San Diego at Denver – THU, OCT 23

Over/Under: 51 Points
Spread: DEN -7.5

We haven’t had too many games on Thursday Night where it seems smart to target more than one or two guys in the early game but this one should be high-scoring. The Chargers head to Denver to take on a red hot Broncos team that is fresh off a dominant Sunday Night win against the 49ers. The Denver offense has been clicking on all cylinders but this game may not play out like the 7.5 point spread indicates. These Thursday night games tend to be tough to turn around on and with the Broncos playing on Sunday Night they’ll be in the dreaded 2nd half of back-to-back primetime games. In this one, they may have to rely on their running game more than usual, especially with the Chargers struggling more against RBs than any other position in 2014 in terms of fantasy points allowed. Ronnie Hillman has now produced in back-to-back games and combining the spread, matchup and his recent production gives you a pretty clear picture of how safe Hillman seems. His last two games, he’s even beaten up on some pretty stout defenses:

  • Week 6 vs. NYJ (#10 in FPPG vs. RBs) – 24 RuAtt, 100 RuYd, 3 Rec, 16 RecYd
  • Week 7 vs. SF (#7 in FPPG vs. RBs) – 14 RuAtt, 74 RuYd, 2 RuTD, 4 Rec, 29 RecYd

Hillman is getting involved in the passing game and the rushing attack by supplementing his fantasy totals with 4+ fantasy points from receptions and receiving yards. Now let’s look at a Chargers rush defense which has been absolutely torched over their past two games, including a Week 7 loss to the Chiefs at home:

  • Week 7 vs. OAK (McFadden + MJD) – 18 RuAtt, 110 RuYd
  • Week 8 vs. KC (Charles + Davis) – 32 RuAtt, 130 RuYd, 1 RuTD

Back to back games with 100+ rushing yards allowed to opposing backs for the Chargers defense and it seems pretty clear that teams are content to try and run the ball against them after seeing just how strong their secondary has been in 2014. Look for the Broncos to try and do the same.

Speaking of the San Diego secondary, they’ll only get one more matchup this challenging for the remainder of the 2014 season (and it’s against these same Broncos). Denver’s passing attack is prolific and the weapons at Peyton Manning’s disposal make it almost impossible to slow him down completely. He’s going to put points on the board, the question is can you keep him off the field long enough so it’s not enough points to bury you. When you consider targeting Manning in any matchup you can start yourself with at least 250 PaYd and 2 PaTDs. Usually 3 PaTDs is even a lock. The upside is there, the safety is there, the only question is the price tag. Targeting Peyton means sacrificing at other positions which is always a risky proposition. This week, the DvP rankings might go out the window as San Diego is missing both Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers in coverage, which is a huge blow to their secondary. Both rank in the top 10 on ProFootballFocus CB coverage ratings and it leaves a severely depleted secondary in charge of slowing down this offensive juggernaut. As far as the weapons on the outside go, all things start with Demaryius Thomas who has been in the DraftKings optimal lineup for three consecutive weeks. In that three week span Thomas has combined for 26 Rec, 521 RecYd, and 5 RecTD. Those are video-game-esque numbers, just absolutely unheard of. So which Charger gets the likely dual against Demaryius? He’ll see a mixture of Richard Marshall and Shareece Wright on the outside, two corners who are massive downgrades from Verrett and Flowers. Marshall is #161 in coverage on PFF this season and Wright is #142. They’re unlikely to shadow Demaryius with their bevy of cornerback injuries so look for both he and Emmanuel Sanders to match up with these two on the outside on the majority of snaps. That leaves the slot role for Wes Welker in the tough matchup against Marcus Gilchrist. Welker, and at times Julius Thomas, will have to go up against Gilchrist who has been pretty solid this season and I’d downgrade both of them a bit behind Sanders and Demaryius. Also worth mentioning, the Chargers are allowing the 2nd fewest FPPG to opposing TE’s and Julius Thomas seems primed for a stat-reduction after his scorching hot start to the season. He struggled in Week 7 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him stay relatively quiet in this one as well, although scoring a touchdown is always very much in the cards.

