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Monday Night Football Preview: Chargers vs. Broncos Betting Advice

By Peter Brooks in Sports
| September 8, 2017 12:00 am PDT
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The first week of the NFL regular season is finally here. After months of waiting, we’re finally back to football.

And with the return of regular season football comes the return to Monday Night Football. A tradition since 1970, Monday Night Football has become a cherished part of the American football-watching experience, and this year, it starts off with a bang.

For the first Monday Night of the NFL season, we’ve got a double-header!!

  • Who: Los Angeles Chargers (0–0) vs. Denver Broncos (0–0)
  • Where: Sports Authority Field. Denver, Colorado
  • When: Monday, September 11, 2017. 10:20 PM (EST) on ESPN

Doubleheaders are rare. While fun for most of the country, the East Coast TV audience could have some serious trouble staying awake so late, with kickoff at 10:20 PM. But even more than the start time, what strikes us most about these two games is that they seem to be oddly similar – to an alarming degree.

By our estimation, these two Monday Night Football games have the same storyline.

On one side of the ball, we see two home teams that found themselves starting last season scrambling to find a quarterback. The Vikings needed a replacement for Teddy Bridgewater after he suffered a horrific knee injury; the Broncos needed a replacement for the retiring Peyton Manning.

These two home teams also sport defenses that have been among the top in the league for the last several seasons. Last year, to compensate for having a weak offense, the home teams found themselves needing to rely on their defense to win close, low-scoring games. Ultimately, they found themselves missing out on the playoffs despite demonstrating promise in the opening part of the season.

Pretty eerie, right? But the similarities between these two MNF matchups doesn’t stop there.

Now let’s take a look at the two visiting teams. Both the Saints and the Chargers sport quarterbacks who – though on the wrong side of 35 – have been considered among the elite QBs in the league for over a decade. (In this case, the two even spent time together on the same team, when Drew Brees was the starting quarterback for the Chargers.)

Having defenses that struggled mightily to generate stops, both of these teams ended up relying on the credo “the best defense is a good offense,” and tried to compensate for weak defense with dynamic, high-octane downfield passing attacks.

Unfortunately, in both cases, the disparity between offensive and defensive production was too dramatic to overcome, and the team ended up missing out on playing in the postseason despite having top-10 scoring production.

And we’re not the only ones who have noticed the similarities between these two games. Just take a look at the odds:

  • Both visiting teams are getting moneyline odds hovering around +150
  • The spread for both games is around 3.5 points
  • The visiting teams are getting more action than the home teams against the spread, driving the home spread odds down to around -120

This last point – that the visiting teams are getting more action – demonstrates that the gambling public is placing more confidence in the dynamic visiting offenses than on the stout home defenses.

To foreshadow, we feel the same way. We like the Saints and the Chargers to pull upsets on Monday.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should make sure to say that both of these games have the potential to be very exciting, and heartily enjoyable. Of course in Week 1 it’s far too early to start talking about the postseason, but the simple fact is that the tape we see on these four teams in this Monday Night Football doubleheader could give us a taste of what’s to come.

All four teams on this Monday Night Football doubleheader could make the playoffs.

Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to put the Saints and the Vikings into this conversation. And let’s not forget that the AFC West is the toughest division in football. But then again, every season we see an average of four teams make the playoffs that weren’t in the playoffs the year before.

As none of these four teams made the playoffs in 2016/17, it’s intriguing to think about how 2017/18 could unfold for these four fringe contenders.

Without a doubt, Monday Night Football is starting things off right this season. And even more exciting – we get to wager on it. Here we’ll determine what the best bets are for the following wagers:

  • Moneyline bets
  • Bets against the spread
  • Total score over/under bets
  • Prop bets and divisional futures

Even though these two games share a lot of similarities at the outset, the beautiful thing about the NFL is that anything can happen, every game. This just another reason why we’re so glad football is back!

Chargers vs. Broncos Betting

MoneyLine

  • Chargers +145
  • Broncos -165

When picking games straight-up for moneyline bets, our philosophy is to try and determine which of the two teams will be able to continue playing with heart for the entire 60-minute contest.

In our experience, the team that is able to maintain its focus and discipline all the way until the final whistle blows generally ends up on top. If a team loses momentum and stops believing in itself, assignments get blown, big plays are lost, turnovers ensue, and the team generally ends up losing.

One of the most important factors determining a game’s momentum is leadership.

On the football field, leadership is generally found with the coaches and veteran players. Leadership means the difference between adversity overwhelming a team and causing them to allow distractions in, and adversity sharpening a team and helping them rely more on their instincts.

In this matchup, both teams will debut brand new rookie head coaches.

