The Los Angeles Chargers are looking to step back into the NFL playoff picture, as they travel to Las Vegas to take on the Raiders in an AFC West showdown.
The 4-7 Raiders have been one of the league's more disappointing teams, but have put together back-to-back wins following an overtime thriller in Seattle.
This game is particularly interesting from a betting perspective, because the line opened with the 6-5 Chargers as 3-point favorites on the road. However, that line has swung four points and now sits with the Raiders at -1. The over/under total is 50.5 points. Let's see if we can find a gambling edge as we preview this matchup.
Why Did this Line move so Significantly?
RELATED: At this Point, the Only Explanation is that the Las Vegas Raiders are Losing on Purpose
Normally when a point spread swings by more than a field goal there is almost always a significant development with injuries or with the weather. Because this game is being played in Las Vegas and indoors, we can eliminate any weather related impact to the gambling lines. A quick look at the injury report tells us the Raiders enter this game mostly healthy. While key defensive players Khalil Mack and Derwin James did miss a practice this week for the Chargers, both are expected to play. Los Angeles wide receiver Mike Williams has an injured ankle and is in danger of missing his fourth game in five weeks. Williams is a good player, but certainly not one impactful enough to swing a line four points, so there has to be something else at play besides weather or injuries to cause such a substantial line movement.
Let's look at some early betting trends and see if that offers some insight into this big shift. As of Friday morning, roughly 53 percent of the bets placed were on the Chargers to cover the spread, yet a whopping 85 percent of the money wagered was on the Raiders to cover. This tells us that the sharp money, particularly early in the week, was placed on Las Vegas. Professional gamblers must have felt the sportsbooks made a mistake when they made the Chargers an early 3-point favorite, and bet heavily on Vegas. To counter this, and try to attract money onto both sides of the spread (remember, the dream for a sportsbook is to get 50 percent of the money on each side of the line, so the casino can make a profit regardless of the outcome) sportsbooks swung the line to attract bets onto the Chargers. Remember, professional gamblers love to take advantage of a divisional home dog, so they may have placed early money on Las Vegas for precisely that reason.
Normally in this spot, it's a good idea to consider betting against the swinging line (on the Chargers) because you can capitalize on what is likely an overcorrection by the sportsbooks to attract bettors, and this results in a slightly better price. With that being said, let's get into the specifics of this divisional game and see if we think we can take advantage of this line movement.
What are the Biggest Matchup Factors in this Game?
At first glance, all signs are pointing to a shootout on Sunday. That is why this game has one of the highest totals on the board, but I am still cautious about any total set at 50 or above in 2022. In the first meeting between these two teams, the Chargers won 24-19 in a game where both teams struggled to run the ball and only 6 points were scored in the fourth quarter.
The Raiders defense has been a massive disappointment this year. They rank 26th in points allowed and 27th in yards allowed. Las Vegas has also generated the fewest sacks in the league despite having vaunted pass rushers Chandler Jones and Maxx Crosby on the roster. Even in their last win, the Raiders gave up 34 points and over 300 yards passing.
The Chargers defense hasn't been much better. In fact, they allow half-a-point more per game than the Raiders and have performed under expectations following injuries to Joey Bosa and J.C. Jackson. At least the Raiders have found some success stopping the run, while the Chargers are one of only four teams allowing more than 150 yards per game on the ground. This is particularly bad news for Los Angeles when Josh Jacobs, the league's leading rusher, will be lining up opposite them this Sunday.
On offense, each team is averaging about 23 points per game. Justin Herbert threw for 279 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first meeting between these teams and has already surpassed 3,000 yards passing this season. The Raiders defense is giving up more than 250 yards a game through the air, so whether Mike Williams plays or not, it is likely that the Chargers will be dropping back to pass plenty this weekend.
When you average the total these teams have scored over the last three games it equals exactly 50 points, and when you add up the average total of points allowed in those three games, it averages 50.3 points. Those numbers are remarkably close to the game's over/under and doesn't allow bettors to follow a recency trend to find a sharp line on this total. Be careful, just because both offenses are good and both defense are poor doesn't mean the total will hit the over, these lines are set with just that in mind.
What are These Teams Playing For?
Sometimes motivation is a really important angle that can be harder for a bookmaker to account for. The New York Times estimates the Chargers likelihood of making the playoffs would rise to 67 percent with a win against the Raiders, but would fall to just 35 percent with a loss. The Chargers have already shown a willingness to go for broke, after a gutsy two-point conversion call with 15 seconds left to beat the Cardinals last week, and it is clear they will do anything to win each game.
The Raiders on the other hand have very slim chances of making the playoffs. Even with a win this Sunday, Las Vegas is estimated to only have about a 7 percent chance to make the postseason. However, this hasn't stopped Vegas from winning their last two games, including one in overtime, but it can change the way a coach calls a game if they are behind in the game and the playoff hunt.
It also means that Brandon Staley and the Chargers can't afford to rest or limit the exposure of key offensive weapons like Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen.
So Where Should We Put Our Money?
I'll be placing two wagers on this game. The larger wager is on under 50.5 points, which will be going against the current betting trends. The Raiders have committed to running the ball in the second half of the season, including in their back-to-back wins. They have run the ball at least 24 times in their last three games, as compared to their first meeting against the Chargers when they ran it just 13 times. Facing a putrid Chargers run defense, Josh McDaniels and his staff will be committed to the ground game, which likely limits the total plays in the game. I also think that in the case that either team gets substantially ahead, they will slow the pace of the game down even more, which is great if you bet the under.
The second bet I am going to place is on the Chargers to cover +1. As a late bet on a line that has swung 4 points despite no major injuries, I think we are getting good value against the spread here. I also strongly believe in the idea that the Chargers have more to play for, while the Raiders could easily pack it in and stick to the ground game if LA jumps out to a two score lead.
I believe the Chargers get a key win on the road Sunday, because their defense has the benefit of playing from ahead, and come away with a 28-15 win.
MORE: Does Derek Carr Wear Eyeliner? Breaking Down the Wacky Internet Rumor
Enjoy all things sports?
Don't miss a story! Sign up for daily stories delivered to your inbox.