Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (5-10) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-4)

The Chargers lost at home to the Raiders last week in a game that was embarrassing for multiple reasons. Not only did they lose to a team that entered the game 29th in first down rate differential, with 6 losses by 18 or more, but the crowd appeared to be somewhere around 95% Raiders fans, forcing the Chargers to regularly use silent counts at home. The Chargers’ lack of fans in Los Angeles is nothing new and they’ve struggled at home since moving in 2017 (7-15 ATS), so I’ve typically used 1 point for homefield advantage for the Chargers rather than the typical 2.5 or 3 points, but I’m starting to think the Chargers are actually a better team on the road than at home. 

The Chargers have to deal with opposing crowds regardless of where they play, but that’s to be expected on the road. It has to be demoralizing to deal with that on your own home field. Overall, they are 7-9 straight up at home over the past 2 seasons and 10-5 on the road, the 4th best road winning percentage over that time period. At the very least, all Chargers games should be considered neutral site games going forward and I’ve considered actually taking away a point from their calculated line at home and giving them a point on the road, for psychological reasons.

The Chargers really seemed to not give much effort last week in a meaningless game where the home crowd was supporting the visitor, but I would expect a better effort this week on the road against a tough Kansas City team that is playing for playoff seeding. Given that, we’re getting good line value with the Chargers as 9-point road underdogs this week. The Chiefs have somewhat quietly been a very complete football team since getting Patrick Mahomes back from injury, allowing a 32.67% first down rate in their past 9 games (6th in the NFL over that stretch) and moving the chains at a 42.12% rate in games started and finished by Mahomes, but the Chargers have played much better than their record suggests, even without any homefield advantage.

On the season, they rank 5th in first down rate differential at +4.16% and have a positive point differential at +2, with all but one of their losses coming by a touchdown or less and the only exception being a game in which they lost the turnover battle by 6. Turnovers have killed them overall this season, as they rank last in the NFL with a -16 turnover margin, but turnover margins are highly unpredictable, so the Chargers aren’t necessarily going to lose the turnover battle in this game just because they’ve struggled with turnovers all season. In fact, teams with a turnover margin of -10 or worse over a 5-game stretch, like the Chargers, have an average turnover margin of just -0.1 in their next game and, as a result, cover at a 55% rate. Those are somewhat arbitrary endpoints, but the fact remains that there’s next to no correlation week-to-week between turnover margins. 

The Chargers are also healthier now than they’ve been most of the season, especially with stud safety Derwin James returning a few weeks ago. Even with the Chiefs being relatively healthy themselves and ranking 4th in my roster rankings this week, I still only have the Chargers 5 points behind them and, given that I’m treating all Chargers games as neutral site games, that gives us a calculated line of Kansas City -5.

I was hoping this line would be double digits after the results of last week’s games, but oddsmakers likely know that sharps would be all over the Chargers at +10 or higher, so I don’t expect this line to go there. Even at +9, I like the Chargers a lot. Even with the injury and turnover problems they’ve had, they’ve been competitive in most of their games and I wouldn’t expect this one to be any different, even as well as the Chiefs have played in recent weeks.

Kansas City Chiefs 24 Los Angeles Chargers 19

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +9

Confidence: High

Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (6-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)

The Chargers have had a very disappointing 5-9 season, a year after going 12-4, but they’ve been much better than their record suggests, entering this game 6th in first down rate differential at +4.08%, especially impressive when you consider they basically play 16 road games, as they completely lack a fan base in Los Angeles. Most of their losses have been close, with their only loss by more than a touchdown coming last week against the Vikings, a game against one of the best teams in the league that was closer than the final score (Chargers lost the first down rate battle by just 4.36% in a 29-point loss). 

Turnovers have killed the Chargers more than anything, as they rank dead last in the NFL with a -16 turnover margin and have had more than a couple losses that have swung on turnovers. Fortunately, turnover margin tends to be very unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Chargers’ awful turnover margin doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll continue losing the turnover battle going forward.

One of their losses that swung on the turnover battle was their first matchup with the Raiders, back in week 10 in Oakland, a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 7.58%, but ended up losing by 2 because of a -3 turnover margin. Outside of those 3 snaps, the Chargers outplayed the Raiders significantly. The Chargers don’t have a homefield advantage, but I like their chances a lot in the rematch in Los Angeles, assuming turnover neutral football, which should almost always be assumed. 

Not only did the Chargers outplay the Raiders for most of the previous rematch, but they also have stud safety Derwin James available this time around, while the Raiders are missing a trio of key contributors on offense, running back Josh Jacobs and offensive linemen Richie Incognito and Trent Brown. The Chargers are without left tackle Russell Okung, which is a significant absence for them, but Okung only played 7 snaps in the previous matchup before getting hurt and has been absent for most of the season, so his absence is not anything new.

The Raiders, meanwhile, have had Incognito, Jacobs, and Brown on the field for most of the season, and, despite that, the Raiders have been significantly worse than their 6-8 record suggests. While their largest margin of victory this season is just 8 points, but all 2 of their losses have come by at least 18 points, with the only exceptions being a game in Houston in which they lost the first down rate battle by 9.28% and last week’s game at home against the Jaguars, who are arguably the worst team in the NFL and had lost their previous 5 games by at least 14 points prior to last week’s win. 

In terms of first down rate differential, the Raiders rank 29th in the NFL at -5.31%, a long way behind the 6th ranked Chargers. Their defense has been the biggest problem, ranking dead last in the NFL with a 41.36% first down rate allowed, but their offense, which ranks 36.06% in first down rate at 17th, could have a lot of trouble this week too without their feature back and a pair of talented offensive linemen. 

I typically don’t like betting on the Chargers at home, but I would expect this to be yet another blowout loss for the Raiders. Despite these teams records, the Chargers have significantly outplayed the Raiders on the season and they are also in a significantly better injury situation. We’ve lost line value with the Chargers going from 6.5-point favorites on the early line last week to 7.5-point favorites this week, but I still like the Chargers enough to bet on them. If this line drops back down to a touchdown before gametime, I’ll probably increase this bet.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -7.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Los Angeles Chargers: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (9-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-8)

The Chargers’ victory in Jacksonville last week was highly impressive. The Jaguars have been an awful team in recent weeks, but the Chargers still gave them their biggest loss of the season by score of 45-10 and they won the first down rate battle by a ridiculous 31.50%, the highest single game margin of the season, eclipsing New England’s week 2 victory in Miami (29.66%). The Chargers are still just 5-8 after going 12-4 last season, but don’t let the record fool you. The core of last year’s 12-4 team is still there and is more or less healthy right now.

Earlier in the season, tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), left tackle Russell Okung (8 games), defensive end Melvin Ingram (3 games), running back Melvin Gordon (4 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), and safety Derwin James (11 games) all missed significant time, but they’re all active now. They have a pair of expected starters on injured reserve, center Mike Pouncey and wide receiver Travis Benjamin, but neither was playing well before going down, so that’s not a big deal.

Even with the injuries they’ve had, the Chargers still rank 5th in first down rate differential at +4.72%, as they’ve managed a +38 point differential despite a -10 turnover margin. Turnover margins tend to be highly inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Chargers aren’t necessarily going to continue losing the turnover battle going forward. Given that all 8 of their losses have come by a touchdown or less, in several cases swinging on a turnover or two, there’s a good argument to be made that the Chargers would be competing for the AFC West title right now if they had their key players healthy all season.

Unfortunately, we’re starting to lose some line value with them, as the Chargers are only 1.5 point home underdogs this week against the Vikings, after being 3 point underdogs on the early line last week. I don’t like to bet the Chargers at home anyway, as they have no fans in Los Angeles. Since moving in 2017, they are 7-12-1 ATS at home and 15-8-2 ATS on the road. Especially with the Chargers out of the playoff race, I would expect this crowd to be mostly Vikings fans. I only use a 1 point for homefield in Chargers games (instead of the traditional 2.5 or 3) and I have these two teams about even, so my calculated line is Chargers -1. The Vikings are in a potential trap game spot with a big divisional matchup against the Packers on deck, but there isn’t enough line value with the Chargers for them to be worth betting at +1.5. The money line isn’t a bad bet at +105 though, as this game is slightly better than a toss up for the Chargers.