On the side of the Chargers, Anthony Lynn (formerly the offensive coordinator and interim head coach for the Buffalo Bills after the firing of Rex Ryan last season) will be returning to Denver to face the team that offered him his first job as a player and his first job as a coach.

On the side of the Broncos, Vance Joseph (most recently the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals) will kick off his head coaching career with a home game against a division rival.

Joseph will be bringing with him newly-minted offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, who is back in Denver for his second stint as offensive coordinator after a four-year hiatus, during which he was the head coach for none other than – you guessed it – the San Diego (now Los Angeles) Chargers.

So between two new, first-year head coaches, it’s unlikely that either team will find an abundance of leadership from Anthony Lynn or Vance Joseph.

It’s more likely that these two men will be doing their best to manage all of their new responsibilities and trying not to drop any of the balls they are juggling. For this reason, if either of these two teams find themselves in need of a leader during the game, it will more likely have to come from the quarterback position.

Under duress – whether a team is trailing, or on national television, or in the playoffs, or any other high-stakes situation – young players, in particular, will look to their quarterback for a calming presence.

Broncos players will be looking to none other than third-year player Trevor Siemian, who has started a whopping 14 games in the National Football League. After being drafted in the 7th round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Siemian served as the third-string backup to Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler during the Broncos’ most recent Super Bowl season and won the starting job over rookie Paxton Lynch last year.

Meaning no slight to Siemian, we don’t think he’s quite a leader of men just yet.

There is certainly an argument to be made that Trevor Siemian was very serviceable last season and that he performed much better than can be expected for a first-year starter. While his downfield accuracy needs to improve on balls flying 20+ yards, he convinced many experts across the league that he could be a serviceable starter in the NFL with his poise, his cool, and his smart decision-making.

However, there’s another argument to be made about Trevor Siemian.

The Broncos have a new head coach in 2017/18 not by choice – they didn’t fire anyone. Instead, former head coach Gary Kubiak retired, for health reasons, after suffering a mini-stroke. Kubiak is a good man, and will be missed. For our purposes, it’s important to note that he was particularly skilled at working with quarterbacks. For proof, just look at how the Texans’ quarterback situation fell apart without him.

As a first-year starter, it stands to reason that Trevor Siemian needed a whole lot of coaching last season in order to look as competent as he did. With Kubiak gone – and new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy installing a new offensive scheme – it’s entirely possible that Siemian could take a huge step backwards.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, Philip Rivers will be making his 177th consecutive start.

And despite the fact that the Chargers are also sporting a new head coach, they will be returning offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt for his second consecutive season of offensive play-calling.

And let’s not forget that this is the same Ken Whisenhunt who, in his first stint with the Chargers, was almost single-handedly responsible for turning around their offense from the 31st in the league to the 5th. With a 6-time Pro Bowler under center receiving plays in a consistent scheme, the leadership presence that the young and jittery Chargers players get should be enough to carry the day.

And if leadership doesn’t take them the whole way, production sure will. Just take a glance at the arsenal of weapons that Phil Rivers will have in his quiver in this game:

  • Kenan Allen, back healthy after missing all of last season with a knee injury
  • Tyrell Williams, who came on strong last season
  • Travis Benjamin, a great slot option
  • Dontrelle Inman, who had 800+ yards in his junior season last year
  • Mike Williams, the #7 overall pick, in the pool for Rookie of the Year
  • Antonio Gates, the ageless veteran tight end
  • Hunter Henry, Gates’ young, freakishly gifted understudy
  • And finally, Melvin Gordon, fully able to catch balls out of the backfield

In summary, we believe that the Chargers have the offensive firepower to put the momentum on their side early on, and we are supremely confident in the ability of the veteran Philip Rivers to provide the leadership necessary to keep them from losing it.

The Chargers had some terrible luck in 2016/17, but in this game, they’ll control their own destiny.

Pick: Chargers to win

Spread

  • Chargers +3.5 (-115)
  • Broncos -3.5 (-105)

At this point, our pick against the spread should be obvious: Given the fact that the Chargers are 3-and-a-half-point underdogs against the spread, the fact that we picked them to win straight-up means that we also believe they will win against the spread.

But in the section above, in which we determined that the Chargers are going to win because of their production and leadership on the offensive side of the ball, we neglected to consider whether or not the Broncos will be able to challenge the Chargers with offense of their own.

Even though Trevor Siemian is limited, the Broncos still sport one of the best wide receiver duos in the league in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Last season, the two men were both selected to the Pro Bowl, and combined for 169 receptions, 2,115 yards (with both getting above 1,000 yards individually), and 10 touchdowns.

However, passing production also wasn’t the issue for the Broncos offense last year.

