Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (6-9) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-1)

The Chiefs have locked up the #1 seed in the AFC and will be resting key starters in this one to avoid catastrophic injuries ahead of what the Chiefs hope will be a 2nd straight Super Bowl run. The Chargers will not be resting starters, but it may be tough to tell the difference, with all of the key players the Chargers will be without in this matchup. In addition to some long-term absences, the Chargers will be missing top wide receiver Keenan Allen, top tight end Hunter Henry, talented right tackle Bryan Bulaga, their top-3 defensive ends Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Uchenna Nwosu, top cornerback Casey Hayward, and top safety Rayshawn Jenkins. 

The Chargers’ injuries on defense are especially a big deal, as they have played significantly better on that side of the ball this season, ranking 10th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.90%, as opposed to 24th in first down rate over expected on offense at -1.40%. The absence of their top-3 defensive ends is particularly concerning, as that was a position of significant strength that is now a significant weakness. In their current state, I have the Chargers just 28th in my roster rankings.

The Chargers have played a lot of close games even when healthier (12 of 15 games decided by one score), don’t have a single win over a winning team, and their only two wins by more than a field goal came by 6 against the Jets and by 10 against the Jaguars, arguably the two worst teams in the league, so I’m skeptical that they’re going to win by more than 4 points on the road over the Chiefs backups and cover this spread when they are missing as many players as they are missing. I don’t feel like betting on a team that isn’t taking this game seriously, but the Chiefs should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes because this line is too high in favor of a depleted Chargers team.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Kansas City Chiefs 23

Pick against the spread: Kansas City +4

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (5-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (5-9)

The Chargers are just 5-9, but most of their losses have been close, with 7 of their 9 wins coming by one score or less, including blown leads against high level teams like the Saints, Buccaneers, and Chiefs. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Chargers have been a middling team, ranking 20th at -0.52%. They’ve been more reliant on their defense than their offense though, with their offense ranking 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.60% and their defense ranking -1.08% in first down rate allowed over expected at 9th. 

That’s typically a bad thing going forward because defensive play tends to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive play. We’ve already seen the Chargers start to slip to recent weeks defensively and I would definitely expect that to continue in this one, with the Chargers missing their top-3 edge defenders Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Uchenna Nwosu, turning a position of strength into one of significant weakness. Ingram has been out for a while, but Bosa and Nwosu are both new absences this week. Missing the players they are missing, I have the Chargers ranked just 28th in my roster rankings. 

The Broncos are an underwhelming team, but I have them a point and a half better than the Chargers right now. With the Chargers being favored by 3.5 points at home with no fans in the stadium, this line is essentially saying the Chargers are about 3 points better than the Broncos, which is very off with the Chargers missing the key players they are missing. On top of that, the Broncos are in a significantly better spot than the Chargers, who have to turn around and play a much tougher game next week in Kansas City, while the Broncos will be playing a far less imposing Raiders team. 

Favorites cover at just a 42.8% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 50% (Broncos are 5-9, Chiefs are 13-1), including a 41.7% rate when their next opponent has a winning percentage that is 40%+ better than their opponent’s next opponent (Raiders are 7-7, Chiefs are 13-1). On top of that, favorites cover at just a 41.7% rate at home against a sub-400 divisional opponent before going on the road and facing a divisional opponent with a record better than .700. 

Between the line value and the great spot, there is a lot to like about the Broncos this week, so this is my Pick of the Week at +3.5. At the very least, I would expect the Chargers to win by a field goal if they manage the win (3 of their 5 wins have been by exactly a field goal), but the Broncos have a good chance to pull the straight up upset against a banged up Chargers team that has been eliminated and has a much tougher game on deck to look forward.

Update: Both Bradley Chubb and Keenan Allen are expected out in this game. I originally had both factored in as likely to play, but possibly limited. Both being out doesn’t change this projection much. If anything, Allen is slightly more important to the Chargers than Chubb is to the Broncos. This is still my Pick of the Week.

Denver Broncos 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Los Angeles Chargers at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-9) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-6)

The Raiders are 7-6 and still in the playoff race in the AFC, but they haven’t played like a playoff team overall. Six of their 7 wins have come by 10 points or fewer, with the exception being a game in which the Raiders won the turnover battle by 5, which is highly unsustainable, while 4 of their 6 losses have come by at least 16 points and they have a point differential of -41 that is most comparable to the 4-9 Panthers and the 4-8-1 Eagles. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank just 27th at -2.51%. 

