Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers: Week 9 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (1-6) at San Diego Chargers (3-4)

Side note: It’s week 9 already?!?!? What?!?!?!?

On Thursday Night, the rule of thumb is to take the home team, assuming they’re favorites, as home favorites are 45-27 ATS on Thursday Nights. This makes sense. The home team not only doesn’t have to travel on a short week, meaning they get more valuable time to practice, game plan, and rest, but they’re also typically a more veteran, experienced team who won’t be fazed by playing on short rest. This trend didn’t work last week as Minnesota lost as home favorites to the Buccaneers, but there’s a simple explanation for that and it’s just that Minnesota is not a veteran, experienced team, despite being favorites, which is why it wasn’t a big play on the hosts.

San Diego is the more veteran, experienced team here and playing at home, but they’re also divisional home favorites. Divisional home favorites are just 17-16 ATS on Thursday Nights. This makes sense. Having familiarity with a team, like the Chiefs do with division rival San Diego, nullifies some of the effects of being a young, inexperienced team on the road on a short week. Besides, while the Chargers are technically a veteran, experienced team, you can’t really say they won’t be fazed by playing on a short week. I’m not sure there’s anything that you can say won’t faze them considering how horribly coached they are.

Philip Rivers has a strong career record off a loss as favorites, going 14-9 ATS in this situation in his career, including 12-6 ATS when favored again. This makes sense because good quarterbacks always tend to bounce back after disappointing losses. However, I’m not sure this is the same Philip Rivers anymore. I thought his high turnover rate from 2011 was an outlier and that he’d bounce back, especially since he played so much better in the 2nd half of last season (14 interceptions in games 1-8 and 6 in games 9-16). After all, Eli Manning threw 25 picks in 2010 and he didn’t have such a bad 2011.

However, Rivers’ struggles seem to have carried over into this season. Not only has his turnover rate remained the same, but his YPA of 6.8 YPA is a career low and down over a whole yard per play from his “disappointing 2011.” He doesn’t look like the same player as he was from 2006-2010. Some of the blame falls on his supporting cast. The Chargers have 10 draft picks in the first 3 rounds in the last 3 years and only 2 of them have been used on offensive players, including one, Vincent Brown, who is currently out with an injury (the other is Ryan Mathews). At the same time, no late round picks from those 3 drafts have stepped up and become starters offensively.

Meanwhile, they’ve let key offensive players like Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles walk out the door without replacing them and key cogs in this offense from Rivers’ heyday like Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Antonio Gates are either retired or not playing at nearly the same level, without being properly replaced. Some of the blame can fall on Rivers himself. In his age 31 season, he doesn’t seem to be the same player, for whatever reason. Either way, I don’t see his season turning around this week, especially off 3 days rest.

For the Chiefs, they have a different kind of quarterback issue, namely that all of theirs suck. However, the lesser of two terrible quarterbacks is starting this week as Brady Quinn suffered a concussion, meaning Matt Cassel will make this start on short rest. I thought the decision to start Quinn was a mistake (unless the goal was to secure the #1 overall pick).

Cassel was turning the ball over at an incredible rate, but that was bound to regress to the mean eventually. Right now, he has a interception rate of 4.9%, almost double his career rate of 2.5% (not including this season). Meanwhile, they have a turnover differential of -18. That won’t continue. Not only are they on pace to shatter the record of -30 (they’re on pace for -41), a record that’s stood since 1965, turnovers differential is also inconsistent on a week to week basis, as seen here.  Even if they break that record and finish with say a turnover differential of -31, that’s an average of -1.4 per game the rest of the way, which is barely half as bad as what they’ve done through 7 games (-2.6 per game).

Cassel also offers a career YPA that was over a yard per play better than Quinn’s. Even last week in relief against the Raiders, he looked much better than Quinn ever did in his limited action. Before Cassel went down, this team ranked better in yards per play differential and rate of sustaining drive differential than they do now. With Cassel back under center, that should improve and unless he continues to throw interceptions at a rate almost double his career rate and the Chiefs continue to lose the turnover battle at a record pace, they’ll look improved with Cassel under center. They won’t be good or anything, but they should be able to hang with a Charger team that isn’t very good either.

Even at their current yards per play differential and rate of sustaining drives, we are getting line value with the Chiefs at +7.5. The rate of sustaining drives method gives us a calculated “real” line of +7 and the yards per play method gives us a calculated “real” line of +6.5 and that’s including some of Brady Quinn’s playing time. Again, they won’t be good with Matt Cassel under center, but the Chargers aren’t very good either and as long as Cassel is starting, the Chargers don’t deserve to be more than touchdown favorites over them.

The trends also say Kansas City is the right spot. Divisional home favorites like the Chargers are 10-27 ATS off a loss as non-divisional road favorites since 2002. The Chargers lost to the Browns in Cleveland last week. Meanwhile, teams with 1 win or fewer like the Chiefs are 77-42 ATS as divisional dogs after week 8 since 1989. I think the reason for this is twofold. One, these tend to be huge respect games for the bad team. Two, they have an advantage in a divisional game that they wouldn’t have in any other game because it’s a divisional opponent that they know, so they’re undervalued based purely off their record.

I hate betting on a team like the Chiefs, especially as dogs on a Thursday Night, but I like the Chiefs to keep this close for a small play. Unfortunately, San Diego is also my survivor pick this week on a bad week for survivor. Everyone in my top-14 in my Power Rankings has either already been picked or is playing another top-14 team, except Denver who travels to Cincinnati. It was close between the Broncos and Chargers for survivor this week, but I hate picking road teams. San Diego is #15 and Kansas City is #31, so I like the Chargers to win, though I think the Chiefs will cover the 7.5 point spread. Also, I like the under as the under is 70-52 on Thursday Nights.

Public lean: San Diego (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Kansas City covers)

San Diego Chargers 17 Kansas City Chiefs 13 Survivor Pick (HOU, NE, NO, BAL, SF, ATL, CHI, GB)

Pick against spread: Kansas City +7.5 (-110) 2 units

Total: Under 41.5 (-110) 1 unit

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