Denver Broncos (7-8, 7-8 ATS) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7, 7-8), 4:05 p.m.
Brolley’s Broncos Stats and Trends
The Broncos beat the Chargers 28-13 as 2.5-point home favorites in a game totaled at 47 points in late November.
The Broncos have played under the total in four straight road games.
The Broncos managed to squeeze off just 40 plays for a miserable 158 yards (4.0 YPP) with Drew Lock taking over the offense in a loss to the Raiders in Week 16. He posted just 7.1 FP in his first start this season, completing 15/22 passes for 153 scoreless yards (7.0 YPA) in a loss to the Raiders. Bridgewater posted 129/1 passing and 10/1 rushing against the Chargers earlier this season.
The Broncos passing game has been irrelevant for weeks and it didn’t change with Lock in the lineup. Jerry Jeudy paced the group with 3/60 receiving against the Raiders, and Courtland Sutton had more than two catches for the first time since Week 7. No Broncos wide receiver reached five FP when these teams met back in late November.
Noah Fant has 3+ catches in six straight games but he’s turned in just two games with double-digit FP. He also hasn’t scored since Week 6. He finished with 3/30 receiving on four targets in his first game with Lock last week. Fant managed just 3/12 receiving on four targets the last time the Broncos played the Chargers in late November.
Denver’s rushing attack bottomed out last week with the rest of the offense in Lock’s first game. Javonte Williams luckily scored a touchdown because he finished with 9/20 scrimmage on a 52% snap share. Melvin Gordon somehow managed to post no yards on eight touches against the Raiders on a 55% snap share. Javonte posted 14/54/1 rushing and 3/57 receiving and Gordon added 17/83 rushing and a five-yard catch when they first met the Chargers in late November. Los Angeles just allowed Rex Burkhead to go for 22/149/2 rushing for 28.9 FP last week.
Brolley’s Chargers Stats and Trends
The Chargers have no one to blame but themselves if they miss the playoffs after losing 41-29 to the lowly Texans as 13.5-point road favorites. The Chargers are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games, including 1-4 ATS in their last five games as a favorite.
Los Angeles has played over the total in four straight games.
Justin Herbert fell below 20+ FP and 2+ passing TDs last week for the first time in five games, but he still threw for 336 yards while averaging 9.6 YPA against the Texans. Herbert completed 28/44 passes for 303 yards, two TDs, and two INTs and he added 4/36 rushing when he played Denver in late November.
Keenan Allen flopped with just 4/35 receiving against the Texans last week, even with Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler out of the lineup. It snapped his run with 5+ catches in 11 straight games and a seven-game run for 15+ FP. Allen posted 7/85 receiving on 10 targets when he met the Broncos earlier this season.
Mike Williams will return to the lineup after a one-week absence on the COVID list. He mustered 3/49 receiving on nine targets the last time out in Week 15, which was the sixth time he’s finished with fewer than eight FP in his last nine games. One of those performances came against the Broncos in Week 12 when Williams managed just 4/39 receiving on eight targets.
Jared Cook cracked 35+ yards for just the fourth time last week with 3/44 receiving on five targets against the Texans. Cook found paydirt when these teams met in late November on his way to 2/25/1 receiving on five targets.
Austin Ekeler will return to the lineup after a one-week absence with COVID. Justin Jackson crushed in his absence with 11/64/2 rushing and 8/98 receiving against the Texans. Ekeler had 16+ FP in five straight games with eight total TDs in that span before he missed last week. Ekeler finished with 6/68/1 receiving and 12/31 rushing in this matchup in late November.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 27.7 (24th)
Plays per game: 62.1 (20th)
Pass: 53.0% (29th) | Run: 47.0% (4th)
Pace: 25.8 (14th)
Plays per game: 64.9 (9th)
Pass: 61.6% (13th) | Run: 38.4% (20th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
After losing a winnable game last week, the Broncos are forced to go back to Drew Lock for another spot start. Denver was horrendous offensively last week, although I don’t think Lock was a big part of the problem. The Broncos were predictably balanced on early-downs (52% pass | 48% run), but the issue was their early-down runs gained… 0.6 YPC. Yikes. Still, in an effort to protect Lock and keep the game close, I think we’ll see OC Pat Shurmur go right back to the run here. The Chargers are allowing the third-most yards per game on the ground (119.2) as their opponents are running on them at the sixth-highest rate above expectation (+3.5%).