The Raiders’ problems are concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.13%, which is a good thing because defenses tend to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offenses, so the Raiders’ past defensive struggles don’t guarantee another poor performance from their defense in this game, but the Raiders are also very banged up on that side of the ball, missing four starters, including a pair of key starters in Damon Arnette and Clelin Ferrell, which makes it a lot more likely that they’ll continue to struggle defensively, and their offense hasn’t been anything to write home about either, ranking just 16th in first down rate over expected at +0.62%. 

Earlier in the season, I would have probably bet the Chargers in this game, as 3-point underdogs on the road in what basically amounts to a neutral site game. The Chargers started the season just 2-6, but all six of their losses came by 7 points or fewer, including blown leads over teams like the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Saints, and these Raiders. Since then, they’ve lost games by 8 points, 10 points, and 45 points and, while they’ve also won a couple games, those wins have come by just 6 points over the Jets and 3 points over the Falcons. In total, all four of their wins have come against opponents with records of 4-9 or worse by 10 points or fewer.

In some ways, the Chargers’ decline was not unexpected, as their defense was primarily what was keeping those tough games close, while their offense struggled to consistently string together drives, relying primarily on deep passes to score points. Not only is that an unsustainable way to score points consistently, but defensive play also tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance, so their defense regressing towards the mean isn’t surprising, especially since they are missing key players from earlier this season, with slot cornerback Desmond King being traded and defensive end Melvin Ingram and linebacker Denzel Perryman both out with injuries. 

The Chargers are still about even with the Raiders in my roster rankings, but that has more to do with the Raiders being generally overrated and being currently banged up on the defensive side of the ball than anything positive about the Chargers. My calculated line has the Raiders favored by just 1-point, so we’re getting line value with the Chargers as full field goal underdogs, but I would need this line to climb to 3.5 for it to be worth betting on. If it does, I will have an update before gametime, but, for now, this is a low confidence pick at +3.

Update: +3.5s have popped up before gametime. I am not sure if that has to do with Chargers wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams both being questionable and potentially limited in this game, but both are active, while the Raiders will be down a 5th defensive starter with cornerback Nevin Lawson out. My calculated line is actually closer to even than -1 and I’m going to flip this pick to the Chargers straight up and place a small bet on both the spread at +3.5 and the money line at +155. The Raiders defense is arguably the worst in the league and their offense isn’t good enough to justify them being favored by more than a field goal over a competent opponent.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Las Vegas Raiders 30 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-9)

Both of these teams have had disappointing seasons in the win-loss column, but both have been better than their record. The Chargers were blown out 45-0 by the Patriots last week, but most of their losses have been close, as they previously hadn’t lost by more than 10 and seven of their nine losses have come by one score, including blown leads against high level teams like the Chiefs, Saints, and Buccaneers. The Falcons, meanwhile, don’t need to be told about blowing leads, as they’ve blown three leads in games in which they had a very high win probability late, which has them at 4-8 despite a +9 point differential. Despite both team’s losing records, both teams have actually spent more time with the lead than trailing this season. 

The Chargers rank a little higher in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (-0.49% vs. -1.00%), but the Falcons have the better offense (-0.51% vs. -2.04%), which is more predictable and consistent, and they have the edge in my roster rankings as well (16th vs. 22nd). Overall, I have the Falcons about 2 points better than the Chargers, which gives us a calculated line of Atlanta -1.5 if we give the Chargers a half point for nominal homefield advantage. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where this line is, so we’re not getting any line value either way. I’m taking the Chargers purely because I think they’ll be the more motivated team, trying to avenge last week’s blowout loss (teams are 63-39 ATS since 2002 after losing by 35 or more points), but I don’t have much confidence in them.

Atlanta Falcons 24 Los Angeles Chargers 23

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +1.5

Confidence: None

New England Patriots at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (5-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (3-8)

The Chargers are just 3-8, but it’s well-known that they have been competitive in most of their games, even against good teams, as they’ve only lost one game by more than one score all season, including near victories over the Chiefs, Saints, and Buccaneers. However, their offense hasn’t been all that impressive, ranking 24th in first down rate over expected at -1.29%, which is a concern because offensive play is much more consistent week-to-week than defensive play. 

