Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Tennessee Titans (9-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

The Chiefs won the AFC West at 10-6, but I think they are one of the weaker qualifiers, given how reliant they were on winning the turnover battle this season. Despite having the 2nd best turnover margin in the league at +15, they finished just 10th in point differential at +76. Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so the Chiefs won’t be able to rely on that going forward. For example, teams that finish the regular season with a turnover margin of +15 or better, on average, have a turnover margin of -0.3 per game in the postseason and are just 28-41 ATS as a result. The Chiefs’ turnover margin was driven in large part by a 63.64% rate of recovering fumbles, 3rd in the NFL, which more luck than anything.

The Titans, on the other hand, have had terrible fumble luck, as they rank dead last in the NFL with a 33.33% rate of recovering fumbles. As a result, they had a turnover margin of -4 in the regular season, so, unlike the Chiefs, they were not overly reliant on winning the turnover battle this season. They did have a very easy schedule, but they went 4-2 against teams with a winning record, so they’ve been competitive with tough teams. They also have just 3 losses by more than a touchdown all season. Kansas City’s defense has a lot of problems getting off the field if they can’t force takeaways, so the Titans should be able to keep this one close and possibly pull the upset.

Kansas City Chiefs 23 Tennessee Titans 20

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +8

Confidence: High

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-6) at Denver Broncos (5-10)

The Chiefs are one of several teams that will be resting starters this week with their playoff seeding locked up. The Chiefs clinched the AFC West last week, but can’t move any higher than the 4th seed in the AFC, so Alex Smith and many other starters will not play at all in this game. In past years, I’ve been hesitant to bet on games where either one or both teams will be resting starters, as it’s very tough to predict how backups will play in a meaningless game, but this year I will be staying away from these games entirely.

For pick ‘em purposes, I would recommend picking the Chiefs as 3.5 point road underdogs, as they still probably have the quarterback advantage with first round rookie Pat Mahomes making his first career start against Paxton Lynch, who has been horrendous in limited action in 2 seasons in the league. There’s a reason Lynch was unable to beat out Trevor Siemian for the starting job in each of the past 2 off-seasons, despite having every opportunity to as a former first round pick. Mahomes is an unknown commodity though and it’s tough to predictable how he will play without other starters around him in a meaningless game, so this is just a low confidence pick.

Denver Broncos 16 Kansas City Chiefs 13

Pick against the spread: Kansas City +3.5

Confidence: Low

Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (6-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (8-6)

The Dolphins are 6-8, but they have had a worse season than that suggests, as they have that record, despite going 5-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Their 6 wins have come by a combined 47 points, while their 8 losses have come by a combined 137 points, giving them a point differential of -90, 5th worst in the NFL. They’ve been even worse in first down rate differential at -5.03%, 3rd worst in the NFL. They have been better in recent weeks though, ever since turning to Kenyan Drake as their feature back. They had their biggest margin of victory of the season a few weeks back, defeating the Broncos 35-9 and then beat the Patriots the following week.

Last week, they came up short in Buffalo, but they should play better this week, especially since they’re now in their 2nd of two road games. Teams are 260-280 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.91 points per game, as opposed to 379-528 straight up in a single road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 3.02 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. Teams especially do well in their 2nd of two road games as road underdogs off of a loss, going 123-81 ATS in that spot since 2008. There’s isn’t enough here for me to bet on the Dolphins, but they should be the right side as 10.5-point underdogs.

Kansas City Chiefs 28 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Miami +10.5

Confidence: Low

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-6)

When these two teams met in week 3, the Chiefs won 24-10 in Los Angeles, but the game was closer than the final score suggested. It was a 17-10 game until Kareem Hunt busted a largely meaningless 69-yard touchdown run to push the score to 24-10, when a simple first down would have allowed them to run out the clock. That’s despite the fact that the Chiefs dominated the turnover margin in that game with a +3 margin. In terms of first downs, the Chargers finished with a 24-16 advantage. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis anyway, so I wouldn’t expect the Chiefs to win the turnover battle by 3 again, especially since the Chiefs are just +4 in turnover margin since that week 3 game, while the Chargers are +13.

A lot has changed since that matchup, as the Chiefs were 3-0 following their victory, while the Chargers fell to 0-3. Now both teams are 7-6 and competing for the AFC West title. Despite their equal records, I have the Chargers ranked significantly higher. The Chargers’ 6 losses have come by a combined 32 points, while their 7 wins have come by a combined 105 points, giving them a point differential of +73 that ranks 7th in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they are even better, ranking 2nd only behind the Eagles at +5.15%.

Making all of that even more impressive is the fact that the Chargers are doing this without a real homefield advantage in Los Angeles. For example, in their home loss to the Chiefs, the crowd was primarily Kansas City fans. Given that, it’s no surprise that they have a strong against the spread record on the road this season, going 5-1 ATS, with their one non-cover coming in an 8-point loss as 7.5 point underdogs in New England. If they had better luck in close games (1-4 in games decided by a field goal or less) and an actual homefield advantage, they could easily be 9-4 or 10-3 right now. They are much better than their record and legitimate contenders in a wide open league.

