Matchup Analysis, Fantasy Picks and more for Chargers-Ravens
The Chargers are making their first postseason appearance since 2013 on Sunday, in Anthony Lynn’s second season as head coach. Philip Rivers has lost five of nine career playoff games with 11 TD passes and nine interceptions and an 85.2 QB Rating. He is 3-0 in Wild Card Games in his career with his last win coming on the road at Cincinnati in 2013. Rivers reached the Conference Championship Game only once, in 2007.
John Harbaugh has won 15 of 25 career postseason games, but had missed the postseason the three previous years. He is undefeated in five Wild Card games, which means under his guidance, the Ravens have always played in the Divisional Round when they have made the postseason. Harbaugh has impressively done most of his work on the road, as this will be just the third Baltimore home playoff game during his tenure. In 2011 and 2012, he won a home Wild Card Game and reached the Conference Championship, ultimately winning the Super Bowl in 2012.
Baltimore comes in winning six of their final seven regular season games, including an impressive 22-10 road win over the Chargers in Week 16. Los Angeles won five of its final six, with the one loss being to Baltimore. Having seen the Ravens recently, the Chargers could conceivably review the game film and make the game more competitive this time. Rivers was held to 181 passing yards and intercepted twice while the Ravens limited Melvin Gordon to 41 rushing yards even though he scored L.A.’s only TD. Rookies Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews hooked up for a 68-yard TD, and Tavon Young returned an Antonio Gates fumble 62 yards for a TD. Rivers was also sacked four times.
The Chargers ranked sixth in points scored this season, but the Ravens were second in points allowed. They were fourth against the run and fifth against the pass. The Chargers were ninth in both categories. The numbers indicate we could be set for a lower-scoring game here, and the Ravens ranked minus-3 in takeaway difference, 22nd in the league in that category. The Ravens led the league with 16 fumbles and six lost fumbles from their rushers. They lost 11 fumbles overall.
In seven games as a starter, Lamar Jackson has only rushed for less than 67 yards once, and that was against the Chargers, who held him to 39 yards on 13 carries. He still beat them with a season-high 204 passing yards and the TD to Andrews, the longest of his career so far. Jackson did not throw an interception in his final five games as a starter, but did fumble 10 times, losing four. If the Chargers can keep Jackson in check as a runner again and force a key turnover or two, they may be able to pull off the road win.
Undrafted rookie Gus Edwards had three 100-yard games and four 90-yard outings since emerging as the lead RB in Week 11. He rushed for 92 yards on 14 carries against the Chargers, including a 43-yard run, his longest of the season. Here is more insight on just how impressive Edwards has been from David Mattek. The Chargers lost MLB Denzel Perryman (knee) for the season in November and and fill-in Jatavis Brown is now out for the rest of the season as well with an ankle injury. Hayes Pullard, who was waived by the team earlier in the season and then re-signed, will now have to step forward in place of Brown. He has mostly played on special teams this year and the Ravens may look to exploit the Chargers’ thinned depth at LB. Kenneth Dixon is a versatile complement to Edwards.
The wide receivers have been sporadically utilized since Jackson took over at QB, although Willie Snead had three five-catch games with Jackson as a starter. With the Ravens not offering much of a threat in the passing game, Chargers safety Derwin James, a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year, will be free to help keep Jackson in check much as he did in the first meeting. The Chargers line up James in various ways as a defensive chess piece. He will be a major key to keeping the Chargers in the game and could be the guy to force a decisive turnover.
Melvin Gordon is no longer on the injury report after he rolled his ankle in Week 17, but he only totaled 137 yards from scrimmage in his final two regular season games. Austin Ekeler (groin) has been limited in practices and is listed as questionable. Rookie Justin Jackson has some spark and will be available, but Gordon is a difference-maker and the Chargers need him to regain his better form to ease pressure on Rivers. The defensive tackle duo of Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams looms large, as does the major presence of standout LB C.J. Mosely. The Ravens are going to be hard to run against as always and that will put Rivers in some adverse passing situations.
Keenan Allen was held to five catches for 58 yards in the first meeting, and second-year TD machine Mike Williams caught one pass for four yards. The Ravens brought constant pressure against Rivers in the first meeting, and he may have to stave off more with flat passes and quick hitters. It will be interesting to see how the Chargers prepare and adjust for the pass rush this time. Hunter Henry may make his 2018 debut after a lost regular season, but he could be limited in his reps. He is looking like a game-time decision.
FANTASY TAKES: Jackson has the obvious friendly floor and you may be able to get two games out of him. Edwards can get to 80 or 90 yards even if he splits some work with Dixon. Gordon is a contrarian play because of the tough matchup and recent subpar outings suggesting he may be operating at less than 100 percent. There does not appear to be much upside at all for Rivers in a possible game management scenario with a high chance of being one and done. Allen is a top-shelf talent who can prevail in any matchup at any time. Henry could catch a TD even if he is on a pitch count.
DFS VIEWS: On the FanDuel Sunday slate, Jackson is the highest priced QB at $8,400 and could be more risky than perceived if James will spy on him and limit his rushing yardage again. Edwards is behind Gordon and Jordan Howard at $7,200 and is a very good play at the price. Gordon appears too risky at $8,400 as does Allen at $7,700, but in the case of the latter, there are no other superstar WRs on the slate with Alshon Jeffery as the only other notable alternative. Henry and Antonio Gates are TE dart throws at $4,900. You will have to confirm Henry is active first. On the full DraftKings weekend slate, Jackson is more attractive as a $5,800 play. He is fifth on the QB pricing ladder. Gordon is $900 more than Chris Carson, who seems to be a better play. But if you roster Gordon, you’ll be going contrarian and could separate yourself in a tournament. Edwards is a pure lock at $4,200, the best value play of the weekend. Allen is friendlier here at $6,900, as he is 600 dollars less than Amari Cooper. Gates is a $2,700 punt play.
GAME PREDICTION: This definitely shapes up to be a defensive battle, with one big play or a critical turnover standing out when it’s over. The Ravens may be able to run more effectively but will have to protect the ball to avoid a pivotal mistake. Ultimately, though, Baltimore has a better defense and a more seasoned coach, and even though Rivers is the more experienced QB, he has never been much of a postseason presence. He’s coming off a great year, but this is a very tough matchup on the road. I will take the Ravens at minus 2.5 and the under (41.5). Ravens 20, Chargers 17.