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The Chargers head to Las Vegas for what will likely be a win-and-in game, as long as the Colts take care of business against the Jaguars earlier Sunday.
ANALYSIS

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Las Vegas Raiders Prediction: Who Will Punch Their Ticket to the Playoffs?

Key Stat: Over the past six weeks, the Chargers have ranked third in the NFL in offensive success rate, while the Raiders have ranked ninth

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Los Angeles Chargers vs Las Vegas Raiders Prediction

Sunday night brings us one of the biggest games of Week 18, where the Raiders and Chargers are set to play what should be a clear win-and-in game. I say “should be” because there exists the possibility, if Jacksonville were to beat Indianapolis outright, that both the Raiders and Chargers could get in with a tie. That’s led to some speculation this week about a Sunday Night Football event where both teams kneel and punt for 60 minutes plus overtime, but such an outcome is extremely unlikely for a variety of reasons, including things like media contracts but also that both teams would have to trust the other to follow through and not take advantage of, say, a muffed punt, or some other odd event. The closest we might see to this is perhaps some conservative decisions late in regulation that play for overtime more than a win, should the game be close. And then if that were to happen, we might see a conservative overtime period, as well, but that scenario would require a lot of things to fall into place.

One of which is, again, the 15-point favorite Colts losing to the Jaguars in a game they need to win to clinch a spot. In all likelihood, this will be a moot discussion by the time that game finishes, and by Sunday night we’ll be looking at two teams playing a de facto playoff contest with the loser’s season ending and the winner continuing on. 

The Chargers are three-point home favorites in a game with a lofty over/under at 49. Los Angeles has been a bit Jekyll and Hyde over the past month or two, vacillating between outcomes like a very close overtime loss to the Chiefs in Week 15 and a demoralizing loss in Houston the next week. If you go back even further, they were beat soundly in Denver, 28-13, in Week 12, then backed that up by going to Cincinnati and winning 41-22 in Week 13. They’ve certainly looked like a high-caliber team that’s capable of beating anyone at various times this season, but the inconsistency against subpar opponents is baffling. 

Las Vegas meanwhile has had one of the more eventful seasons around the league. After looking like a potential disruptor early with a 5-2 start, their season was disrupted by a pair of awful off-the-field events that were bigger than the game. Recently, they ended a skid where they’d lost five games in six weeks by rattling off wins in each of the past three weeks. All three wins have come by four points or less, though, including two on last-second field goals, one of which beat the short-handed Browns who were dealing with a significant COVID-19 outbreak. Their only other win since the Week 8 bye also came on a game-winning field goal, as they knocked off the Cowboys in overtime in Week 12. We know one-score games include a lot of variance, and typically we want to fade teams who are finding outsized success in close games. For the Raiders, five of their seven losses this year have come by double digits, including a 28-14 road defeat at the hands of these Chargers back in Week 4. Las Vegas meanwhile has six total one-score wins, so their results in one-score games have been very favorable overall. 

While their team numbers have improved of late, I’m inclined to fade the recent Raiders’ winning streak. The Chargers are a tough bet as well with their inconsistency of late, but I simply like them as the better team, and we get a nice number at -3 on the road. The Raiders also have the longer injury list this week, and while they are hopeful they might get Darren Waller back, interim coach Rich Bisaccia noted this week they would need to monitor his conditioning after a long layoff. He’s the type of player that can make an impact in a limited role, of course, but it’s not even a certainty he’ll be active. 

One concern for the Chargers is their defense struggling a bit of late, but their offense looks dialed in, ranking third in the NFL in success rate over the past six weeks even as some key skill players have been in and out of the lineup. Give me the offense that has more playmakers and is easier to trust to consistently move the ball in what should be a high-scoring affair.

Los Angeles Chargers vs. Las Vegas Raiders Pick

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Ben knows his football. A fantasy football expert who was most recently seen at CBS Sports, he'll be helping bettors find value ahead in the NFL with OddsChecker.

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