Chargers vs Raiders picks

Spread analysis

With the way past games in this divisional series have played out and with all that’s at stake Sunday night, this AFC West war feels like a nail-biter.

No wonder books are hanging on to the field goal spread tighter than leather pants in August on the Las Vegas Strip. Some UK-based online markets are dealing Raiders +3.5 (-133), but the market consensus is a soft +3 (-105) on this side of the pond.

Las Vegas enters this finale as the hot team, fighting for its postseason life the past three weeks with tight wins at Indianapolis, versus Cleveland and at Denver – all coming by a combined nine points. Defense has been the backbone of this late-season push, giving up a collective 47 points in that span and ranking out fourth in EPA allowed per play since Week 15 (-0.330).

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is the biggest hurdle the Silver and Black have faced in this home stretch of schedule, with the Bolts second-year passer coming off a solid showing at home to Denver last week, which helped L.A. snap a two-game losing skid and set up Sunday’s scenario.

That said, Las Vegas has tightened the bolts (solid pun) on its passing defenses. While the previous QB competition does stack up to Herbert, Vegas has checked its last three foes to a success rate of just 30.3% per drop back – second-lowest in the NFL since Week 15.

As for the Raiders offense, it’s been stuck in the mud for more than a month or at least since losing tight end Darren Waller to injury on Thanksgiving Day. Waller appeared to be on track to return in Week 17 but contracted COVID-19 and had to sit last week’s win over the Colts. He’s officially listed as questionable for Sunday night.

With the Raiders already in that dire mindset the past month and the Chargers continuing to play inconsistent football, we’re leaning on the home underdog. However, with all the close games in this series and in Vegas’ recent outings (five of last six decided by four or less), either wait for +3.5 or go buy it. A field goal finish is on the way.

Prediction: Raiders +3 (-105)

Over/Under analysis

The Raiders offense hasn’t been able to turn gains into points since Waller went down, but Las Vegas continues to move the chains and boast solid possession numbers.

The Silver and Black have an average time of possession of 33:41 over their three-game winning run (second-most in the NFL in that span) and have been vastly improved on third down, converting 46.15% of the time since Week 15.

Los Angeles’ defense ranks dead last in third-down stands, allowing foes to move the chains on those crucial plays at a near 50% clip. A big part of that is the Chargers butter-soft rushing defense, which sits 32nd in DVOA at Football Outsiders and allows + 0.146 EPA per rush on the season – by far the highest in the league.

That inability to get foes off the field plays into the Raiders’ pace of play perfectly. Las Vegas runs an offensive play every 28.05 seconds (12th slowest) and knows it must play a little defense on offense, keeping Herbert and the L.A. attack on the sideline. When the Bolts finally do get to touch the ball, they’ll have a tough time stretching the field against a Raiders defense that protects against passes over the top and keeps everything in front of it.

Las Vegas has allowed only 40 passes of 20 or more yards on the season (tied for fifth-fewest) and only eight passes of 40 or more yards. Las Vegas is quick to tackle and limits the damage receivers do after the catch (fourth-fewest YAC allowed), which will keep gains shot and the clock ticking.

Prediction: Under 49 (-110)

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