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

Baltimore Ravens at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (7-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-2)

The Chiefs are in a very tough spot this week, as they have to turn around and play their biggest remaining regular season game next week against the Chargers on Thursday Night Football. 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 Chiefs aren’t spending some time on the Chargers this week. On the other side, the Ravens are distraction free, with only a home game against the Buccaneers on deck.

I wish I trusted Ravens’ quarterback Lamar Jackson more in this kind of game though. If the Ravens were starting a healthy Joe Flacco, I’d bet them just because I know what to expect from him, but Jackson’s 3-0 record has come against a pretty easy schedule and I just don’t know what to expect from him in a game where he’ll have to be more aggressive as a passer to keep pace with an explosive Kansas City offense.

Kansas City’s defense has not been very good this year, but they could get Eric Berry back this week finally and even against an underwhelming defense it’s easy for young quarterbacks to make mistakes if they feel like they need to keep up with an offensive juggernaut. I’m taking Baltimore and hoping their defense can keep it close against a Kansas City team that probably won’t bring their best effort this week, but I wouldn’t recommend betting on this with the line under a touchdown.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Baltimore Ravens 23

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +6.5

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-2) at Oakland Raiders (2-9)

Earlier this week, I liked the Chiefs a lot in this one. The line was high, with Kansas City being favored by 15.5 points on the road, but this is a matchup of arguably the best and arguably the worst team in the league and the Chiefs are also in a great spot. While they don’t have any upcoming distractions, with only a home game against the Ravens on deck, the Raiders follow this game up with another tough game, hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. Favorites of 7+ are 58-35 ATS since 2014 before being favorites of 7+ again, while underdogs of 7+ are 29-47 ATS since 2014 before being underdogs of 7+ again. Combining the two, favorites of 7+ are 13-4 ATS since 2014 before being 7+ point favorites again, when their opponent will next be 7+ point underdogs again.

The Chiefs are also coming out of a bye. Not only is Andy Reid great off of a regular season bye in his career, 13-6 ATS as a head coach, but road favorites of 4+ are 32-8 ATS since 2002 after a bye, including a ridiculous 12-1 ATS against divisional opponents. Fully rested, the Chiefs looked likely to be fully focused, with no upcoming distractions on the schedule, while the Raiders were in a tough spot with back-to-back tough home games.

However, I’m no longer sure that the Chiefs will be fully focused this week, given the Kareem Hunt situation. Hunt is somewhat replaceable on the field, as new starting running back Spencer Ware is an experienced lead back, and the line shifted from -15.5 to -14 to compensate for Hunt getting kicked off the team, but I’m concerned about the psychological effect of losing a key player like that late in the week. I may change my mind and end up bumping this up to a medium confidence pick, especially if the line slips down to -13.5, but for now this is a low confidence pick.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Oakland Raiders 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -14

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams: 2018 Week 11 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) at Los Angeles Rams (9-1)

Originally this game was supposed to be in Mexico City, but poor field conditions forced the NFL to move it back to Los Angeles, making this a true home game for the Rams (originally they gave one up to play in Mexico City). It’s obviously a huge loss for Mexico City, as this ended up being one of the biggest games of the season. These two teams are in different conferences, so there aren’t seeding tiebreakers up for grabs in this game like there were in Chiefs/Patriots and Rams/Saints, but this is the 3rd latest two teams with at least a 90% winning percentage have met in the past 30 seasons and this could easily be a Super Bowl preview.

The Rams were originally 1.5-point favorites when the game was in Mexico City, but the line shifted to 3 as a result of the move to Los Angeles. Normally homefield advantage is about 3 points, but the Rams have had trouble getting a steady fanbase in Los Angeles, even as well as they’ve been playing, so we could easily see the crowd full of Chiefs fans like it was full of Packers and Seahawks fans in recent weeks. Given that, I understand not giving the Rams the full 3-point homefield advantage.

WIth that in mind, I’d say this line is pretty accurate. I have the Rams a little bit better than the Chiefs in my roster rankings, but it’s hard to take the Rams with any confidence as field goal home favorites against a team as good as the Chiefs when they don’t have true homefield advantage. I’m taking the Rams for pick ‘em purposes, but we could easily see a push in this game. This one figures to go right down to the wire and may come down to who has the ball last.