For the Chargers offense, it will be interesting to see if Philip Rivers and company can keep up with the Broncos on primetime television. These teams are no stranger to one another and Rivers really struggled at keeping ball possession last season vs. Denver:

  • Week 6 – 2013: 242 PaYd, 2 PaTD, 4 INT
  • Week 11 – 2013: 258 PaYd, 2 PaTD, 2 INT

Rivers threw 6 interceptions in two games against Denver last season and it’s pretty clear, at least through the first 7 weeks, that Denver’s defense is much better than the unit they put together in the 2013 season. With that said, the pace of play of Denver’s offense keeps opponents typically throwing the ball a ton and has led to their allowing of the 10th most FPPG to QBs this season. Rivers has also had a hot hand in 2014 for San Diego with multiple touchdown passes in every game since Week 1. Last week was also the first time he didn’t throw for at least 250 yards since Week 1 as well. As far as his weapons, he’s been spreading the ball around a lot and it’s made the San Diego receivers extremely difficult to predict. Keenan Allen continues to be somewhat of a disappointment and is one of only a handful of receivers with over 50 targets and 0 touchdowns in 2014. He had 10 more targets in Week 7 and only converted those into 6 receptions for 58 yards. He’ll have his hands full on the outside in a tough matchup with Aqib Talib who has been the #54 rated corner this season on PFF but has the size needed to keep the physical Allen quiet around the goal-line. The other receiver who lines up wide of Rivers is Malcom Floyd who will draw Chris Harris Jr. on the majority of snaps. Since SD doesn’t have a premiere receiver, or at least because Rivers keeps his weapons balanced, it’s unlikely we’ll see Harris Jr. do any shadowing. That means he’ll see a lot of Floyd and Harris is the #3 rated coverage corner on ProFootballFocus this season. His stat lines in coverage through the first six games for the Broncos have been absolutely ridiculous (via ProFootballFocus )

Chris Harris Jr. – Coverage by Week (2014)

WeekOpponentTargetsRecYdsTDInFP
1IND6216003.6
2KC5340007
3SEA6424015.4
5ARI700000
6NYJ3113002.3
7SF528002.8
Totals32121010121.1

So we can probably rule out Floyd having a big game on the outside, assuming Harris continues his dominant ways. That leaves us with Eddie Royal who takes the majority of slot snaps for the Chargers. Royal runs 87% of his routes out of the slot and should see a lot of Bradley Roby in coverage, the weakest link of this Denver secondary. We’ve seen a repeated theme in the Broncos defensive game logs with opposing slot receivers posting solid games including Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne and Anquan Boldin. Roby ranks #120 in coverage on PFF and of all the Chargers WR’s, it looks like Royal is in the best spot for a big game.

The other variable in the Chargers passing game is Antonio Gates who continues his renaissance season by catching touchdowns left and right. He now has a TD in each of his last three games and 7 total TDs on the year. Denver is allowing the 12th most FPPG to opposing tight ends including struggles against Dwayne Allen, Travis Kelce and Jace Amaro. The Amaro game stands out the most since he went from being a non-factor in the Jets offense to grabbing 10 balls for 68 yards and a TD. The Broncos can be exploited in the middle of the field with Royal and Gates as well, so if you’re rolling Rivers tonight pairing him with either of these guys seems like the best route.

On the ground, Branden Oliver continues to be productive despite seeing his touches go way down last week as the Chargers were in a razor thin game with the Chiefs. He had 15 carries for 67 yards and 2 receptions for 11 more yards. It was a far cry from the 45 carries he received in Weeks 6 and 7, but if he found the end zone he would have still been one of the better RBs of a miserable Week 7 for rushers. There is one common theme when looking at the Broncos game logs against running backs, and that’s if you can establish the run and keep their offense off the field you can stay in the game and have success behind your featured back. Two teams have managed to give their back over 20 touches this season. The Chiefs got the ball to Knile Davis 22 times and he had 79 RuYd, 2 RuTD and 6 receptions for 29 RecYd. In total, he had 28.8 fantasy points against this Denver defense. Marshawn Lynch saw 28 carries and took them for 88 yards and a TD to go along with 3 catches for 40 yards and another score. He ended his day with 27.8 fantasy points against the Broncos. Oliver has the ability to be a similar threat, but the big question will be whether or not San Diego can commit to the run long enough without falling too far behind in the game. With their injuries in the secondary, I have my concerns but look for them to at least try which makes Oliver an intriguing tournament play in Week 8.

San Diego Targets

  • Branden Oliver – $5400
  • Eddie Royal – $4100
  • Antonio Gates – $5600

Denver Targets

  • Peyton Manning – $8900
  • Demaryius Thomas – $7900
  • Emmanuel Sanders – $5700
  • Ronnie Hillman – $4900