STAR PREVIEW Mon: Los Angeles Chargers @ Las Vegas Raiders

ANDY RICHMOND is a lifelong punter and sports enthusiast who now writes extensively on horse racing and the NFL. His CV includes long spells on Timeform Radio and Racing UK having previously held several positions at the then-fledgling Betfair Exchange where he worked for six years. He has a particular love for the statistical and analytical side of sports which fits in well with the NFL. He writes all the NFL content on Paul Jones subscription service as well as having his own betting advisory service.

The NFL looks to have saved the best till last with the concluding game of the 2021 regular season as a true winner takes it all game. Whoever wins will be advancing and playing next week on Super Wild Card Weekend as the NFL are anointing it whilst the loser will be sitting at home watching on the couch.

These two met back in Week 4 with the Chargers running out comfortable 28-14 winners to put them into a 3-1 situation having led 21-0 at half time. That type of score line and result fitting with the talent on their roster but since then it’s been the usual stop/start season for the Chargers with consistency a problem. When they are hot they are hot and when they are cold, well you know the rest.

They now find themselves in a situation (and venue) that seems fitting given the aggressive gambling style of their head coach Brandon Staley. Los Angeles will need to get the job done on the road, where they are 4-3 this year. The Chargers haven’t made the playoffs since 2018 but opened as favourites to complete the task in the gambling capital of the world.

The Raiders roll into this game having had a traumatic season and I don’t suspect anyone expected to see them competing for the playoffs in the season’s finale. However, on the back of a walk off Daniel Carlson field goal last week against the Colts that’s where we find ourselves the Raiders having put together a three-game winning run down the stretch despite a -7 turnover margin. Vegas can reach the playoffs with a win over the Chargers. Even if they lose, losses by the Colts and Steelers would still get Vegas in but that is a real longshot.

For all their inconsistency this looks a good spot for the Chargers facing a defence that suits their style if play and can be attacked deep and they have the quarterback in Justin Herbert who can do just that and a diverse range of receivers/backs. Herbert likes to throw down the field and owns the fifth-best deep-ball percentage completion percentage.

Herbert to (Big) Mike Williams is likely to be a popular refrain in this game if the Chargers attack the Raiders secondary in the way that I think they will especially as Herbert is likely to be able to operate from a clean pocket. Vegas has faced teams that, like L.A., boast both weapons in the downfield passing game and reliable pass protection and been found wanting before.

Whilst we will see a lot of Herbert going deep I’m sure he will be using his “safety blanket” Keenan Allen. Allen’s volume hasn’t resulted in many yards of late but he does have four touchdowns in as many games with nine red zone targets over the last three weeks. Allen put together a 9/103/1 stat line at home versus the Raiders last season and gets a matchup Sunday against a slot corner (Nate Hobbs) who has bigger issues than football to worry about, as he was arrested for a DUI offence last Monday. Once they become available I would be very interested in Allen in the TD scorer markets especially if he is priced around the 11-8/6-4 mark.

Although Allen faces a soft match up it may well be that running back Austin Ekeler faces an even softer assignment. Back in Week 4 Ekeler ran for a season-high 117 yards against the Silver and Black and they have been very porous against the run all season. Last week Ekeler split red zone carries with Justin Jackson but it’s Ekeler who generally ends up in the end zone having scored in seven straight games. It may surprise some that Ekeler is only two TDs behind the Colts Jonathan Taylor for the league lead in rushing scores.

Great credit must be given to the Raiders for getting themselves in this position as they seek to qualify for the postseason for just the second time since 2002. Much of the onus for the Raiders will rest on their quarterback Derek Carr who needs 72 passing yards to break the Raiders single-season franchise record (Rich Gannon had 4,689 in 2002) and 382 yards to reach the 5,000 yards mark for the season. He has one reliable target in wide receiver Hunter Renfrow who appears to grow game-to-game but even if Darren Waller returns at tight end it appears as though their scoring problems will remain.

It may well be on the ground that the Chargers are most vulnerable having surrendered 4.54 yards per carry this year and running back Josh Jacobs who enters Week 18 with touch counts of 20, 28, and 18 over his last three games will need to have a big game if the Raiders are to get close to winning.

Since 2015, the home team in the final prime-time game of the season has gone 0-5 outright and 1-4 ATS. The Raiders may be 9-7, but they’re a soft 9-7 with a -68 point differential and a 6-2 record in one-score games and that indicates that a regression is on the horizon and that minus turnover differential that I mentioned earlier is another red flag against them here.

Herbert and his explosive offence have won on the road at some tough venues this season with wins at Kansas City, at Philadelphia and at Cincinnati. I have a feeling that Brandon Staley has enough aces in his pack to get the Chargers into the playoffs where on their day they are a match for anyone.

BACK Los Angeles Chargers -2.5 3pts at 8/11 (Latest Star Price


BACK Mike Williams +54.5 receiving yards 2pts at 5/6 (Latest Star Price



PROFIT/LOSS (JANUARY 2022): PROFT 6.23 points
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Author: Adrian Gray