Las Vegas Raiders (6-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-4)
The Raiders are 6-6, but their margin of victory in their six wins is just 7.0 points per game, as opposed to a margin of defeat of 13.3 points per game in their six losses, leading to the Raiders having a point differential that is worse than their record at -38. That normally suggests that the Raiders are not as good as their record, but the Raiders have also significantly underperformed on third and fourth downs on both sides of the ball, which tends to even out in the long run.
The Raiders rank 16th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 9th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but just 30th in third down conversion percentage, 24th in fourth down conversion percentage, 20th in third down conversion percentage allowed, and 26th in fourth down conversion percentage allowed. Those metrics figure to improve going forward, allowing the Raiders to be more competitive in their games than their point differential would suggest. Most casual bettors can see their point differential easily, but the fact that they are likely to improve on key downs going forward is not as easily seen and, as a result, the Raiders have become slightly underrated.
Unfortunately for the Raiders, they have a very tough matchup this week, going into Kansas City to face the Chiefs. Some wrote the Chiefs off after their 3-4 start, but their defense was always likely to improve significantly when they got healthier, while their turnover issues were highly likely to stop. That’s exactly what has happened as their defense has not just gotten healthy, but also has added key edge defender Melvin Ingram from the Steelers, and, as a result, has gone from being one of the worst defenses in the league to start the season to one of the best in the best few weeks, while their turnover margin, -11 through their first eight games, has jumped to +6 over their past four games.
That has led to the Chiefs winning five straight games to put themselves very much in the mix for the top seed in the AFC at 8-4 and it’s possible we haven’t seen their best play as a team yet, as their offense has not been as good in recent weeks, with the defense largely carrying the team. If their offense can return to form, that will make this team even more dangerous and, with the return of right tackle Lucas Niang giving them a healthy offensive line for the first time in several weeks, it’s very possible we could see their offense take a step forward this week. As crazy as it sounds, despite their record and winning streak, the Chiefs still seem a little underrated, as they easily could be considered the Super Bowl favorite at this point, given their track record.
The Chiefs do have another game in a few days, as they’ll play the Chargers in a key divisional game on Thursday Night Football next week, and favorites cover at just a 41.7% rate before Thursday Night Football, but the Chiefs are also in their third straight home game, a 55.2% cover spot all-time, which cancels the other trend out somewhat. My calculated line is exactly where this line is, favoring the Chiefs by 9.5 points, so we’re also not getting any line value with either side. As a result of that and the lack of a situational trend edge, it’s very hard to be confident in either side in this game, but I am taking the Chiefs for pick ‘em purposes purely because I’d rather not go against them right now, even if the Raiders are also an underrated team. If this line was 10, I would probably be on the Raiders though; that’s how close this one is for me.
Kansas City Chiefs 27 Las Vegas Raiders 17
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -9.5