09/22/2013 10:24 AM
Upset Watch: San Diego (+3) at Tennessee
San Diego and Tennessee are both 1-1 this season. Through two games, Tennessee ranks 15th in the Football Outsiders DVOA ratings, while San Diego ranks 18th. Three places after two games is meaningless; these two teams are essentially tied. However, the Chargers and Titans look very different on the field.
The Titans had one of the worst defenses in the league last year (25th in DVOA), but rank sixth in defensive DVOA so far in 2013. Is that defense for real? It depends on what you think of their opponents. The Titans lost a close game to the Texans, a good all-around team. In their other game, the Pittsburgh offense was a total disaster once Maurkice Pouncey was injured early on. So the Titans' defense is probably improved from a year ago, but things might not be quite as improved as they seem at first glance.
The Chargers had one of the worst offenses in the league last year (26th in DVOA), but rank fifth in offensive DVOA so far in 2013. Is that offense for real? It depends on what you think of their opponents. The Chargers also lost to the Texans (after blowing a 28-7 lead). In their other game, they played the Eagles, where Chip Kelly's offensive scheme elicits fear from all opponents while Billy Davis' defense elicits laughter. It looks great when the Chargers can efficiently gain 539 yards on 79 plays, but we're talking about the same Eagles defense that almost blew a 33-7 lead against Washington in Week 1. The Chargers' offense is probably improved from a year ago, but again, things might not be quite as improved as they seem at first glance.
The parallel stories of these teams is interesting, but we also base our picks on what we knew going into the season: San Diego was significantly better than Tennessee last year and the gap in DVOA (San Diego 22nd, Tennessee 30th) was much larger than the gap in record (San Diego 7-9, Tennessee 6-10). After last season, San Diego got rid of one Norv Turner and replaced him with Mike McCoy. We don't know much about McCoy's clock-management skills yet, but we do know he's the only offensive coordinator in the NFL to ever make Tim Tebow look useful. We also know that while Philip Rivers has declined over the past couple of seasons, he still has played better than Jake Locker, and has a better track record that suggested he could rebound and play better in 2013. Those are two reasons Football Outsiders' preseason projections forecast San Diego again to be the 22nd-best team in the league, while Tennessee was forecast ahead of only Jacksonville.
Looking at performance splits so far this season suggests some strategy for San Diego to use to try to get this win on the road. On first downs so far, San Diego ranks fourth passing the ball but 23rd rushing. The Titans' defense has been good in both areas, so the Chargers might want to forget about "establishing the run" and let Rivers go to the air. On the other side of the ball, the Chargers have to figure out a way to do a better job preventing yardage on first down; so far, only Washington has a worse defensive DVOA rating on first down than San Diego does.