Philip Rivers turns 38 next week. He still plays with the enthusiasm of a college kid, but judging by his lack of arm strength this should be his last season on the brink of retirement.
The Los Angeles Chargers are 4-7 and will finish under their season win total of 9½ for several reasons that include injuries and poor coaching. But much of the blame falls on Rivers, whose performance is obviously in severe decline. He has passed for 15 touchdowns with 14 interceptions, tossing seven interceptions in the past two games.
Is Rivers worth another shot? Maybe not, but I’ll give him one Sunday mostly because the Denver Broncos are expected to start rookie Drew Lock at quarterback. Lock spent the first 11 games on injured reserve so his next pass will be his first against a real NFL defense.
Most fading stars have a shining moment or two left. Rivers has defeated the Packers and Bears in the past month, so why not the Broncos?
The injury report is more optimistic for the Chargers, who will get a boost from the return of safety Derwin James. The Broncos list outside linebacker Von Miller as questionable.
Rivers is known as “Mr. December” for his tendency to heat up in the season’s final month. Since taking over as the Chargers’ starter in 2006, Rivers has a 43-20 record in regular-season games in December and January, including 8-2 the past two years.
This is a must-win situation for Rivers, who will be a free agent after the season and needs to show the rest of the league he still can play, if he wants to continue playing. The road team has won and covered the past three meetings, and Rivers’ trends are better on the road. So he gets one more shot.
While most Las Vegas sportsbooks have moved the line to 3½, a few are offering the Chargers at -3 (-125), so I recommend laying more juice at -3 in what likely will be a low-scoring game.
Four more picks for this week:
* COLTS (-1) over Titans:
This line has dropped from 2½ because Indianapolis will be without wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and running back Marlon Mack. Ryan Tannehill has resuscitated the Titans’ flat-lining offense. Tennessee, which averaged 16.3 points in the first six games, has scored 29.4 points per game over the past five. Tannehill has 10 touchdown passes since Week 7, tying him for fourth in the league during that span. Running back Derrick Henry has produced at a similarly impressive level for the Titans, who are 4-1 SU/ATS in their past five games. But Tannehill and Henry will be facing a legit defense for a change. Indianapolis ranks 12th in scoring defense (20.5 ppg) and has allowed more than 20 points only once in the past five games. And remember the Titans have been owned by the Colts, who won and covered the past three meetings and dominated this AFC South series when Andrew Luck was the quarterback. Jacoby Brissett has been only a minor dropoff from Luck. It’s a good bounce-back spot for the Colts, who have lost three of their past four with each of the losses by four points or fewer. Is it back to reality for Tannehill?
* BENGALS (plus-3) over Jets:
The 0-11 Bengals are running out of chances to win a game and here’s a real chance. Cincinnati is going back to Andy Dalton at quarterback and its defense has allowed a total of only 33 points in the past two games. The Jets scored 34 points in each of their past three wins, but two came at home and the other was against rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins in Washington. With Sam Darnold as the starter, the Jets are 3-7 SU/ATS on the road. This is the definition of an ugly ‘dog and the weakest of my five picks this week.
* STEELERS (plus-2) over Browns:
A little more than two weeks after the foot-brawl game in Cleveland, Pittsburgh gets an opportunity for payback. The Browns were 3-point favorites in their 21-7 win on Nov. 14, so this number seems out of line. The Steelers are 5-1 SU in their past six. Mason Rudolph, who started the game and the fight in Cleveland, has been benched in favor of Devlin Hodges. The QB switch should be a positive for the Steelers. On the negative side, he will be without wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner is doubtful. Hodges does not need to worry about Myles Garrett, so that’s a plus. In Hodges’ first career start, he hit on 15 of 20 passes for 132 yards with one touchdown and one interception in a 24-17 victory over the Chargers in LA. Pittsburgh, 3-1-1 ATS in its past five as an underdog, has the higher-ranked defense and plenty of motivation in a division revenge spot. The Browns have lost 15 straight games at Pittsburgh dating to 2004.
* Patriots (-3) over TEXANS:
Houston coach Bill O’Brien is 0-5 against his former boss, Bill Belichick. The Texans are also 3-8 ATS as home ‘dogs under O’Brien. Tom Brady is due for a big game and the New England offense should look better against a Houston defense that is weak in the secondary and is not putting much pressure on quarterbacks.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread