divisional mark if the teams remain tied. All L.A. can do is win out and hope the Seahawks give them some help on Sunday night since it’s unrealistic that the Raiders would pull an upset in Arrowhead in Week 17.
The return of top running back Melvin Gordon tells you how seriously the Chargers are taking this one since he’ll suit up for the first time since Nov. 25. L.A. is a perfect 3-0 without him, but there’s no question he affords the offense a significant upgrade with his skill set. He’s found the end zone 13 times in 10 games and re-establishes a short passing game that was missing last week since backup Austin Ekeler, who performed impressively in Gordon’s absence, was also sidelined with a shoulder stinger against the Chiefs.
Ekeler remains out for the Chargers, so rookies Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome will return to backup roles. It’s incredible that L.A. finds itself in this position considering they’ve ran through the Steelers, Bengals and Chiefs despite being short-handed since elite receiver Keenan Allen has been absent with a hip injury and top defensive tackle Brandon Mebane was away due to a personal matter.
Everybody is back to join Philip Rivers on a rollercoaster ride that has featured plenty of low points but has somehow managed to come to successful stops on nine of their last 10 trips. The resume looks impressive since L.A. has managed to overcome absolutely no homefield advantage outside of players being able to sleep in their own beds, which is why two of their three losses have come in their temporary home in Carson. L.A. lost to the Chiefs in Week 1, at the Rams in Week 3 and back on Nov. 18 in a 23-22 loss to the Broncos that may wind up being the reason the AFC playoffs go through Kansas City and not the home of the L.A. Galaxy from the MLS.
That wrinkle makes this a slightly more manageable road trip for a Ravens teams that finds itself clear across the country on their longest journey of the season. Baltimore can count on some representation that you will probably be able to hear among the collective indifference whenever they make a big play. Lamar Jackson held up well at Arrowhead in nearly producing an upset in his only road start so far, a 27-24 loss on Dec. 9. Baltimore is going to look to keep things simple for him and control possession, so the formula that has yielded victories in four of games remains in place. Joe Flacco, now healthy, has been relegated to a backup role behind the rookie. Since the organization rewarded John Harbaugh with a one-year extension with an eye towards a long-term agreement, it’s clear everyone is on the same page with this transition.
Jackson has ran for at least 67 yards in five straight games and is now the Ravens’ leading rusher, but lost a fumble last week against the Bucs in a 20-12 sweat of a victory. The Chargers strength on the defensive end lies up front and may be mitigated some by Jackson’s speed and a short passing game that may limit Joey Bosa’s impact as a pass-rusher.
Weekly “Total Talk” writer Chris David of VegasInsider.com offered up his thoughts on how this contrast in styles may play out.
“The oddsmakers are expecting the nightcap between the Ravens and Chargers to be a grinder and it’s hard to disagree when you look at Baltimore’s defense, which leads the league in scoring defense (18.1 PPG) and total defense with 290.1 yards per game,” said David. “Los Angeles isn’t far behind, ranked ninth in scoring (21.3 PPG) and eighth in total yards (329.1) and does boast the fourth-best scoring offense (28.2 PPG) in the league but Baltimore’s blueprint for success under the rookie QB has been grinding the clock and keeping great attacks off the field. It did it successfully against Kansas City in Week 13. Outside of the Chiefs, the Ravens haven’t faced a formidable opponent and this is definitely a step-up in class.
“For those of you following my weekly installments, I’m sure you’ve read about the ‘Coast to Coast’ angle that I’ve tracked. The ‘over’ is 12-6-1 in these games and it focuses on matchups where a team from the Eastern Time Zone plays in the Pacific Time Zone and vice versa. This will be the first trip for the Ravens to the West Coast and while I’m not a big fan of their ground-and-pound style, the Bolts are weak up the middle and they could exploit the L.A. defense.”
The Chargers have allowed 21 or more points in four of five and have forced just two turnovers, so this game may produce points if the Ravens can finish drives with touchdowns instead of field-goal attempts. Temperatures will be in the high 50s with winds not a factor, so the weather we’ll be an asset to the ‘over.’