If the Broncos are going to score points, they need to get the ground game going.

By the end of last season, when things really started to deteriorate in Denver, the biggest problem that the team faced was the lack of quality blockers in the run game. Not only was the offensive line not pulling its weight, but the team also didn’t have enough personnel in the backfield – both to carry the ball and to charge through holes opened up by the offensive line and take on a block in the second level.

This offseason, the Broncos went to work immediately trying to shore up their run game.

Denver brought in three veteran offensive linemen: left guard Allen Barbre, a 33-year old veteran formerly drafted by the Packers and playing for 4 different teams; right guard Ronald Leary, playing out the duration of his rookie contract on the vaunted Dallas Cowboys line; and right tackle Menelik Watson, also fresh out of his rookie deal from the also-highly-ranked Oakland Raiders squad.

These three established veterans will be joining returning Broncos center Matt Paradis, and the four will be joined by Denver’s first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft: Garrett Bolles, out of Utah, selected #20 overall and now pressed into the starting role from Day 1 to protect the blind side of Trevor Siemian.

In this way, it’s clear that the offensive line was one of the top priorities for Denver general manager John Elway this offseason.

But Denver didn’t just overhaul their O-line; they also filled up their backfield.

After having only one single game in 2016/17 in which an individual back rushed for over 100 yards, the Broncos were determined to improve their backfield. As of the time of this writing, the Broncos now have 5 running backs on their active 53-man roster, and recently signed another to a lucrative deal on their practice squad for additional depth and security.

The Broncos did get some bad news recently, with last year’s featured back Devontae Booker suffering a fractured wrist and due to miss time. But with C. J. Anderson primed to get starters reps, new veteran free agent Jamaal Charles installed as a change of pace back, and rookie 6th-round draft pick De’Angelo Henderson also in the mix, the Broncos have more than enough tools to work with in the run game.

It’s important to note that the Broncos will have a stiffer test this season in the Chargers’ defense.

After ending the season with a dramatic disparity between scoring offense (9th-best in the league) and scoring defense (4th-worst in the league), the Chargers invested some serious capital on the defensive side of the ball over the last offseason.

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, the Chargers acquired recently fired Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley to serve as defensive coordinator.

While it’s true that the popular opinion on Bradley has been severely tainted by his recent stretch of horrible seasons in Jacksonville, it must be remembered that this is the same Gus Bradley who built one of the greatest defenses the league has ever seen while he was in Seattle. While he may not have what it takes to be a head coach, his track record as a defensive coordinator is still very much intact.

Not to mention that the Broncos’ offensive line will certainly have its hands full with superstars like Melvin Ingram, Joey Bosa, and Corey Liuget. First-round Denver draft pick Garrett Boles will really get a true taste of what regular season NFL action is like going against these bad boys, and he may be in for a rude awakening.

In summary, we believe that the Broncos main chance to score points in this game is with their running game. And while they have completely overhauled the entire operation this offseason, it is likely to take some time to congeal and start really paying off.

At the same time, the Chargers have also been putting in work on their defense, and the results could well be on display in this game against the weaker Denver offense. We don’t believe that a unit led by Trevor Siemian under a new head coach and a new offensive coordinator will be enough to challenge the offensive production of the Chargers, and we feel confident in our pick for the Chargers to win.

Pick: Chargers to win, covering the spread

Total Score

  • Over 43 (-110)
  • Under 43 (-110)

Now that we’ve established our prediction of an upset victory for the Los Angeles Chargers, let’s now turn our attention to the total score over/under bet, to determine whether the game will end up above or below 43 total points.

Our philosophy in picking over/unders involves determining whether or not either defense is weak or vulnerable enough to let the game get out of hand and push the total score over. If either team matches up poorly enough to get gashed for big plays and lose discipline, the total generally goes over.

Above, we made it quite clear that we don’t believe the Denver offense will have things together by the season opener. If the Broncos do develop an offensive rhythm with their new head coach, new offensive coordinator, new offensive line, and new addition of Jamaal Charles, it will take a few weeks for their offense to get off the ground (both literally and figuratively).

At the same time, as we described above, we do believe that the Chargers’ defense has improved enough throughout the offseason to hold their division rival in check. Especially since star cornerback Jason Verrett is back healthy after missing almost all of last season with a torn ACL, and is now ready to join Casey Hayward, who took the NFL by storm last season and led the league with 7 interceptions.

If this game goes over the total, it certainly won’t be because of Denver’s offense.

In this case, the only thing left that could run up the total score would be if the dynamic Chargers offense that we listed above went off, and ended up putting lots of points on the board.

But this wouldn’t be fair to Denver’s championship caliber defense, which should be as good as ever next season.

