San Diego Chargers (9-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-7)
The Chiefs beat the Chargers in San Diego earlier this season, but that’s because the Chargers were in a terrible spot (the worst spot I’ve seen all since), with a Thursday Night road game in Denver on deck, while the Chiefs only had a home game against St. Louis on deck. This time, the Chargers are the one in the good spot. Not only are they generally very good in December (going 26-5 straight up and 21-10 ATS in weeks 14-17 since 2007), but they’re in their 2nd of two road games, which is usually a good spot.
Teams are 84-61 ATS as road underdogs off of a road win as underdogs since 2002, including 53-38 ATS when it’s a team’s 2nd of two scheduled road games. On top of that, teams are 17-9 ATS since 1989 when that road win as underdogs came in overtime, including 11-5 ATS in the 2nd of two scheduled road games. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 196-200 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.29 points per game, as opposed to 276-392 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.19 points per game.
Even before you take into account that the Chargers are in a much better spot in this game than they were the first time around, the Chargers are in a great revenge spot. Divisional home favorites are 27-52 ATS since 2002 against a divisional opponent that they previously beat as road underdogs during that same regular season. It’s a weird trend and it’s a little complicated, but it makes sense when you think about it. In divisional matchups where the homefield advantage decides who is the favorite, generally those two teams are essentially even. Divisional opponents that are essentially even generally split the season series. That seems to happen even if the road team pulls the upset in the first matchup, as the road underdog wins about half the time (40-42) in the rematch and covers at that aforementioned 2/3rds rate.
The reason I’m not that confident in San Diego is because rate of moving the chains differential suggests the Chiefs are the better team, which isn’t what this line suggesting, with the Chiefs as 2.5 point favorites. The Chiefs rank 8th in rate of moving the chains differential, moving the chains at a 74.10% rate, as opposed to 70.56% for their opponents, a differential of 3.54%. Meanwhile, the Chargers rank 12th, moving the chains at a 74.19% rate, as opposed to 73.32% for their opponents, a differential of 0.87%. I wish this line was still at a field goal, as it was last week. I’m still going with the Chargers, but the line would have to be at least 3 points for me to put any money on it and I might not even do so if that were the case.
Update: Alex Smith has been surprisingly ruled out of this one, after doctors discovered that he suffered a lacerated spleen during last week’s loss to the Steelers. The line has moved from San Diego +3 or +2.5 to +1 as a result. Obviously I wish Smith the best, but this is good news from a gambling perspective for two reasons. One, the Chargers are still underdogs here so those aforementioned two trends still apply. Two, the line really didn’t move a ton, as two points doesn’t really do justice for the job that Alex Smith has done this season.
Smith has completed 65.3% of his passes for an average of 7.04 YPA, 18 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions, while rushing for 254 yards and a touchdown on 49 attempts. His quarterback rating of 93.4 is 14th in the NFL and Pro Football Focus has him as their 16th ranked quarterback. He’s led Kansas City’s offense to a 74.10% rate of moving the chains that ranks 13th in the NFL, despite a poor offensive line, no threats at wide receiver, and no offensive playmakers outside of under-utilized tight end Travis Kelce and running back Jamaal Charles. Those two are obviously still healthy and going to play in this one, but Chase Daniel is a steep dropdown from Smith at quarterback, especially since he’s barely practiced this week.
Daniel played reasonably well in a meaningless week 17 game against the Chargers last season, completing 21 of 30 for 200 yards, a touchdown, and no interceptions, but he’s still an unproven former undrafted free agent. The Chargers have a better defense this season and will be much better prepared for Daniel this time around, especially since Daniel has minimal practice experience with the offensive starters, wasn’t expecting to start this week, and might not be equipped to deal with the pressure of a must-win game. The line value that originally made me hesitant to take San Diego is gone, so, as long as the Chargers are still underdogs in this one, I have confidence taking them.
San Diego Chargers 24 Kansas City Chiefs 17 Upset Pick +100
Pick against the spread: San Diego +1