The Chargers rank 9th in first down rate allowed over expected at -1.55%, but aren’t guaranteed to be that good going forward, especially given that they are missing key players due to injury, including stud defensive end Melvin Ingram and top linebacker Denzel Perryman and that they traded away talented slot cornerback Desmond King at the trade deadline. They could also be without top cornerback Casey Hayward and Melvin Ingram’s replacement Uchenna Nwosu, who are both considered questionable for this game.

The Patriots are almost an opposite team from the Chargers, ranking 9th in first down rate over expected at +1.72% and 22nd in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.53%. You might not think of them as a good offense because of their passing game issues, but they have a strong offensive line and versatile running game, with both power running back Damien Harris and quarterback Cam Newton finding success on the ground. That formula won’t work against every team, but it should be effective against a team like the Chargers, especially with the Chargers missing their top linebacker. 

The Patriots’ defense has been a problem this season, but defensive play is very inconsistent week-to-week and I trust Bill Belichick and company to make the right defensive adjustments as much as any coaching staff in the league. Belichick should particularly be at an advantage this week against a rookie quarterback, a situation he is 15-4 straight up in throughout his career. The Patriots are the more talented overall team and matchup well with the Chargers on both sides of the ball, so they should be favored by at least a couple points, rather than being slight underdogs. This isn’t a big bet, but there’s enough line value here for the Patriots to be worth betting and I may increase this bet if it turns out Hayward and/or Nwosu can’t play.

New England Patriots 23 Los Angeles Chargers 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: New England +1.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-3)

The Chargers have once again been one of the most injury prone teams in the league. It started when they lost stud safety Derwin James, arguably their top defensive player, for the season with injury before the season even began and over the first half of the season the Chargers lost several other key players. Last week against the Jets was arguably the healthiest they’ve been since the beginning of the season, with key players like stud defensive ends Joey Bosa (2 games missed) and Melvin Ingram (3 games), starting defensive tackle Justin Jones (3 games), starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga (4 games), #2 wide receiver Mike Williams (1 game), and starting right guard Trai Turner (7 games) all active after missing time earlier this year.

However, that really only lasted a week, as the Chargers have since lost top cornerback Casey Hayward and talented defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Uchenna Nwosu (their top-two edge defenders after Bosa) to injuries. The Chargers could be getting some reinforcements from injured reserve, with starting running back Austin Ekeler and starting cornerback Chris Harris potentially being activated after being designated to return, but, even with those two, the Chargers would still be far from full strength. 

Despite injuries, the Chargers have played reasonably well this season, regardless of what their 3-7 record suggests, as they’ve been within one score in all seven losses, including early leads over top level teams like the Chiefs, Saints, and Buccaneers. However, with Ekeler and Harris’ uncertainty factored in, the Chargers still rank just 23rd in my roster rankings. The general public is also pretty aware that the Chargers have been competitive against good teams in their losses and, as a result, the Chargers are just 4.5 point favorites in Buffalo against a 7-3 Bills team, so we’re not getting any line value with them.

In fact, Buffalo -4.5 is my exact calculated line and, without any situational trends that apply to this game, my decision on which side to take for pick ‘em purposes is going to be entirely dependent on the status of Ekeler and Harris. For now, I’m taking the Chargers, but that would change if Ekeler and Harris were ruled out. Either way, I expect this to be a no confidence pick barring a significant change to the spread or some other unexpected circumstance.

Update: Ekeler and Harris are both in, but I’m leaving this as a no confidence pick.

Buffalo Bills 24 Los Angeles Chargers 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +4.5

Confidence: None

New York Jets at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

New York Jets (0-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-7)

In 2019, the Chargers were a solid team, but went just 5-11 because of a ridiculous 2-9 record in one score games. That type of thing tends to be very inconsistent on a year-to-year basis, but somehow the Chargers have been even worse in close games this season, going 1-7 in one score games. Rookie starting quarterback Justin Herbert has had even worse luck, as the Chargers one one-score victory came in week 1 in Cincinnati with veteran Tyrod Taylor under center. 

All seven of Herbert’s losses were one score games, even though he’s played a pretty tough schedule in those seven losses, with five of the losses coming against teams that are currently 6-3 or better, including near victories over the Saints, Buccaneers, and Chiefs. Meanwhile, Herbert’s only victory came by 10 over the Jaguars in a game in which the Jaguars scored on special teams and the Chargers won the first down rate battle by 12.24%. 