“I believe Baltimore will have an opportunity to get four to five scores in this game, especially with the best kicker in the game,” said David in offering up his top pick. “If they can convert a couple into touchdowns, their Team Total (19 ½) has a great shot to connect on Saturday.”
Game of the Day -- Washington at Tennessee (-10, 37.5), NFLN, 4:30 ET
The Titans and Redskins are each in the mix of playoff hopefuls in their respective conferences, but this line doesn’t hide the fact only one is considered a threat to do so.
Washington is working with its fourth starting quarterback of the season and finds itself at .500 thanks to the work of a defense that continues to chop wood. The Titans had some shaky moments in attempting to work around a banged-up Marcus Mariota all season but have had him at the controls in every game since Week 2. He’s dealing with a foot issue entering this one but was upgraded from questionable earlier this week and should at least be able to orchestrate an offense that running back Derrick Henry has strapped to his back behind the work of the offensive line over the past few weeks.
Mariota threw for just 88 yards in last Sunday’s 17-0 win over the Giants, the fourth time this season that he’s passed for fewer than 103 yards in a game. Tennessee has actually won two of those games, so like Washington, it is quite comfortable letting the defense decide things.
That Henry has run for over 400 yards and six touchdowns in the team’s last two wins has just been a bonus. The defense has surrendered only nine point to the Jaguars and Giants but does come in needing to replace bodies. Corner Logan Ryan was lost for the season to a broken fibula, while linebackers Brian Orakpo (elbow) and Sharif Finch (shoulder) have been ruled out.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro (concussion) defensive tackle Jurrell Casey (knee) and linebacker Wesley Woodyard (back) are all good to go, complicating matters for Josh Johnson, who wrestled away the ‘Skins QB gig from a turnover-prone Mark Sanchez two weeks ago and becomes an unlikely player in meaningful December football considering he wasn’t on NFL roster all season and joined Washington earlier this month. He’s 27-for-41 with two touchdown passes, one pick and 96 rushing yards over two games and comes off a road win in Jacksonville.
He’s looked serviceable and Washington is as healthy as it has been in weeks at the skill positions, so there’s a chance he can keep the ‘Skins in this if his defense complies.
“While you could be tempted to go ‘over’ in the Tennessee-Washington matchup because of a such low number, leaning low or staying away from the game altogether is probably the right decision,” said VI totals expert Chris David. “According to the VI consensus odds, we’ve seen 12 totals close in the thirties this season and the ‘over’ has gone 7-5 in those games. In Week 15, the ‘under’ went 2-0 in those situations and that included Washington’s 16-13 win over Jacksonville.
“Tennessee (19.1 PPG) and Washington (18.9 PPG) enter this game ranked 27th and 28th respectively in scoring offense. The Titans are clearly the better defensive team (18.1 PPG) and they’ve done a great job being a bully this season, holding teams below .500 to 10 PPG and that includes last week’s 17-0 shutout win over the Giants.”
Mariota’s foot issues give Washington’s defense hope that it can put together a second straight sturdy effort. The unit forced a pair of turnovers last week but has ruled out LB Ryan Anderson (hamstring) and won’t have safety Montae Nicholson (legal). Corners Danny Johnson (finger) and Joshua Holsey (knee) are also out.
Up front, guard Ty Nsheke (knee) has been ruled out, while likely replacement Tony Bergstrom is listed as questionable. Johnson will again be without tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis but has been making due without them. Washington closes at home with the Eagles next week and the Titans visit the Colts, so get used to watching these teams in meaningful games. The teams will open Week 16 and do-or-die football among cool conditions given temperatures in the mid-40s expected in Nashville. A lack of wind will aid the passing game – if there is a desire to execute through the air on either side.
“Make a note that non-conference games saw the ‘under’ go 5-1 last week,” said David. “While I would lean that way, I believe the better angle is to fade Washington’s offense and play their Team Total ‘under’ (13 ½).”
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]