Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-5)

These two teams met in Kansas City back in week 3, with the Chargers winning by a final score of 30-24. However, the Chiefs won the first down rate battle by 7.92% and only lost the game because they lost the turnover battle by 4, which is not a predictive metric. The Chiefs were also missing their top cornerback Charvarius Ward and their top edge defender Frank Clark, which hurt their defense significantly. That game was a microcosm of the Chiefs’ early season, as turnovers and injuries were a theme for the Chiefs across the first several weeks of the season. 

In addition to Ward and Clark missing time, top interior defender Chris Jones and top safety Tyrann Mathieu also missed time with injury early in the year, while their turnover margin through seven games sat at -10, en route to a 3-4 start. However, their defense has since gotten healthy and added edge defender Melvin Ingram in a key mid-season acquisition, which has led to what was one of the worst defenses in the league in the beginning of the season now becoming one of the better defenses in the league in recent weeks.

That has propelled the Chiefs to a 6-game winning streak, a stretch during which their turnover margin has been +10, evening out their margin on the season. The Chiefs’ offense has actually struggled relative to their typical performance over their winning streak, coinciding with offensive line injuries, but they got right tackle Lucas Niang back last week, meaning they had their preferred starting five healthy on the offensive line for the first time in weeks, and it showed in a 48-9 rout of the Raiders. If their offense bounces back to their typical form with a healthy offensive line and their defense continues to be a complementary unit, the Chiefs are going to be very tough for anyone to beat and could easily be considered the top team in the league and the Super Bowl favorite, despite their slow start.

The Chiefs will be without interior defender Chris Jones this week due to COVID protocols, but the Chargers will be missing left tackle Rashawn Slater for the same reason and the talented rookie is playing so well that his absence almost cancels out the absence of the Chiefs’ dominant interior defender. This game is in Los Angeles, after the last matchup was in Kansas City, but it barely matters, given the Chargers lack of homefield advantage in Los Angeles, where they are 14-21 ATS at home since moving in 2017, as opposed to 22-14 ATS on the road. The Chiefs, in particular, have seen very friendly crowds in Los Angeles in their visits, which has helped them win all three of their matchups against the Chargers in Los Angeles, by an average of nine points per game.

The Chargers are a solid team, but, with the absences of Jones and Slater taken into account, the Chiefs are still significantly better than them and should be favored by significantly more than just a field goal on the road in a place where they will be greeted by a friendly crowd and where they have had no problem winning in the past. My calculated line has the Chiefs favored by 6.5 points, having a 7.5-point edge in my roster rankings, while the Chargers get just one point for homefield advantage. The Chiefs are worth at least a small bet at -3 and, depending on the status of questionable Charger defensive backs Derwin James and Asante Samuel, I might increase this play. I also want to make sure neither team will have any further COVID absences before possibly making this a higher confidence pick.

Update: I want to increase this bet. Derwin James is playing, which would have been the bigger absence, but Asante Samuel is out and, the bigger deal, is that the Chiefs have had no further key players test positive for COVID, which will be a concern up until gametime in every game this week. With both teams missing one key player each with COVID, the Chiefs have a significant edge over a team they could have easily beaten earlier this year if not for some fluky turnovers and that was despite the Chargers being the significantly healthier team in that matchup, which is not the case this time around.

Kansas City Chiefs 30 Los Angeles Chargers 23

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -3

Confidence: High

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