The Jaguars are one of the worst teams in the league, but the Jets are the one team that is clearly worse than them. Not only do they rank dead last in my roster rankings and in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -7.87% (the Jaguars are 31st at -5.43%), but they’ve lost every game they’ve played and most of them haven’t been particularly close, with 8 losses by 8 points or more and an average margin of defeat of 16.3 points per game. The Chargers are 9.5 point favorites in this game, but wouldn’t even have to come that close to the Jets’ average margin of defeat to cover this spread. 

The Chargers have played much better than their record and are arguably the healthiest they’ve been all season right now, with key players like defensive ends Joey Bosa (2 games missed) and Melvin Ingram (3 games), defensive tackle Justin Jones (3 games missed), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (4 games missed), wide receiver Mike Williams (1 game missed), and right guard Trai Turner (7 games missed) all being available for this game, so you can definitely make the case that they’re at least an average team. I don’t know if I like the Chargers quite enough for them to be worth betting, but they should be the right side and I ultimately may end up wagering on them.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 New York Jets 12

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -9.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Chargers at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (2-6) at Miami Dolphins (5-3)

Sitting at 3-3, coming off back-to-back wins by 24 points, the Dolphins made the surprising move during their bye week to bench veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick for rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa was drafted by the Dolphins with the 5th overall pick and was obviously the future of the position after the 38-year-old Fitzpatrick, but Fitzpatrick was solid last season as the starting quarterback, while Tagovailoa was still working back from a serious leg injury suffered at the end of his collegiate career, so it always seemed likely that Fitzpatrick would be the starter in 2020 unless he struggled mightily. Instead, even with Fitzpatrick playing similarly to last season and winning games despite poor offensive line play, the Dolphins took a big chance and went with the unproven rookie instead.

The Dolphins have continued winning, extending their winning streak to 4 games with wins in each of Tagovailoa’s first two starts, but the jury is still very much out on Tagovailoa. He struggled mightily in his debut against the Rams, with the Dolphins winning that game primarily because of defense and special teams and, while he looked much better in his second start, outdueling Kyler Murray in Arizona, that performance came against a weak Arizona defense that was also missing multiple starters with injury and illness. It’s very possible the Dolphins would be 5-3 regardless of their quarterback swap, so time will tell whether or not it was the right short-term decision for this team in 2020.

This week Tagovailoa will square off with the quarterback drafted one spot behind him, Justin Herbert, who went 6th overall to the Chargers. Herbert didn’t take as long to get into the starting lineup, although it took a fluke injury to veteran starter Tyrod Taylor to give Herbert his initial start in week 2, after Taylor won the season opener in Cincinnati. Since being plugged into the lineup, Herbert has won just one game, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but that win came by 10 in a game in which the Chargers won the first down rate battle by 12.24%, while his 6 losses have all come by one score or less, including near victories over the Chiefs, Buccaneers, and Saints, who are among the best teams in the league.

By comparison, the Dolphins have faced a pretty easy schedule and they have benefitted from things like a +5 turnover margin, a +3 return touchdown margin, and a 55.56% opponent’s field goal percentage, three things that tend to be totally unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Dolphins rank 25th at -1.36%, well behind the Chargers, who rank 5th at +2.28%. The Dolphins have the slight edge on offense, ranking 19th in first down rate over expected at -0.23%, while the Chargers rank 25th at -1.44%, which is significant because offensive performance is much more predictive than defensive performance, but the Dolphins’ offense has statistically been worse overall with Tagovailoa under center rather than Fitzpatrick and the Chargers have a big edge on defense.

The Chargers are missing probably their most important defensive player in defensive end Joey Bosa, but this isn’t his first absence and otherwise they’re much healthier than they’ve been, as key players like defensive end Melvin Ingram (3 games missed), defensive tackle Justin Jones (3 games missed), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (4 games missed), wide receiver Mike Williams (1 game missed), and right guard Trai Turner (7 games missed) are all set to play this week. 

The Dolphins, meanwhile, will be without #2 wide receiver Preston Williams and two of their most important defensive players Christian Wilkins and Kyle Van Noy this week for the first time this season. In their current states, I have the Chargers 2.5 points better than Miami in my roster rankings, so we’re getting some line value with them as 1.5 point road underdogs. There isn’t quite enough here for the Chargers to be worth betting, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes and the money line at +110 is a good bet as well, as the Chargers should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

Update: Kyle Van Noy must have been a false positive because he was cleared to play after just a day in the COVID protocol, while Wilkins remains out. Van Noy’s presence will be a boost to Miami’s defense, but I still have the Chargers as just slightly better than 50/50 to pull the upset. I would lower this a couple confidence points though, with Van Noy in the lineup.

Los Angeles Chargers 17 Miami Dolphins 16 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +1.5

Confidence: Low

Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (4-3) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-5)

The Raiders have a couple more wins than the Chargers, but the Chargers have the edge in most of the key season-long stats, including point differential (-6 vs. -16), DVOA (-4.1% vs. -12.3%) and first down rate differential (+1.92% vs. -1.58%). The Raiders have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league, but the Chargers’ schedule hasn’t been much easier and they have managed to keep all of their losses within a touchdown, something they did frequently last year as well, when 9 of their 11 losses came by a touchdown or less. On top of that, the Chargers have led, in some cases by significant amounts, in most of their losses and rank 11th in the league in average lead. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Chargers rank 6th at +2.08%, still significantly above the Raiders in 22nd at -0.38%.

The bad news for the Chargers is that they’ve been very reliant on their 6th ranked defense in first down rate allowed over expected (their offense ranks just 26th in first down rate allowed over expected) and defenses tend to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offenses, where the Raiders have the edge with a 17th ranked offense in terms of first down rate over expected. Making matters worse for the Chargers, their defense will be without it’s best player this week in Joey Bosa, who is out with a concussion, and they could also be without top outside cornerback Casey Hayward, after already trading away top slot cornerback Desmond King to the Titans this week.

It’s not all bad news on the injury front for the Chargers, as the injuries aren’t anything new for them and key players like defensive end Melvin Ingram (3 games missed), defensive tackle Justin Jones (3 games missed), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (4 games missed), wide receiver Mike Williams (1 game missed), and possibly right guard Trai Turner (6 games missed) are set to play this week after missing time earlier in the season. Meanwhile, the Raiders remain without a pair of starting offensive linemen in left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Trent Brown and could be missing a third with left tackle Kolton Miller questionable, while their defense will be without one of it’s top players in defensive tackle Maurice Hurst. 

I still have the Chargers as the better team in my roster rankings, but only by a half point. With fans still not allowed in the Chargers’ home stadium, we’re not getting much line value with them on an even line against the Raiders, but they are the pick for pick ‘em purposes. Depending on the status of Trai Turner, Casey Hayward, and Kolton Miller for this game, I may issue an update before gametime, but I don’t expect to be betting on either side regardless.

Los Angeles Chargers 26 Las Vegas Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers PK

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (2-4) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-4)

These two teams are pretty similar. Both teams are 2-4, but have positive first down rate differentials (+0.73% for the Broncos and +1.49% for the Chargers), despite facing an above average strength of schedule. When adjusting for strength of schedule, the Chargers and Broncos rank 7th and 12th respectively in first down rate differential at +2.02% and +1.45% and both teams have achieved that in the same way, with a strong defense covering for a struggling offense. 

The Chargers and Broncos are at -2.17% and -3.31% respectively in first down rate over expected, with the Chargers struggling due to a weak offensive line and an inability to run the ball and the Broncos struggling due to poor quarterback play. On defense, the Chargers and Broncos rank 5th and 3rd respectively in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.19% and -4.76% respectively, but defensive production tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so I wouldn’t expect either team to be quite that good going forward, especially since both teams are outplaying their talent level and have overachieved thus far this season.

Despite teams two teams being so similar, the Chargers are favored by 3.5 points here in Denver on the road, where the Broncos will have at least some fans in attendance. The Chargers are the slightly better team with the better quarterback, but this line suggests the Chargers are about 5-5.5 points better than the Broncos, which isn’t the case. The Broncos will be without guard Graham Glasgow, which hurts, but they’ve also been better offensively with Drew Lock in the lineup than his backups and they’ll have running back Phillip Lindsay back from injury this week.

The Chargers may get right tackle Bryan Bulaga back from injury this week, which would be a boost for their horrendous offensive line, but if he can’t play, the Chargers will be down to their 3rd and 4th offensive tackles against the Broncos tough pass rush. If that’s the case and this line remains 3.5, the Broncos are worth betting and they may even be worth if Bulaga can play because he could be at less than 100% in his first action since week 3. I’m leaving this as low confidence for now, but there may be an update before gametime.

Los Angeles Chargers 20 Denver Broncos 19

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: Low