Los Angeles Chargers 26 Minnesota Vikings 24 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +1.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)

Typically teams have more injured players late in the season than they do early in the season, but for the Chargers it has been the opposite. Tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), left tackle Russell Okung (8 games), defensive Melvin Ingram (3 games), running back Melvin Gordon (4 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), and safety Derwin James (11 games) have all missed significant time this season, but have since returned. Now the Chargers head into week 14 without any regular players on the injury report and only a pair of expected starters on injured reserve, center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Travis Benjamin, neither of whom was playing that well.

The Chargers more or less have the same roster right now as they did last season, when they went 12-4 and won a playoff game. However, while they went 5-1 last season in games decided by a touchdown or less last season, the Chargers are just 2-8 in those games this season, including last week’s embarrassing finish in Denver. Record in close games tends to be very inconsistent, so the Chargers aren’t necessarily more likely to lose close games going forward, just like they weren’t necessarily more likely to win close games this year after last year’s impressive record in close games. On the season, the Chargers rank 9th in first down rate differential at +2.51%, losing close games primarily because of a -10 turnover margin, which is also very inconsistent. The Chargers haven’t faced a tough schedule, but with their roster basically at full strength they rank 12th in my roster rankings and they are definitely better than their record suggests.

The Jaguars have the same record at 4-8, but have played much worse, with a -72 point differential that ranks 25th in the NFL and a -5.35% first down rate differential that ranks 28th in the NFL. They’re changing quarterbacks, benching highly paid veteran Nick Foles for 6th round rookie Gardiner Minshew, who made 8 starts when Foles was injured earlier this season. That move is unlikely to help much, as their problems go far beyond the quarterback position. 

At their peak, the Jaguars had a dominant defense, but with Marcell Dareus and Myles Jack on injured reserve and Jalen Ramsey in Los Angeles, the Jaguars have just 3 players left from their top-11 in terms of snaps played from their dominant 2017 defense. They rank just 22nd in first down rate allowed on the season at 36.93% and have been even worse in recent weeks, ranking 27th in first down rate allowed at 38.19% and 31st in first down rate differential at -7.92% since week 7. Meanwhile on offense, even in Minshew’s 8 starts, the Jaguars had just a 31.70% first down rate, which would be 27th in the NFL on the season, and Minshew saved his worst start for last, leading to a 26-3 loss to the Texans in London. After a hot start, Minshew seemed to fall back to earth in his final few games, so going back to him is unlikely to make much if any positive impact.

The Chargers are on the road this week, but location hasn’t really mattered much for the Chargers since they moved to Los Angeles, where they basically have no fans. Since the start of the 2017 season, they are 7-12-1 ATS at home and 14-8-2 ATS on the road. I typically only use 1 point for homefield advantage in Chargers games instead of the standard 2.5. For this line to be accurate, the Chargers would have to only be 4 points better than the Jaguars, but I have them 8.5 points better and have this line calculated at Chargers -7.5. I don’t love the spot the Chargers are in with a tough home game against the Vikings on deck (road favorites are 45-25 ATS before being home underdogs since 2012), but we’re getting a ton of value with the visitors this week.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Jacksonville Jaguars 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) at Denver Broncos (3-8)

A year after going 12-4, the Chargers have had a highly disappointing year, coming out of last week’s bye at 4-7, likely needing to win out to even have a shot at a playoff berth. They’ve been better than that record suggests though, as all of their losses have come by 7 points or fewer. A year after a 5-1 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer powered them to a 12-4 record, the Chargers are just 2-7 in games decided by 7 points or fewer this season. They have a positive point differential at +6, despite the 6th worst turnover margin in the league at -9. Turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and in terms of first down rate differential the Chargers rank 8th in the NFL at +2.52%, impressive even against a relatively easy schedule. 

The Chargers also come out of their bye arguably as close to 100% as they’ve been all season and are really starting to resemble last year’s active roster. Tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), left tackle Russell Okung (8 games), defensive Melvin Ingram (3 games), running back Melvin Gordon (4 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), and safety Derwin James (11 games) have all missed significant time this season, but all of those players are expected to play this week. James’ return is especially big because he was one of the top safeties in the league last season and is just now making his season debut after off-season foot surgery. With him and the others back, the Chargers currently rank 11th in my roster rankings. 

