Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2016 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Pittsburgh Steelers (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-4)

The Chiefs have been on my overrated list for a while. Despite their 12-4 record, they rank dead last among remaining the 8 remaining playoff teams in first down rate differential. Their record is largely the result of 6 wins by 8 points or less (including two overtime victories), a +16 turnover margin (best in the NFL), and a +7 return touchdown margin (best in the NFL), but it’s tough to rely on teams to get takeaways and return touchdowns to win close games, as there’s no week-to-week correlation in turnover margin and, as a result, there’s no week-to-week correlation in return touchdown margin. They won’t be able to count on winning the turnover margin to win close games every week, especially not in the playoffs, and they had just a +1 offensive touchdown margin in the regular season, on top of a -37 first down margin.

However, I don’t love the Steelers this week for a few reasons. For one, the Chiefs’ play has improved as the season has gone on. Thanks to the emergence of youngsters Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones, along with the return of Justin Houston from injury, the Chiefs have played better football in recent weeks. You also have to take into that account that, for whatever reason, Chiefs’ coach Andy Reid seems to turn into Bill Belichick after a bye, going 14-5 ATS off of a bye as a head coach. He’s only 3-1 ATS in the playoffs, but this would worry me if I bet on the Steelers.

I was hoping to get at least a field goal here with the Steelers on the road, but their blowout victory over the Dolphins last week made that line impossible. That’s really unfortunate because their win last week was against a mediocre Miami team that made the playoffs thanks to an easy schedule and close wins and because that game was in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers have had no problem winning this season with Ben Roethlisberger under center all season. In 7 games started by Ben Roethlisberger at home this season (including playoffs), the Steelers are 6-1, with the one loss coming in a close shootout with the Cowboys and the 6 wins coming by a combined 96 points. In those 7 home games, Roethlisberger completed 70.9% of his passes for an average of 8.66 YPA, 22 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions, a QB rating of 115.3. In 8 road games, however, his QB rating is 34.9 points lower and the Steelers are 5-3 with a point differential of just +16. The money line is your best bet here as the Steelers probably have about a 60-65% chance of winning, but this isn’t a high confidence pick.

Pittsburgh Steelers 23 Kansas City Chiefs 20 Upset Pick +100

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh +1.5

Confidence: Low

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Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at San Diego Chargers (5-10)

The Chiefs are coming off of easily their best performance of the season, blowing out the Denver Broncos 33-10 in a game they won the first down battle 23 to 14 and the first down rate differential battle by a season high 10.17%. However, that type of performance has been far from the norm for this team. Even after that win, they still have allowed as many offensive touchdowns as they’ve scored and they have a -37 first down differential, 5th worst in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they enter this game in 25th. Their record is largely the result of 6 wins by 8 points or less (including two overtime victories), a +15 turnover margin, and a +7 return touchdown margin, but it’s tough to rely on takeaways and return touchdowns to win you close games, as there’s no week-to-week correlation in turnover margin and, as a result, there’s no week-to-week correlation in return touchdown margin.

The Chargers have also played a lot of close games, as 9 of their 10 losses have come by 8 points or fewer. They rank 6th in first down rate differential as they have 10 more first downs and 3 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve allowed, but are just 5-10 because of bad luck in close games. This could be another close loss for them and another close win for the Chiefs, but this line is way too high at 5.5 in favor of the visiting Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers almost beat the Chiefs in Kansas City earlier this year and figure to give them another close game this week. There’s also a real chance at a San Diego upset victory here as well.

Kansas City Chiefs 24 San Diego Chargers 23

Pick against the spread: San Diego +5.5

Confidence: Medium

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Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (8-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)

These two teams met back in week 12 in a game in which the Chiefs prevailed in overtime on a last second field goal. Despite Kansas City’s win, the Broncos actually outplayed the Chiefs for most of the game. The Chiefs needed a return touchdown and a Denver muffed punt just to get it to overtime and still trailed by 8 until the final drive, when they scored their 2nd offensive touchdown of the game and converted for two. At the very least, it was a game that could have gone either way, but it’s arguably a game that the Broncos should have won outright in regulation.

That game was in Denver and this one is in Kansas City, but that actually puts the Broncos in a good spot, as comparable teams tend to split the season series, even if the road team pulls the upset in the first game. Divisional road underdogs are 61-34 ATS since 2002 in same season divisional revenge games against an opponent that previously beat them as home favorites and they also pull the upset and win straight up about half the time. These teams aren’t quite comparable though, as I have the Broncos ranked a few spots higher, so their likelihood of pulling the upset should be even higher.