Los Angeles Rams 34 Kansas City Chiefs 31

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (2-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-1)

The Cardinals have been pretty terrible this season, but their offense looked much better in their first game under new offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were better in their first game out of the bye as well, with Leftwich now having another 2 weeks on the job. The schedule doesn’t do them any favors, as they have to head to Kansas City to play the AFC leading Chiefs, but they could definitely keep this game closer than the 16.5 point spread because the Chiefs are in a major look ahead spot, with a trip to Mexico City to play the NFC leading Rams on deck.

Teams tend to struggle before international games like that anyway, but the Chiefs are especially in a tough spot because of how big that game is going to be for them. Favorites of 12+ are just 18-37 ATS since 2002 before being underdogs. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have arguably their easiest game of the season on deck, as they host the Raiders next week, a game in which they will almost definitely be favored. Underdogs are 86-53 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. Coming out of a bye with an easy game on deck, the Cardinals should be fully focused for this game against one of the NFL’s best, while the Chiefs could easily not give their best effort and let the Cardinals hang around.

The Cardinals wouldn’t be the first team the Chiefs have let hang around. In fact, if the Chiefs were to cover this 16.5 point spread, it would be their 2nd biggest margin of victory of the season. They obviously have an incredible offense, but their defense ranks 30th in first down rate allowed at 42.19% and could allow the Cardinals to move the ball with ease in garbage time and keep this one within the 16.5 points. This isn’t a huge play because of the significant talent disparity between these two teams, but this should be closer than expected.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Arizona Cardinals 21

Pick against the spread: Arizona +16.5

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (7-1) at Cleveland Browns (2-5-1)

I’ve been going against the Chiefs in recent weeks because when everyone knows a team is good, it’s tough to get good line value with them. As well as they’ve played, they are just 2-2-1 ATS in their last 5 games. This week though, it’s the Chiefs or nothing in this game, as the Browns are unbettable in the wake of their coaching change. It’s not that Hue Jackson was doing a good job or anything, but with both him and Todd Haley going out the door and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams taking over as interim head coach, the Browns’ offense is now in the hands of running backs coach Freddie Kitchens, a career position coach who has never called plays at any level. With an inexperienced rookie quarterback under center and a banged up receiving corps, the Browns could easily be a dysfunctional mess on offense this week, more so than usual.

The Browns haven’t been playing well in recent weeks anyway, hence why Jackson was let go. After a promising 2-2-1 start, the Browns have lost 3 straight and sit at 2-5-1 with a -41 point differential (27th in the NFL). That’s despite the fact that they’ve benefited from a league leading +11 turnover margin, which is not reliable week-to-week. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank just 30th at -6.07%, only ahead of the Cardinals and the Bills.

The Chiefs are also in a great spot because they have another easy game against the Cardinals on deck, a game in which they are 14.5-point favorites on the early line. Favorites of 7+ are 79-49 ATS before being favored by 7+ again the following week, as top level teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams with no upcoming distractions on their schedule. The Chiefs still have issues on defense and Justin Houston could be held out of a game they can easily win without him, despite his return to practice after a 3-week absence this week, so it’s hard to get too excited about the Chiefs as 9-point road favorites, but this could easily be a blowout in Cleveland.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Cleveland Browns 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -9

Confidence: None

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2018 Week 8 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-1)

The Broncos are just 3-4 and don’t get a lot of attention because they don’t do any one thing really well, but they’ve quietly been better than their record. They rank above average in both first down rate (14th at 37.25%) and first down rate allowed (7th at 32.89%). They’ve won the first down rate battle in 5 of 7 games, including 3 of their losses. One of those losses was at home to the Chiefs in a game they won the first down rate battle by 4.26%, led by double digits in the 4th quarter, and had a chance to win late on a missed open touchdown. They also won the first down rate battle in losses to the Jets (2.82%) and the Rams (5.56%). On the season, they have 16 more first downs than their opponents.

The Chiefs, despite their record, have 15 fewer first downs than their opponents. Their offense has obviously been incredible, but their defense has allowed opponents to pick up first downs at a high rate (43.15%, 30th in the NFL). They’re coming off their best defensive performance of the year and could end up being a capable unit if they get both Justin Houston and Eric Berry back for the stretch run, which would make them a very scary team, but this week the Broncos could easily keep it close with the Chiefs for the second time this season. Even if the Chiefs get up big early, the Broncos have been a good garbage time team this year and could easily get the backdoor cover against an underwhelming defense. I would need at least 10 points to bet any money on Denver, but they should be the right side this week.

Kansas City Chiefs 31 Denver Broncos 24

Pick against the spread: Denver +9.5

Confidence: Low