The Chargers’ opponents this week, the Denver Broncos, have also been better than their record, entering this game 20th in first down rate differential at -1.68%, but they’re going in the opposite direction injury wise, with a trio of key defenders, edge defender Von Miller, linebacker AJ Johnson, and defensive tackle Shelby Harris all considered highly questionable for this game after barely practicing all week. Miller, their best player on either side of the ball, would be a particularly big absence. 

The Broncos also have uncertainty at the quarterback position. Original starting quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t play well in 8 starts before getting hurt, but his replacement Brandon Allen has barely looked like an NFL caliber passer, leading the Broncos to a 28.66% first down rate in 3 starts, about 3% worse than Flacco and most comparable to the last ranked Redskins, who have a 28.14% first down rate on the season. The Broncos could start second round rookie Drew Lock in this game, as he’s expected to be active for the first time this season, but Lock has barely practiced with the team since off-season thumb surgery and was considered very raw coming out of college.

This line has shifted from Chargers +1 to -3 in the past week, but that’s appropriate line movement given the injury changes that have happened in the past week. The Chargers are on the road here in Denver, but they essentially play 16 road games per year because they don’t have any fans in Los Angeles, so I don’t think the fact that they’re away from home this week is much of a big deal. Since moving to Los Angeles, they are just 7-12-1 ATS at home, but 14-7-2 ATS on the road. Rather than the standard 2.5-3 point homefield advantage, I typically only use 1 point for Chargers games. With these two teams about 6 points apart in my roster rankings, I have this line calculated at Chargers -5 and that would increase if any of the Broncos’ questionable players are ruled out. I may have an update on this before gametime, but for now I like the Chargers for a small bet.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Los Angeles Chargers: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-5) at Oakland Raiders (4-4)

The Chargers had an impressive 26-11 victory over the Packers last week, but that wasn’t necessarily surprising. The Chargers, who went 12-4 last season, are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Left tackle Russell Okung, edge defender Melvin Ingram, and tight end Hunter Henry all healthy back healthy and playing well after missing significant time, leaving safety Derwin James as their only key injury absence. 

James was one of the top safeties in the league last season, but even without him the Chargers are a playoff caliber team. They rank 12th in my roster rankings and, despite their early season injuries, the Chargers actually rank 11th in first down rate differential on the season at +2.54%, albeit against an easy schedule. With all five of their losses coming by a touchdown or less, the Chargers rank 13th in point differential at +15, despite not benefiting from turnovers, at -3.

The most impressive part of the Chargers’ win was that they played so well at home, in front of a crowd that had so many Packers fans that the game might as well have been in Lambeau. The Chargers have underwhelmed at home since moving to Los Angeles, where they have no fans, going 7-12-1 ATS, but the flip side of that is they’ve traveled well, going 14-6-2 ATS away from Los Angeles. 

Despite the Chargers’ impressive win, this line has not moved significantly in the past week, going from Oakland -2.5 on the early line last week to Los Angeles -1 this week, which barely matters because only about 8% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer. Using 1 point for homefield advantage instead of the standard 3 points because the Chargers travel so well, this line suggests that the Chargers are only a couple points better than the Raiders, which I disagree with.

While the Chargers are a playoff caliber team now that they are healthier, the Raiders still are a middling team at best, ranking 24th in point differential at -34 and 26th in first down rate differential at -3.98%. They’ve faced a tougher schedule than the Chargers and could have their starting five offensive linemen together for this game for the first time all season if center Rodney Hudson can return from a one-game absence, but both Hudson and right tackle Trent Brown are dealing with injuries that could limit them or be re-aggravated mid-game. Their defense, meanwhile, is still horrendous, allowing the second highest first down rate differential in the league at 41.53%. I have these two teams about four points apart, suggesting the Chargers should be favored by a field goal on the road (and by five points if this game was in Los Angeles). In a game the Chargers just need to win to cover, they’re worth a small bet this week.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Oakland Raiders 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -1

Confidence: Medium