The Chiefs have 10 wins, but have allowed 44 first downs and 3 offensive touchdowns more than they’ve scored. Their record is largely the result of 6 wins by 8 points or less (including two overtime victories), a +13 turnover margin, and a +7 return touchdown margin, but it’s tough to rely on takeaways and return touchdowns to win you close games, as there’s no week-to-week correlation in turnover margin and, as a result, there’s no week-to-week correlation in return touchdown margin.

The Chiefs won the turnover margin by 2 at home against the Titans last week, but still lost the game as big home favorites because they lost the first down battle 21 to 13 and the first down rate battle by 10.19%, a huge margin. Teams that win the turnover margin by 2, on average, win the game about 81.6% of the time, but the following week they win just 54.2% of the time and an have an average turnover margin of -0.1. That’s the same average turnover margin had by teams that had a +4 turnover margin the week before and the same average turnover margin had by teams that had a -4 turnover margin the week before. There’s simply no correlation between a team’s turnover margin one week and the following week.

While the Broncos enter this game 12th in first down rate differential, as opposed to 28th for the Chiefs. That gap seems bigger than it is because the gap between 12th and 28th is smaller than the gap between 12th and 4th, but the Broncos still have a 3% advantage in that metric, a significant amount. If we assume turnover neutral football, which we always should because of how inconsistent turnover margins are, the Broncos have a great chance to win this game on the road, even before taking into account any trends.

The Broncos enter this game pretty banged up, with middle linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety TJ Ward out and defensive end Derek Wolfe being a game time call, but the Chiefs are expected to be without their best defensive player, outside linebacker Justin Houston, while talented middle linebacker Derrick Johnson went down for the season with a torn achilles two weeks ago, so that kind of evens out. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, but I like the Broncos’ chances to win straight up as well. The Broncos are a high confidence pick at 4 or 3.5 and I’d take them all the way down to 3 if I had to.

Denver Broncos 17 Kansas City Chiefs 16 Upset Pick +170

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: High

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Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (7-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-3)

One of these teams has 11 more offensive touchdowns on the season than their opponents and the other one has 3 fewer offensive touchdowns on the season than their opponents. By looking at their records, you’d think 10-win Kansas City had the +11 margin, but it’s actually Tennessee, who is just 7-6. How are the Titans 3 wins worse than the Chiefs if they have such an advantage in offensive touchdowns? Well, the Chiefs have a +7 differential in return touchdowns, while the Titans are -7 in that measure. The Chiefs also have a 6-2 record in games decided by a touchdown or less, while the Titans are just 4-3 in those types of games.

The Chiefs can’t just rely on return touchdowns winning them close games all year though. At some point, they’ll need to consistently move the ball better than their opponents and they rank just 27th in first down rate differential, while the Titans rank 7th. Aside from the 14 plays that make the difference in these teams’ return touchdown margins, the Titans have outplayed the Chiefs by a wide margin this season. Despite that, the Chiefs are 6 point home favorites this week. The Chiefs have just 4 wins by more than 6 points this season, so this should be a close game, but Tennessee has a good shot to win straight up as well because they have quietly been one of the better teams in the league this season. This is my Pick of the Week.

Tennessee Titans 17 Kansas City Chiefs 16 Upset Pick +200

Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6

Confidence: Pick of the Week

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Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Oakland Raiders (10-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)

Back in week 6, the Chiefs clobbered the Raiders in Oakland, 26-10, easily the Chiefs’ most impressive game of the season. The Chiefs won the first down battle 22 to 16 and won the first down rate battle by a margin of +5.80%. That was easily the best game the Chiefs have played this season though and there’s no guarantee they can play that well again. Despite a 9-3 record, the Chiefs enter this game 27th in first down rate differential and have allowed 34 more first downs than they’ve gained and 4 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve scored.

They’ve won 9 games because of five wins by a touchdown or less (including 2 in overtime), a +6 margin in return touchdowns, and a + 14 turnover margin. Unfortunately for them, there’s zero week-to-week consistency or correlation in turnover margins (and, as a result, in return touchdown margins). For this reason, I love betting against teams that have strong turnover margins, as they tend to be overrated by traditional metrics. In the past two weeks alone, the Chiefs have scored 25 points on a special teams safety, a safety return touchdown, a pick six, a pick two, and a fake punt touchdown in two games they won by a combined 4 points. A win is a win, but at some point, they’re going to have to start consistently moving the ball better than their opponents to win games.

Fortunately for them, they’re as healthy right now as they’ve been in a while. They’ve gotten their top pass rusher Justin Houston back from off-season surgery and this week will get their top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin back from a 4-game absence with a groin injury. Aside from starting defensive end Jaye Howard, they aren’t missing any key players right now, so they’re healthier than most teams in the league right now. Also fortunately for them, the Raiders are also not as good as their record, as just 3 of their 10 wins have come by more than a touchdown and their turnover margin is +12, 3rd best in the NFL. Despite a 10-2 record, they have just 8 more first downs and 3 more offensive touchdowns than their opponents and rank 17th in first down rate differential. I have them ranked slightly higher than the Chiefs and I’m taking them for a low confidence pick as 3 point road underdogs, but there’s not enough for me to put money on them because both teams enter this game overrated.

