Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) vs. Los Angeles Chargers (4-6) in Mexico City
The Chargers have gotten off to a disappointing 4-6 start, a year after going 12-4. They’ve been better than their record suggests though. While their six losses have come by just a combined 29 points, with none coming by more than 7, their four wins have come by a combined 42 points, giving them a point differential of +13 that ranks 13th in the NFL. They’ve done that despite a league worst fumble recovery rate at 30.43% and a -6 turnover margin that is tied for 5th worst in the NFL. Both of those stats are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and the Chargers rank 8th in the NFL in terms of first down rate differential at +3.09%. Given how close all their losses have been, they could easily be 6-4 or so right now if they had an even turnover margin.
That’s despite the fact that the Chargers have been shorthanded for most of the season. Key contributors like tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), defensive end Melvin Ingram (3 games), left tackle Russell Okung (7 games), center Mike Pouncey (5 games), safety Derwin James (10 games), and running back Melvin Gordon (4 games) have all missed time for various reasons. The Chargers still aren’t 100%, with Pouncey, James, and possibly left tackle Russell Okung, who didn’t practice all week, still sidelined, but relatively speaking they’re not in a bad injury situation right now. They enter this game ranked 12th in my roster rankings and would fall to about 15th without Okung.
The Chiefs have had injury problems as well, most notably quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who missed about two and a half games with a knee injury. The Chiefs were able to tread water without Mahomes because their defense played at a high level in his absence, with 31.44% first down rate allowed in the 3 games in which he missed time, a massive improvement from the 41.85% first down rate they had allowed in the previous 22 games with Mahomes over the past two seasons.
When Mahomes returned last week, the question became whether or not the defense had legitimately turned a corner or if they were just playing extra hard without Mahomes. A 46.94% first down rate allowed in Mahomes’ return against the Titans suggests it was much more the latter than the former, but the good news is Mahomes didn’t look limited in leading the Chiefs to a 39.47% first down rate last week and they get their whole offensive line back healthy this week for the first time since week 2.
The Chiefs still have injury concerns on defense, however, especially at defensive end, where Alex Okafor and Emmnauel Ogbah are out and Frank Clark is playing at far less than 100%. Meanwhile, cornerback Kendall Fuller is questionable to return from a 4-game absence. I have the Chiefs as just a couple points better in my roster rankings, so we’re getting line value here with the Chargers as 4-point underdogs on a neutral field in Mexico City. About 30% of games are decided by 4 points or fewer, so we’re getting good protection if the Chargers can’t pull the upset, and I like the Chargers’ chances of at least making this another close game, having not been blown out all season. I’ll elevate this to a high confidence pick if Okung ends up suiting up for the Chargers.
Final Update: Okung is out for the Chargers, but this line has moved all the way up to 6 to compensate. Even without Okung, the Chargers are not 6 points worse than the Chiefs on a neutral field right now, as the Chiefs have serious concerns on defense, especially with top edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah now out for the season. They’ll also be without top cornerback Kendall Fuller for the 5th straight week. The Chargers, who haven’t been beaten by more than a touchdown all season, should keep this game close and are only about 2.5 points worse than the Chiefs in my roster rankings. I like them a lot at +6.
Kansas City Chiefs 33 Los Angeles Chargers 31
Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +6