Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (11-2)

These two teams met all the way back in week 1, with the Chiefs winning 38-28 in Los Angeles. That game swung on a few plays though, despite it being a 10-point game, as the Chargers turned the ball over twice and allowed a punt return touchdown (still the Chiefs’ only special teams touchdown of the season). The Chargers actually won the first down rate battle by 6.83%, picking up a first down or touchdown on 48.65% of offensive plays, as opposed to 41.92% for the Chiefs.

They could easily do so again this week and, if they do, they have a good chance to pull the upset. This game is in Kansas City, but the atmosphere won’t be much different, as Chiefs fans filled the Chargers’ stadium week 1, as most visiting fanbases do. Lacking homefield advantage in Los Angeles, the Chargers are 6-0 straight up (5-1 ATS) with an average margin of victory of 10.2 points per game in 6 games outside of Los Angeles this season. That is a trend that dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 34-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012.

Divisional road underdogs typically do well in this spot anyway, as teams are 70-43 ATS since 2002 as divisional road underdogs against a team that previously beat them as home favorites earlier in the season. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are in a terrible spot on a short week after going to overtime with the Ravens last week. Understandably teams are just 6-26 ATS on a short week on a Thursday night after an overtime game in the past 30 years.

I considered making this my Pick of the Week, but didn’t for a couple reasons. One is injury uncertainty. The Chiefs are pretty banged up on offense, missing left guard Cam Erving, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, and running back Spencer Ware, who is only starting because Kareem Hunt got kicked off the team, but their defense could be getting a big boost with Eric Berry returning from injury. I say “could” because it’s tough to know what kind of shape he’s going to be in for his first game in 15 months, after missing 28 straight games over the past 2 seasons with injury. He may not even play full snaps this week. On top of that, #1 receiver Tyreek Hill barely practiced this week with a foot injury.

The Chargers, meanwhile, might be getting star running back Melvin Gordon back from injury, but if he’s out again, they’ll also be down to their 3rd string running back. They have some injuries on defense as well, with cornerback Trevor Williams, defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Corey Liuget, and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman all on the sidelines, but they’ve also gotten stud defensive end Joey Bosa back recently, giving them a dominant duo of Melvin Ingram and Bosa at defensive end, which has masked some of their issues at other positions like defensive tackle and linebacker. Their secondary is also playing at a high level, led by #1 cornerback Casey Hayward, dominant slot cornerback Desmond King, and stud rookie safety Derwin James.

The second reason I didn’t want to make this my Pick of the Week is the Chargers’ recent track record against the Chiefs. I normally don’t make too much of a team “having another team’s number” because the NFL changes so much and there usually isn’t a large enough sample size to make that claim, but the Chiefs have had the same head coach and defensive coordinator since 2013 and Philip Rivers is 2-9 against them, with 9 straight losses. That being said, he could easily exorcise those demons this week against a banged up Chiefs team that’s going to be exhausted on a short week and I like getting more than a field goal if the Chargers can’t pull the upset.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Kansas City Chiefs 23 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3.5

Confidence: High

Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (5-7) at Los Angeles Chargers (9-3)

The Chargers have an easy opponent this week, facing a Bengals team that has lost 6 of their last 7 and that is incredibly banged up on both sides of the ball, with starting quarterback Andy Dalton, #1 wide receiver AJ Green, starting tight end Tyler Eifert, starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, key edge rusher Carl Lawson, every down linebacker Vontaze Burfict, and starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick all on the sidelines with various injuries. However, despite the easy opponent, the Chargers are in a very tough spot, having to play their biggest game of the season in 4 days on Thursday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs, a game that could easily decide the AFC West.

Favorites typically struggle before a short week anyway, going 55-73 ATS since 2012, but that should especially be the case in this one, as I can’t imagine the Chargers aren’t spending some time on the Chiefs this week, with such an easy opponent in front of them this week. On the other side, the Bengals are distraction free, with only a home game against the Raiders on deck. Favorites are just 55-92 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs when their opponent will next be favorites. On top of that, favorites of 10+ are just 63-80 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs.

That being said, I can’t be confident in the Bengals at all, given the talent disparity between these two teams. The Chargers are one of the better teams in the league and I have them calculated as 16-point favorites in this one, so we’re actually getting a little bit of line value with them as only 14-point favorites. I’m taking the Bengals for pick ‘em purposes because I expect the Chargers to be flat and not give their best effort, but even still the Chargers could win this game by multiple scores.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Cincinnati Bengals 10

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +14

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3-1)

Both of these teams have had strong seasons, but the Chargers have been a little better. They rank 5th in point differential at +88 and 2nd in first down rate differential at +7.03%, while the Steelers rank 7th in point differential at +67 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.64%. The big difference is the amount of blowout wins the Chargers have gotten, with 6 of their 8 wins coming by at least a touchdown. The Steelers, meanwhile, have just 5 wins by more than a touchdown in their last 20 games, dating back to last season.

The Steelers have had a tougher schedule, with a combined opponents’ record of 49%, as opposed to 44% for the Chargers, but the Chargers schedule has been tougher than that suggests, as they have next to no homefield advantage in Los Angeles. In 5 games away from Los Angeles this season, the Chargers are 5-0 straight up (4-1 ATS) with an average margin of victory of 11.6 points per game.

This is a trend that actually dates back to their final few years in San Diego, when they frequently had large visiting crowds, as they are 33-19-3 ATS away from home since 2012. The Chargers are also at an advantage as a west coast team playing an east coast team at night. Teams cover at about a 65% rate in that spot all-time, regardless of where the game takes place, as western teams have internal clocks that are more suited for playing at night than eastern teams.

The Chargers have some injuries, with running back Melvin Gordon joining every down linebacker Denzel Perryman and rotational defensive tackles Corey Liuget and Brandon Mebane on the sideline. The loss of Gordon is the biggest one, but the Chargers have good depth at the running back position. They also got stud edge rusher Joey Bosa back from injury a couple weeks ago and with him at full strength that should more than cancel out their other injuries, as he’s one of their best players. The Steelers, meanwhile, get stud defensive end Stephon Tuitt back from injury, but they lose safety Morgan Burnett again and he was noticeably missed when he was out earlier this season.

Despite all of this, this line suggests the Steelers are the better of these two teams, favoring them by more than a field goal at home. Given the Chargers’ slight statistical advantage and the advantage they have playing at night, I think this line should be closer to even, giving us good line value, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. The Chargers are a smart pick against the spread this week and have a decent shot to pull the straight up upset.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Pittsburgh Steelers 30 Upset Pick +155

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +3.5

Confidence: High

Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)

The Chargers lost at home to the Broncos last week, but they won the first down rate battle (-2.35%) and could have won the game if they made all their extra points. The Broncos are also an underrated team that has played the Texans, Chiefs (twice), and Rams close, so that loss isn’t as bad as it looks. Even with that loss, the Chargers are still 7-3 and rank 7th in point differential at +53 and 4th in first down rate differential at +4.86%. The Chargers should also be better this week with stud defensive end Joey Bosa going into his 2nd game and likely to see close to his full snaps.

The Cardinals, on the other hand, are one of the worst teams in the league, ranking 31st in first down rate differential (-6.78%) and 30th in point differential (-103) and they are going in the wrong direction injury wise, with left tackle DJ Humphries joining right guard Justin Pugh on the sidelines this week, meaning the Cardinals will be without their best two offensive linemen from an offensive line that was pretty underwhelming to begin with.

Normally when one of the better teams in the league hosts one of the worst teams in the league the line should be at least two touchdowns and this line is a little short of that at -13, but I wouldn’t bet on the Chargers for a couple reasons. For one, they don’t have a typical homefield advantage, as they have serious trouble attracting fans in Los Angeles, even as well as they’ve played this season. The Chargers also aren’t in a great spot this week with a trip to Pittsburgh on deck. Double digit favorites are just 61-80 ATS before being underdogs, which the Steelers will be this week. With a weak opponent coming to town, they might not be completely focused with that game on deck.

The Cardinals aren’t in a good spot either with another tough game in Green Bay on deck, a game in which they are expected to be double digit underdogs again. Double digit underdogs are just 26-51 ATS since 2002 before being double digit underdogs again, as it’s very tough for a significantly inferior team to hang with a superior team when they have another tough game on deck. There’s not enough here to bet the Chargers, but they should be the right pick. I’ll probably downgrade this to a no confidence pick if running back Melvin Gordon is ruled out for the Chargers, but the fact that he was able to get some practice in on Friday suggests he at least has a good shot to play, even if he’s officially being called a gametime decision after tweaking his knee in practice this week.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Arizona Cardinals 16

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -13

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-6) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-2)

I’ve thought the Broncos are underrated for most of the season, as they are about even in point differential (-8), despite their 3-6 record, with 4 of their losses coming by a combined 16 points to the Texans, Rams, and Chiefs (twice), who are all division leaders. In first down rate differential, they are even better, ranking 10th at +2.83%. However, the injuries have started to pile up for them, especially on the offensive line. Already missing talented right guard Ron Leary for the season, the Broncos lost center Matt Paradis, their best offensive lineman, for the year in their final game before the bye and then lost fill-in right guard Max Garcia with a torn ACL during practice this week.

The Chargers, meanwhile, might be getting stud edge rusher Joey Bosa back for the first time this year, after he returned to practice this week. He’s not a guarantee to play and likely wouldn’t be 100% in his first game back, but he’d be a big boost to a defense that was one of the best in the league with him healthy in 2017. The Chargers finished the 2017 season 4th in first down rate allowed at 31.09%, but they rank just 13th at 35.84% this season. Bosa’s absence isn’t the only difference between last year and this year for this Chargers’ defense, but, assuming he returns to form, he’ll be a huge re-addition for this team down the stretch.

The Chargers are also in a much better spot. While the Broncos have to follow this game up with a big home game against the Steelers, the Chargers get yet another easy game next week with the Arizona Cardinals coming to town. The Broncos obviously won’t look past their division rival Chargers, but it’s very tough for inferior teams to compete when they have another tough game on deck, as underdogs of 6+ are 47-71 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs of 6+ again. Teams are also 31-60 ATS in general since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6+, as big upcoming home games tend to be a bit of a distraction.

On the other side, favorites of 6+ are 88-53 ATS since 2014 before being favored by 6+ again, including a ridiculous 28-7 ATS if their opponent will be 6+ point underdogs again the following week. Big home favorites tend to take care of business with easy games on deck, especially against an opponent that has to play another tough game the following week. That situation definitely applies to this game.

It worries me a little that there will be more Broncos fans than Chargers fans at this game, as the Chargers still can’t draw fans in Los Angeles even at 7-2, but, even with the Chargers’ lack of homefield advantage taken into account, I still have this line calculated at Chargers -8 over a banged up Denver team, so we’re still getting some line value with the Chargers, who also happen to be in the better spot. They are worth a bet and I will probably make this a bigger play if it’s announced Bosa is playing and the line doesn’t move to compensate.

Sunday Update: Bosa is expected to play, but will likely be limited to about 10-15 snaps, so I’m leaving this pick as is.

Los Angeles Chargers 27 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -7

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Oakland Raiders: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) at Oakland Raiders (1-7)

This line shifted from Chargers -7.5 on the early line last week up to Chargers -10 this week. Typically I like going against significant week-to-week line movements like that, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play, but this one is justified. The Chargers one of the better teams in the league, ranking 4th in first down rate differential at +4.70% and 8th in point differential at +40, while the Raiders are quite the opposite. Outside of the Bills, they may be the worst team in the entire league. The Chargers also typically play well on the road, going 32-20-3 ATS since 2012 away from home, as they rarely have much of a homefield advantage anyway and are used to playing in front of hostile crowds.

The Chargers are also in a great spot this week, with only another relatively easy divisional game on deck, at home against the Broncos, a game in which they are favored by 7 on the early line. Favorites of 6+ tend to take care of business with another easy game on deck, going 86-52 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 6+ again. The Raiders will probably bring their best effort for this game, with a long week to prepare against a hated divisional rival, but the Chargers could still easily win this game by double digits. This is too many points for the Chargers to be worth betting, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Chargers 31 Oakland Raiders 19

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -10

Confidence: None

Los Angeles Chargers at Seattle Seahawks: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (5-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-3)

I was hoping the Chargers would get Joey Bosa back from injury following their week 8 bye because I think with him healthy they are a legitimate contender, but would likely not be considered one by the general public, giving us some deflated lines with them. Bosa is expected to still need a few more weeks though and, at the very least, is out for this game in Seattle. Despite that, I still like the Chargers a lot this week as 1.5 point road favorites. Even without Bosa, the Chargers rank 5th in first down rate differential at +4.48%. Their defense has been underwhelming, ranking 20th in first down rate allowed at 37.33%, but their offense has been strong with Philip Rivers playing as well as he ever has and plenty of weapons around him, picking up first downs or touchdowns on 41.81% of offensive snaps.

Making that even more impressive is the fact that they basically have no homefield advantage, as their home games are usually overtaken by visiting fans. Going into Seattle is no easy task, but the Chargers are used to playing well in hostile environments and are 31-20-3 ATS away from home since 2012. This is also far from the same Seattle team we are used to, as a result of all their defensive losses. They are 4-3 and have won 4 of 5, with their one loss in that span coming by 2 points to the Rams, but they’ve also benefited from a +10 turnover margin, which they are not necessarily going to be able to rely on going forward, given how inconsistent turnovers are week-to-week. In first down rate, they rank just 24th at -3.15%, with both their offense and defense ranking below average.

This is also a much better spot for the Chargers than the Seahawks, as the Chargers follow this game with a trip to Oakland to play the hapless Raiders, while the Seahawks have to go to Los Angeles and take on the currently undefeated Rams. Underdogs are 84-51 ATS before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs, as teams tend to be much more focused with an easier game on deck rather than a harder one that could potentially be a distraction. I know we’re only getting a point and a half with the Chargers, but the logic stands, as that game in Los Angeles has likely been circled on the calendar by the Seahawks for months. Last time they played the Rams, they almost lost in Arizona the week prior. We’re also getting good line value with the Chargers, who I have calculated as 3-point road favorites in this game, so the Chargers are an obvious choice in this one.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Seattle Seahawks 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +1.5

Confidence: High