Kansas City Chiefs 17 Oakland Raiders 16

Pick against the spread: Oakland +3

Confidence: Low

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Kansas City Chiefs at Atlanta Falcons: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4)

For weeks, the Chiefs have been at the top of my overrated teams list. They’re still on the list, as they are overly reliant on winning close games (5 wins by a touchdown or fewer), winning the turnover margin (+14 on the season), and getting return touchdowns (+5 on the season), but they’re a lot healthier now than they were a couple weeks ago. Top pass rusher Justin Houston showed his All-Pro form last week in his first real game back from off-season knee surgery. Top cornerback Marcus Peters also returned from a 1-game absence last week. This week, the Chiefs get Dee Ford, their top pass rusher in Houston’s absence, back from a 1-game absence.

With Houston and Ford healthy, the Chiefs already strong defense gets even better. They rank 10th in first down rate allowed, but I think you could argue they’re on the cusp of being a top-5 defense with everyone healthy. The problem is their offense, especially with Jeremy Maclin set to miss his 4th straight game with injury. They rank 25th in first down rate and have just 20 offensive touchdowns on the year, including just 6 in the past 4 games, even with one of those games going to overtime. Despite a 8-3 record, they’ve allowed 4 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve allowed. That’s been masked by their turnover margin, return touchdown margin, and record in close games, but those types of things tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, the Chiefs rank 22nd in first down rate differential.

They’re better than that suggests because of their improving injury situation, but they face a tough opponent on the road this week in a tough spot. The Falcons rank 5th in first down rate differential and are still a solid team at worst even with cornerback Desmond Trufant and defensive end Adrian Clayborn hurt. They have major issues on defense, especially without those two, but they have one of the best offenses in the league. They also have a relatively easy game on deck, as they head to Los Angeles to face the Rams next week, a game in which they figure to be big road favorites. Teams are 86-63 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 4 or more, as teams tend to take care of business with no upcoming distractions on the horizon.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have to play a big divisional game against the Raiders in Thursday Night Football a few days after this one and are coming off of basically a 5 quarter game, winning in the final seconds of overtime on a field goal. The game didn’t end in a tie but it took the whole overtime period, meaning they played about as much football as they would have in a tie. Unsurprisingly, teams are 5-13 ATS off of a tie since 1989. This line is too high at 5.5 for me to be at all confident in the Falcons, but they should be the right side.

Atlanta Falcons 23 Kansas City Chiefs 17

Pick against the spread: Atlanta -5.5

Confidence: None

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Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (7-3) at Denver Broncos (7-3)

The Chiefs are 7-3, but they’ve been overly reliant on close wins (4 of 7 wins by a touchdown or less), winning the turnover margin (+13 on the season, best in the NFL), and return touchdowns (+4 return touchdown margin). Those things tend to be very inconsistent from week-to-week, so they’re very tough to rely on long-term. In terms of first down rate differential, they enter this game 25th, suggesting that if we assume turnover neutral football for them going forward, they’re going to have far less success in the win/loss column. We already saw this in their home loss to Tampa Bay last week, as they lost the turnover margin by 1 and subsequently lost the game to an inferior team against whom they were favored by 7.5.

They’ve been worse in recent weeks, scoring just 3 offensive touchdowns in their last 3 games and losing at home to the Buccaneers last week. That’s no surprise, considering all of the injuries they have right now. They’re expected to get cornerback Marcus Peters back from a 1-game absence and Justin Houston should see more snaps after making it through his season debut setback free last week, but top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin remains out, as does starting defensive lineman Jaye Howard. Joining them on the sidelines this week is Dee Ford, their sack leader this season in the absence of Houston.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are as healthy as any team in the league right now coming out of their bye week, as key defenders Derek Wolfe and Aqib Talib return from injury. They’ve also been significantly better than the Chiefs this season, entering this game 11th in first down rate differential. Despite a mere +5 turnover margin, the Broncos have a +50 point differential on the season, as opposed to +35 for the Chiefs. On top of that, Denver is in a better spot, as they head to Jacksonville next, while Kansas City has to turn around and go to Atlanta, a much tougher opponent than Jacksonville. There’s not enough for me to put money on the Broncos as 3.5 point home favorites, but I’m holding out hope this line falls to 3 before gametime. About 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal, so it’s a very important half point.

Denver Broncos 19 Kansas City Chiefs 13

Pick against the spread: Denver -3.5

Confidence: Low

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