Ranked fourth in scoring in 2016/17, the Broncos’ defense was especially good at passing defense, ending up ranked #1 in total passing yards, passing touchdowns, and net yards per passing attempt. Except for the departures of Demarcus Ware and T.J. Ward, Denver’s defense remains pretty much intact, with Von Miller returning for his 7th season to captain the unit.

Even still, the Broncos were vulnerable in rushing defense last season.

While of course the statistics could be completely skewed due to the fact that no one wanted to pass against the Broncos last year (Denver ended up ranked 14th in opposing passing attempts and 30th in opposing rushing attempts), the fact of the matter is that the Broncos allowed 5th-most rushing yards in the entire league last year.

If the Chargers are able to utilize Melvin Gordon (who went to his first Pro Bowl last season) and employ a balanced attack against Denver, they might be able to control the time of possession.

The Chargers’ win over the Broncos last season featured Melvin Gordon heavily.

Playing in 13 games in 2016/17, Melvin Gordon rushed for 10 touchdowns and just shy of 1,000 yards. In particular, over 20% of those yards came against the Broncos defense, including a 49-yard touchdown run against Denver in their home-field win in October.

All told, when balancing out the production of these two offenses with the strengths and weaknesses of the two defenses, we believe that the Chargers’ ability to run the football will be the key to the time of possession split. Put together, the game should end up going under the posted total of 43 points.

Pick: Broncos 12, Chargers 20

Prop Bets

At this point, we’ve put together a prediction for the entire course of the game: The Denver offense will struggle to move the ball in the air because of a new offensive line, a new scheme, and a young quarterback with a low ceiling. The Chargers’ offense will hold sway with their passing game, and be able to control the time of possession running the ball.

Now, let’s take a look at the ways in which we can potentially profit off of this view of the game by investing in prop bets.

  • Bet on a defensive score – The Denver defense has huge ball-hawking skills, and Phil Rivers is a candidate for most interceptions. Casey Hayward led the league in INTs last season, and Trevor Siemian is still a very young man. You do the math! We think a pick-6 could be in the cards.
  • Phil Rivers to go under for passing yards – We believe that the Chargers are slightly over-hyped in Vegas and that the gambling public is putting too much faith in their offensive abilities. They should do enough to win, but they probably won’t go over the totals posted at sportsbooks.
  • Antonio Gates as an anytime TD scorer – The next TD pass caught by Gates will break the all-time mark for career touchdowns by a tight end, cementing his place in the history books. After a whole offseason of hearing about this record, Phil Rivers will want to make it happen ASAP.

In addition to these prop bets, for which the outcome of the bet will be determined during the game, watch during the game for the following future bets, and evaluate whether or not you’d like to wager on these at some point during the season.

  • Phil Rivers +1600 for most passing yards – With the Ken Whisenhunt offense ripening in his second season as offensive coordinators and one of the most high-powered receiving corps in the league, the Chargers’ tough schedule could mean lots of garbage yards for Rivers and co.
  • Denver +190 to make the playoffs – As we mentioned above, all four teams playing Monday Night have the potential to make the playoffs. Denver may be a dark horse, but the old moniker rings true: “defense wins championships.” Watch to see if Siemian can handle the pressure.
  • First coach fired – Every time a team hires a new head coach, that head coach is on the hot seat for his first few seasons. If either of these coaches crash and burn miserably, they’re likely to get the axe. Look for discord among the coaching staff or between the coach and his players.

While one game won’t necessarily prove anything about any of these future bets, be on the lookout during the game to see if you find support for any of these futures going forward.

Summary: Best Bets

In conclusion, NFL regular season action is back, and the first week closes out with a rip-roaring finale: A Monday Night Football doubleheader, featuring two [oddly similar] matchups between the New Orleans Saints @ the Minnesota Vikings, and the Los Angeles Chargers @ the Denver Broncos.

We believe that both visiting teams will pull off the upset Monday Night. In the case of the Chargers, their dynamic offense will be enough to power through the challenge that is the Denver defense, and Trevor Siemian’s new scheme and new offensive line won’t be enough to fight back.

To capitalize on this view of the game, here is a summary of our best bets:

  • Chargers +145 moneyline
  • Chargers +3.5 against the spread (-115)
  • Total score under 43 points (-110)
  • A defensive score occurring in the game
  • Phil Rivers to go under for total passing yards
  • Antonio Gates as an anytime touchdown scorer (to break the NFL record for career touchdowns by a tight end)

Back-to-back on Monday night we’ll get a chance to watch an unstoppable force take on an immovable object. And the smart money says that the unstoppable forces won’t be stopped this time around.

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