The Chiefs are a solid team, but they rank 11th in point differential and 21st in first down rate differential, both significantly worse than the Chargers. They also have struggled for most of the past couple months. They won last week at home against the Raiders, but they are still just 2-6 with losses to the Bills, Giants, and Jets since their 5-0 start, while the Chargers are 7-2 since their 0-4 start, with their two losses coming only against the Jaguars and Patriots, both strong teams in the AFC. Given how good the Chargers have been away from home, I have them favored by 4 points here in Kansas City, so we’re getting significant line value with the Chargers on an even line. They are the smart pick in this key divisional matchup.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Kansas City Chiefs 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers PK

Confidence: High

Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (6-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-6)

Entering the season, the Chiefs were near the top of my overrated list. They finished the 2016 season 12-4, but that was largely because of a +16 turnover margin (and a subsequent +7 return touchdown margin) and a 6-3 record in games decided by 8 or fewer points, two things that tend to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. They ranked just 24th in first down rate differential and looked poised for a disappointing 2017. That assessment looked incorrect to start the season when the Chiefs won their first 5 games, but they were never as good as that record suggested.

Many of those wins were close and their offense was highly unlikely to continue its incredibly low turnover rate (1 turnover in the first 5 games) and its high yards per carry average (5.70 YPC in those 5 games). Those rates have dropped significantly in the 7 games since, as they have 7 turnovers and a 4.01 YPC average in those 7 games. On the defensive side, they’ve continued to struggle mightily without All-Pro safety Eric Berry, who tore his achilles in the opener in New England. They rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 38.40% and have struggled mightily to get off the field when they aren’t forcing turnovers.

As a result, they’ve lost 6 of 7 games, with their one win coming at home against Denver, who is on an 8-game losing streak and who still outgained the Chiefs by over 100 yards in that game. In their last 3 weeks, they’ve lost to the Giants, the Bills, and the Jets. They rank 22nd in first down rate differential and 15th in my roster rankings, so they are a middling team at best. Once running away with the AFC West, the Chiefs are now locked into a 3-way tie for the division lead with the Chargers and Raiders at 6-6, with those two teams coming to town in the next two weeks.

Making matters worse, they will be without top cornerback Marcus Cooper for this one, as the team suspended him for throwing a flag into the stands and leaving without being ejected, late in last week’s loss to the Jets. Already without Berry in the secondary, the Chiefs now have arguably the worst secondary in the league, a big problem with the Raiders getting Michael Crabtree and possibly Amari Cooper back this week, after both missed last week’s win over the Giants.

The Raiders also will likely get top cornerback David Amerson back this week and have been playing better defense in recent weeks anyway, especially against the run, thanks to the emergence of mid-season acquisition NaVorro Bowman, a talented middle linebacker who was released by the 49ers earlier this season. They’re better than their 6-6 record, as they rank 12th in first down rate differential and 8th in my roster rankings. Getting more than a field goal with the better team is usually a no brainer.

I have this line calculated at even and the Raiders could easily win straight up. Even if they don’t, about 30% of games are decided by 4 points or less, so we have a good cushion. I don’t see the Chiefs winning this game by more than a field goal without returning a touchdown, so Oakland +4 should be a relatively safe bet, even if we were getting way better line value with +6.5 a week ago on the early line. The money line at +170 makes a lot of sense too because this game is at least a toss up. This is a high confidence pick as long as the line is higher than 3.

Oakland Raiders 28 Kansas City Chiefs 27 Upset Pick +170

Pick against the spread: Oakland +4

Confidence: High

Kansas City Chiefs at New York Jets: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (6-5) at New York Jets (4-7)

Entering the season, the Chiefs were near the top of my overrated list. They finished the 2016 season 12-4, but that was largely because of a +16 turnover margin (and a subsequent +7 return touchdown margin) and a 6-3 record in games decided by 8 or fewer points, two things that tend to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. They ranked just 24th in first down rate differential and looked poised for a disappointing 2017. That assessment looked incorrect to start the season when the Chiefs won their first 5 games, they were never as good as that record suggested.

Many of those wins were close and their offense was highly unlikely to continue its incredibly low turnover rate (1 turnover in the first 5 games) and its high yards per carry average (5.70 YPC). Those rates have dropped significantly in the 6 games since, as they have 7 turnovers and a 3.50 YPC average in those 6 games. On the defensive side, they’ve continued to struggle mightily without All-Pro safety Eric Berry, who tore his achilles in the opener in New England. They rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 38.21% and have struggled mightily to get off the field when they aren’t forcing turnovers.