Meanwhile, the Chargers were embarrassed last week by the Texans and really hurt their AFC Wild Card chances in the process. The final two spots are coming down to them, the Dolphins, Ravens, and Raiders and if L.A. loses to Denver, they could end up with extremely thin chances at the postseason. With their season on the line, we’ll no doubt see HC Brandon Staley put the ball in Justin Herbert’s hands – but this is by no means an easy spot considering the Broncos are giving up the fourth-lowest completion rate and sixth-fewest fantasy points per pass.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
This is the matchup that I have spent the most time evaluating. The Broncos beat the Chargers 28-13 in Week 12. On the LAC side, sans the supporting characters only needing a heartbeat to cover their floor, all of the big players for the Chargers were held under value. On the other side, The only significant performance was submitted by Javonte Williams. He managed 20.1 FPs with quality production on the ground and through the air. However, Javonte has a lingering knee injury that has sapped his efficiency since breaking out for his big three-game stretch from Week 12 through Week 14. In the two games since, he’s been held to 11.1 FPG. Completely flipping the table upside down for Denver’s offense, it’s only a matter of time until Teddy Bridgewater is ruled out. Drew Lock looked like a CFL-quality QB last week. It’s a downgrade across the board for the offense.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
The NFL’s ever evolving (devolving?) COVID rules will give Charger WR Mike Williams a chance to play this week — given he is unvaccinated, the previous rules would have kept him out 10 days. That disappoints our Jake Tribbey, who was looking for a reason to play promising rookie WR Josh Palmer. From DFS Early Look:
“And so far this year, we’ve seen Josh Palmer play well in his two games as a full-time starter, averaging 6.5 targets per game, 54.0 YPG, and 16.5 FPG. Over the full season, 16.5 FPG would rank 8th among slate-eligible WRs, and yet Palmer is priced as a low-end WR6 on DraftKings, and a WR5 on FanDuel. Even if we remove the pair of TDs Palmer has scored in his 2 games in a full-time role, he would still average 10.5 FPG, which would rank 33rd among slate-eligible WRs. Any way we cut it, Palmer in a full-time role is ridiculously underpriced on both sites for Week 17.
The matchup isn’t great, as Denver has allowed the 11th-fewest schedule-adjusted FPG to opposing WRs this season (-1.2). But similar to Antonio Brown, it’s hard to care much about matchups when Palmer is so glaringly underpriced.”
The Chargers will also get RB Austin Ekeler back from the COVID list this week, one week after his backup Justin Jackson propelled many fantasy players into the championship round with a massive game against the Texans. Ekeler is very open about fantasy football and his status, so his comments this week will be important to follow. Nonetheless, if he’s active in Week 17, you will have no choice but to start him.
In WR Keenan Allen’s favor, the Broncos had to put slot master CB Bryce Callahan on the COVID list this week. And for QB Justin Herbert, the COVID list is decimating the Broncos’ pass rush.
Per multiple sources: Bronco stars WR Jerry Jeudy, OLB Bradley Chubb going on COVID list today. Out vs Chargers. Massive loss on both sides of the ball. Broncos down Patrick, Jeudy at WR; Chubb, Weatherly, Cooper at OLB. Go get em, Vic. #9sports— Mike Klis (@mikeklis) December 31, 2021
The Broncos are coming off a miserable offensive performance against the Raiders, but will continue starting QB Drew Lock this week as Teddy Bridgewater is still returning from an extremely bad concussion. Given the Broncos’ tone when discussing Teddy’s second concussion of the year, it wouldn’t be surprising if they shut him down for the season.
#Broncos QB Drew Lock is expected to be the team’s starter once again this week vs. the #Chargers, source said, as incumbent Teddy Bridgewater continues to recover from a concussion. The team will continue to be smart with it.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 29, 2021
But let’s be honest — the Broncos’ approach is going to be on the ground this week. While their run game was awful against the Raiders last week, with Javonte Williams (dealing with a bum knee) gaining 12 yards and Melvin Gordon losing 4 yards, this is a Charger defense that has struggled on the ground all year and just got shredded by Rex Burkhead last week. In Week 12 against the Chargers, Williams and Gordon combined for 199 yards from scrimmage and a TD. Both are RB2s, but I prefer Williams, as he’s been the better player in recent weeks.
The Broncos placed WR Tim Patrick and Jerry Jeudy on the COVID list this week, but it’s hard to have much confidence in any of their pass catchers. Courtland Sutton’s 7.3 FP against the Raiders last week was his most since Week 9, but Lock needs him this week if you’re desperate.