Kansas City Chiefs (9-4, 6-7 ATS) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-5, 7-6), 8:20 p.m., TNF
Brolley’s Chiefs Stats and Trends
The Chiefs have covered in four straight games, and they’re riding a six-game outright winning streak by limiting six straight opponents to 17 or fewer points.
Kansas City is 6-2 toward unders in its last eight games.
The Chiefs wiped out the Raiders 48-9 last week by dominating the turnover battle (5 to 0) and by averaging 1.7 more yards per play (6.5 to 4.8).
Patrick Mahomes threw for multiple TDs last week for just the second time in his last seven contests. It was also just the second time he’s reached 20+ FP in that same span and he’s attempted fewer than 30 passes in consecutive games with the Chiefs’ defense becoming the dominant unit for Kansas City. Mahomes completed 27/44 passes for 260 yards, three TDs, and two INTs with 4/45 rushing when these teams met in Week 3.
Tyreek Hill has been crushed by the lack of passing volume since their Week 12 bye, managing just 6/98 receiving on nine targets. Hill had previously seen 9+ targets in eight straight games in Weeks 4-11. Tyreek managed just 5/56 receiving on seven targets with an 11-yard carry in this matchup in late September.
Travis Kelce picked the wrong time to vanish from the face of the earth with fantasy playoff bids hanging in the balance the last three weeks. He couldn’t do anything about it in Week 12 with the Chiefs on bye, but he’s come up extremely small since then with identical 3/27 receiving lines for 5.7 FP against the Broncos and Raiders in Weeks 13-14. He had posted 4+ catches in each of his first 11 games before his current cold spell, which has coincided with Kansas City’s defense dominating in lopsided affairs. Kelce should find himself in a more competitive affair against the Chargers on Thursday Night Football, and he hung 7/104 receiving on 11 targets versus Los Angeles back in Week 3.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire has 11+ FP in each of his first three games back from injury, but his playing time has been cut with Darrel Williams playing a big factor as the team’s primary passing back. CEH has at least seen 10+ carries and 2+ catches in each of his first three games back. Edwards-Helaire posted one of his two 100-yard rushing games against the Chargers in late September on his way to 17.9 FP.
Brolley’s Chargers Stats and Trends
The Chargers beat the Chiefs 30-24 as 6.5-point road underdogs in a game totaled at 55 points in late September.
Los Angeles has covered the spread in each of its three games against the Chiefs.
The Chargers are a perfect 6-0 ATS in December/January with Justin Herbert.
Los Angeles is 5-2 toward overs in its last seven games.
Justin Herbert has thrown for 11 TD passes in his last four games after completing 23/31 passes for 275 yards (8.9 YPA) and three touchdowns against the Giants while playing without top WR Keenan Allen. Herbert has 21+ FP in four straight contests, and he has the seventh-best odds (+1600) to win the MVP entering Week 15. He has the chance to quickly rise if he plays well and the Chargers win on Thursday night, which would give them a chance to win the AFC. Herbert ripped the Chiefs for 281/4 passing while averaging 7.8 YPA when these teams met in Week 3.
Keenan Allen is in a race to be cleared from COVID protocols this week. He had been one of the hottest WRs in the league, ranking as the WR2 since LA’s 7 bye with 19.7 FPG in Weeks 8-13. Josh Palmer stepped into Allen’s place last week and finished with 5/66/1 receiving on seven targets and an 87% snap share. Jalen Guyton stayed in his typical role as the #2 perimeter WR, posting 3/87/1 receiving on three targets and a 59% snap share. Palmer played with Mike Williams in two-WR sets and he primarily moved into the slot when Guyton came onto the field in three-WR sets. Keenan managed 8/50/1 receiving on 12 targets in this matchup earlier this season.
Mike Williams turned into the #1 WR last week with Keenan out of the lineup last week, catching all six of his targets for 61 yards. He’s now reached 12+ FP in three of his last four games after falling below eight FP in four straight games in Week 6-10. Williams ripped Kansas City for 7/122/2 receiving on nine targets back in late September.
Jared Cook caught his fourth touchdown of the season last week, but he fell below 30 receiving yards for the 10th time in 13 contests. Cook managed just 2/27 receiving on three targets in this matchup in Week 3.
Austin Ekeler posted 16+ FP for the fourth straight game last week, but he left midway through the third quarter after aggravating the ankle injury that limited him in practice last week. He did have his ankle heavily taped and he would have returned to the game if the Chargers weren’t up by 23 points and going against Mike Glennon. Ekeler is likely to try to play in a pivotal game against the Chargers this week, but the game is on Thursday night, so it’s a short turnaround time this week. If Ekeler couldn't go, Justin Jackson posted 10/42 scrimmage on a 28% snap share and Joshua Kelley finished with 11/38 scrimmage on a 27% snap share. Ekeler posted 11/55 rushing and 6/52/1 receiving against the Chiefs in late September.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 26.9 (6th)
Plays per game: 65.9 (6th)
Pass: 64.5% (9th) | Run: 35.5% (24th)
Pace: 28.1 (15th)
Plays per game: 63.1 (17th)
Pass: 63.9% (10th) | Run: 36.1% (23rd)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
How the Chiefs approach this game offensively will be very, very interesting. While the decline of the passing offense and Mahomes’ big dip in production has been well covered at this point, what has remained the same is the Chiefs game-plan. They get to the line of scrimmage fast, rip off a ton of plays, and throw. A lot. Over the last eight weeks, Kansas City ranks fifth in pass rate in close games, they’re first in pass rate when trailing, and second when leading.