As a result, they’ve lost 5 of 6 games, with their one win coming at home against Denver, a 3-8 team who outgained them by 100 yards. In their last 2 weeks, they’ve lost to the Giants and the Bills, who have both made quarterback changes in the last month. Once 5-0, the Chiefs are now 6-5 with a precarious 1-game lead over the Raiders and Chargers in the AFC West. The Chiefs rank just 19th in my roster rankings and just 22nd in first down rate differential at -2.02%, so I think they’re still a little bit worse than their record.

The spreads don’t seem to be catching up with how bad the Chiefs have been lately, as they are favored by more than a field goal here in New York against the Jets. They were 6 point favorites on the early line last week, but just 14% of games are decided by 4-6 points, so that’s not a huge shift, given that the Chiefs lost at home to the Bills, who were coming off 3 straight losses by a combined 80 points. As long as this line is higher than 3 points, we are getting great line value with the Jets, as about 25% of games are decided by 3 points or fewer.

The Jets were +6 at home for the Panthers last week and were leading them before two Carolina fourth quarter return touchdowns. Even still, the Jets came close to covering in a 8-point loss and that was their only non-cover of the year at home. They’ve beaten the Bills, Dolphins, and Jaguars at home and have played close games against the Patriots and Falcons. I don’t see why they couldn’t at least keep it within a field goal against the Chiefs and I think they have a good chance to win straight up as well. I locked this in at 4 earlier this week, but the Jets are a high confidence pick at 3.5 as well and a medium confidence pick at 3. The money line is also worth a bet at +160.

New York Jets 24 Kansas City Chiefs 23 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +4

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (5-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

These two teams both got off to great starts, but both have skidded in recent weeks. The Bills started the year 5-2, but have lost 3 straight games by a combined 80 points since then, while the Chiefs started the year 5-0, but have since lost 4 of 5. Both teams are arguably coming off their worst week of the season as well, as the Bills lost 54-24 in Los Angeles to the Chargers and the Chiefs lost in overtime in New York to the previously 1-8 Giants, despite coming off of a bye.

The Bills are in a better spot this week though. The Chiefs could be a little tired after a road overtime loss (home teams cover at a 43% spread off of a road overtime loss since 1989) and could overlook a Bills team that is coming off of back-to-back blowout losses. It’s counter-intuitive, but teams are 45-32 ATS since 2002 after back-to-back 21+ point losses, as teams tend to be overlooked, embarrassed, and underrated after two big losses in a row. The Bills could be all three of those things this week, and, at the very least, they are definitely underrated.

Despite Kansas City losing to a previously 1-win team, this line has actually shifted a half point in Kansas City’s favor since the early line last week, as the Chiefs are now 10 point favorites after being favored by 9.5 last week.That’s despite the fact that the Bills played an underrated Chargers team and played a lot better after pulling unprepared rookie Nathan Peterman, who threw 5 first half picks, for Tyrod Taylor, who should have remained the Bills’ quarterback all along.

Taylor is back under center this week for the Bills, which should put this offense back on track. They got blown out by the Saints even with Taylor the week before, but the Saints are one of the best teams in the league. Before that, they lost to the Jets in New York by 13, but that was because they lost 3 fumbles, something that hasn’t been the norm for this team this season. The Bills are far from a great team, but they were a capable opponent just a few weeks back and could easily bounce back over the next few weeks.

I think the Chiefs’ recent struggles are actually more concerning, because their offense has predictably fallen back to earth after starting the season on a record pace in turnover rate and big play rate, but their defense has continued to struggle mightily since losing safety Eric Berry in the opener. They still rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 39.42% and, as a result, they rank 24th in first down rate differential at -2.48%, even with an offense that still ranks 5th in first down rate on the season. Their only win in their last 5 games came at home to the Broncos, who have lost 6 straight, a game in which the Broncos won the first down batlle 23 to 16 and outgained the Chiefs by over 100 yards. I only have the Chiefs about 2.5 points better than the Bills in my rankings, so we’re getting a lot of line value with the Bills as 10 point underdogs.

Ordinarily homefield advantage is worth about 3 points, but the Bills are in a good spot as road underdogs in their 2nd of two road games off of a road loss, as teams are 118-77 ATS in that spot since 2008. That’s because teams typically do better in their second of two road games, as opposed to a single road game sandwiched between two home games, but lines don’t really adjust for that. Teams are 254-268 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.80 points per game, as opposed to 376-517 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.93 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. Given that, I have this line calculated at about -4 or -4.5, so we’re getting a ton of line value with the Bills at +10.

The Bills do have a tough home game next week against New England and could quit if they get down big early (teams are 22-46 ATS since 2012 before being 7+ point home underdogs), but I see this being a close game. The Chiefs are particularly weak against the run on defense and the Bills should be able to run all over them with Taylor and LeSean McCoy, which will make it tough for Kansas City to pull away. If the New England game wasn’t on deck for the Bills, this would be my Pick of the Week, but it’s a high confidence pick nonetheless.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Buffalo Bills 23

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +10

Confidence: High