Philip Rivers is not a frontrunner. He’s usually attempting to dig the Chargers out of a September hole or making a desperate come-from-behind effort late in a game. Rivers is not exactly a closer, either, because his teams typically suffer several excruciating, narrow losses.
Since the beginning of last season, when the Chargers moved to Los Angeles and opened 0-4, Rivers has a 10-8 record as the starting quarterback. Four of those losses were by three points or fewer. Another was by eight points at New England. The other three losses, all by double digits, were to Kansas City.
Rivers rarely gets blown out, so it usually makes sense to side with him in the underdog role. Rivers is 26-12-1 against the spread as a road ‘dog since 2012. The battle for L.A. is not exactly a real road trip, but Sunday’s game is on the Rams’ home field at the Coliseum.
The Rams, who have not allowed a point in their past six quarters, rank No. 3 in the NFL in total defense and No. 1 in scoring defense (6.5 points per game). There are no numbers that hint the Rams are fragile 7-point favorites.
On the other hand, the Chargers are missing their top pass rusher, Joey Bosa, and several numbers suggest their defense can be exploited by Rams quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley. The Chargers ranked 31st in run defense in 2017 by allowing 131.1 yards per game, and the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes shot holes through their secondary in the season opener.
But the Rams have yet to be seriously tested, and the Chargers rarely fold even when playing short-handed, so take the points with Rivers as the road ‘dog.
Four more plays for Week 3 (home team in CAPS):
* RAVENS (-5½) over Broncos: A bet on Joe Flacco is often followed by the feeling of buyer’s remorse. But this is a good spot for Baltimore, which is off a loss with extra prep time. Denver is 2-0 and extremely lucky to be so, considering Case Keenum has thrown four interceptions and the defense has been a disappointment. Oakland’s Derek Carr completed 29 of 32 passes in Week 2, when the Broncos played soft coverage and allowed Carr to pick them apart. The Raiders dominated the game until falling victim to fourth-quarter fatigue at altitude. The Broncos went 1-7 on the road last year. The Ravens are 16-2 at home in September under coach John Harbaugh.
* Giants (plus-6) over TEXANS: It’s tough to back the Giants for the third week in a row, yet there’s value in this inflated line. Houston is not a well-coached team. Bill O’Brien is a poor game manager, and quarterback Deshaun Watson is out of sorts. The Giants have major problems on the offensive line — J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney make that a bigger problem — and Eli Manning has no mobility. One team will be 0-3 and sentenced to a lost season. The Giants tend to be at their best with their backs against the wall, and Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham Jr. will be the best offensive players on the field.
* 49ers (plus-6½) over CHIEFS: Patrick Mahomes has found life in the NFL to be surprisingly easy. He has completed 69 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in two wins. It’s time for some adversity. Even if Mahomes stays hot, the Kansas City defense is a hot mess, ranking last in yards allowed (508 per game) and 29th in scoring (32.5 points per game). Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers went to Minnesota and took the Vikings to the wire, and they should do the same in K.C. The public loves the Chiefs, so I’ll go the other way and say the 49ers stay inside the number in a shootout.
* SEAHAWKS (-1) over Cowboys: A legit Dallas defense set the tone last week by sacking Manning six times. Russell Wilson is a more elusive target. Sure, the Seattle quarterback has been sacked a league-high 12 times, but he’s always a dangerous playmaker. Plenty of questions still surround quarterback Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense. The Seahawks will get a boost with the return of linebacker Bobby Wagner. This is a bet on the better QB and a spot play on an 0-2 team that has won nine straight home openers.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread