For years, it seemed like the San Diego Chargers were on the cusp of a Super Bowl appearance.
That seems like a distant memory at this point, but someone might want to alert the hype machine in all the major media outlets, because Philip Rivers and Co. are on the verge of a 3-0 start.
The look-ahead line for this game had the Chargers -2.5. Back in the offseason, they were favored by 3.5. It reopened earlier this week at -3, but there is a bit of extra juice attached to it (odds from SBRforum).
Usually, this means we might see a move off a key number if the money keeps coming. Go ahead and take the Chargers now, but I would take a pass on it at anything over a field goal.
When you consider that road teams are getting penalized 23 percent more than home teams through two weeks, we are getting extra value on the line here that wasn't previously accounted for.
Flying Under the Radar
The Falcons might be getting all the headlines with their impressive 2-0 start, but the Chargers are also undefeated without anyone taking much notice.
A lot of people brushed off the Chargers' Week 1 win over the Raiders because of the long-snapper issues on special teams, but I didn't feel that way at all.
I thought their defense smothered the Oakland offense, and if it wasn't for some off-throws from Rivers in the red zone, it would have been a blowout.
Don't look now, but the Chargers are rising up the power rankings and could solidify themselves on the relevancy meter with another win this week.
I have to say that I'm a bit surprised at how meaningless some key injuries/suspensions have been in the opening weeks thus far.
Last week, KC got back Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers, while Buffalo lost Fred Jackson and David Nelson, but it meant nothing on the field.
The Falcons lost Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens, but still picked off Peyton three times in the first quarter.
This game features more headlines in this category. Ryan Matthews is expected to play, and San Diego will welcome his ability to make people miss and burst in the open field. The only problem is he'll probably be back on the trainer's bench by halftime.
The other big question is whether or not oft-injured Antonio Gates can stay healthy. The good news is Dante Rosario finally capitalized on his athletic ability and gave Rivers an option in the red zone.
On the flip side, we have the DUI from Michael Turner. It's not like he was producing much when he wasn't drinking, but Matt Ryan has been deadly on play-action this year as defenses continue to respect the run. A suspension could be coming at some point in time, but he has the green light to go in this contest.
Devil Is in the Details
One of the less-publicized issues facing both of these teams heading into 2012 was their putrid third-down defenses. Both teams made a concerted effort to upgrade the personnel, and both replaced their defensive coordinators.
After two weeks? I'm less impressed with the Falcons D.
Sure, Mike Nolan has done a good job scheming his guys and providing confusing looks for opposing quarterbacks, but they still rank near the bottom of the league on third down. This is something that will continue to be monitored until they prove that they have actually improved in the make-or-break moments.
As mentioned, Grimes is out, and Chris Owens suffered a concussion vs. the Broncos. Look for Rivers to be a much different test for this secondary, as they rely much more on the vertical-passing game than the Broncos. They also scored five touchdowns in six red-zone trips, making Week 1's struggles seem like a distant memory.
Conversely, the Chargers are near the top on third-down defense. I'm not about to make any declarative statements about either defense after two weeks, especially after you consider who their opponents were. Having said that, if you strip away all the stats and simply use the eye-ball test, it's easy to see which defense has their mojo going.
Test of the Season
I'll be the first to admit that I've bashed Matt Ryan over the last 12 months. He didn't win a single big game last year and didn't look too comfortable running a vertical offense. He looked just as frazzled when he faced pressure.
This game will be his toughest test so far. KC was defensively inept and depleted by injuries, and Denver didn't spend much time in the backfield, either.
San Diego will change that. The Chargers didn't get a sack on Jake Locker, but if you watched the game, they were harassing him all game long.
The Chargers are using a nice blend of youth and vets in a heavy rotation of personnel. Atlanta might counter with some hurry-up no-huddle to limit that, but it won't be an easy chess match to win.
Guys like Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram, along with new coordinator John Pagano, have rejuvenated this unit, and it's paying off so far.
By no means do I think this will be a cakewalk, because the Falcons have proved to be a solid team through two weeks, but they walk into a hornet's nest coming off a short week.
I'm rolling with the San Diego "Super" Chargers before the legion of the talking heads crown them as the next big thing.
NFL Pick: SD -3
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