This week presents an opportunity to change things up, though. The Chargers run defense has tightened as of late – they’re allowing 3.99 YPC to RBs over the last eight weeks (ninth-fewest) – but that hasn’t changed how their opponents are playing against them. In fact, only the Bills (+9.7% above expectation) are getting run on more often in close games than the Chargers (+6.9%) over the last eight weeks.
When these two teams met back in Week 3, Patrick Mahomes had to throw it 44 times because the Chiefs were down 14-3 at the half. Had that game been a bit tighter, we may have seen a bigger emphasis on the ground game because the Chiefs ran it with success against the Chargers as Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams combined for 24/128 on the ground.
The Chiefs have an even bigger reason to slow down and rely on the run more this week and that’s because their defense is going to be without three starters – DT Chris Jones (COVID), LB Willie Gay (COVID), and CB L’Jarius Sneed. That’s not great timing! The Chargers have put 41 points on the Steelers, 41 on the Bengals, and 37 on the Giants in three of their past four games and Herbert was excellent when these two teams met earlier this year.
Overall, this game is the second-best of Week 15 from a combined pace / plays perspective and well deserving of the highest total on the slate (52 points). While I’m not concerned about the Chargers ability to score, the Chiefs coming out and potentially leaning more on the run here may make this game much slower and methodical.
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
We need to be extremely careful when interpreting the results of last week’s 48-9 destruction of the Raiders by the Chiefs. On the very first play from scrimmage, Josh Jacobs fumbled, and Mike Hughes returned it for a touchdown. In addition to Las Vegas losing four fumbles in Week 14, they turned the ball over on their first drive in three-of-four quarters. It’s the type of craziness that can befall any NFL franchise on any given Sunday. And, due to those mistakes, we saw several individuals take the field and succeed who would normally play a minimal role. One of those was Derrick Gore. Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams combined for 18 touches, 110 total yards, and three TDs by the end of the third quarter. With the score 38-9 to start the final frame, Gore closed out the game by touching the ball on 82% of the offense’s plays, and culminating in a 51-yard TD on KCs final play.
Let’s begin by infusing those 11 touches from Gore back into the CEH-Williams rotation. That leaves CEH with a 72% share of the backfield touches in his third game removed from his IR stay. It continues an upward-facing trend of involvement since being activated. While the Chargers’ scheme rotation adjustments since these teams last met in Week 3 will put a defense far different from the one that beat Kansas City 30-24, it still represents one of the four examples where CEH covered his floor (20.9/15.9 FPs).
Dolan’s Vantage Points
Availability issues are at the heart of the news for this week’s season-defining Chiefs-Chargers matchup.
Let’s start with injuries, because of the key fantasy players of the week is highly questionable — RB Austin Ekeler.
This might be a trap for many fantasy gamers who think they have to “start their studs”. Early season Dalvin Cook is in the cards if he plays. https://t.co/KYqW3tFZMx— Edwin Porras, DPT (@FBInjuryDoc) December 14, 2021
Ekeler got taped up extensively on the sidelines and wanted to go back into the game, but didn’t return against the Giants last week. With the short turnaround, it would be wise to have Justin Jackson (my preference) and/or Joshua Kelley rostered. Ekeler had 107 yards from scrimmage and a TD against the Chiefs earlier this year, and he’s hard to sit if he goes, especially with the Chiefs down LB Willie Gay (COVID), but understand the risks here.
There are also COVID issues in this game. WR Keenan Allen is expected to come off the list, but the Chargers could be without LT Rashawn Slater, who protects Justin Herbert’s blind side. And the Chiefs could be down DL Chris Jones, their best pass rusher.
However, the Chiefs’ defense has improved since a key trade, and the loss of Slater could be a huge one for Herbert.
This Chiefs this season without Melvin Ingram: Opposing offenses had an EPA of 0.1.— Doug Farrar ✍ (@NFL_DougFarrar) December 14, 2021
The Chiefs this season with Melvin Ingram: Opposing offenses had an EPA of -0.32.
Their opponent blown block rates on passes, runs, and stuffs have increased exponentially.
The Chiefs could also will not get CB L’Jarius Sneed back this week. Sneed missed last week’s game after the tragic death of his brother and is just now returning to the team. Sneed, obviously, would be the primary matchup on Allen.
Andy Reid said he has talked with L'Jarius Sneed, who is "still hurting."— Nate Taylor (@ByNateTaylor) December 14, 2021
Reid does expects Sneed to be back with his teammates.
"You're not forcing anybody back in this situation," Reid said.
Against the Chiefs’ offense, I would expect the Chargers to employ their typical two-high coverage shell. That’s not just because it’s what they do as a base defense, but because it works against Patrick Mahomes.
The Chiefs have faced 2-high safeties less than 40% of the time in only 2 games this season.— Mike Clay (@MikeClayNFL) December 13, 2021
Week 10 vs. Raiders (28%)
Week 14 vs. Raiders (24%)
The Chiefs scored 41 points in Week 10 and 48 in Week 14, compared to 23.8 per game in their other 11 games.
It’s honestly kind of amazing that Raider DC Gus Bradley could get away with that crap, though of course the Chiefs’ defense was a huge factor in their scoring 48 points last week, but not playing two-deep against an offense that has clearly struggled against it is malpractice. That will not be the case this week.
While you’re almost certainly not sitting Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce for fantasy, they’ve combined for just 12 catches for 152 yards the last two games, and the Chargers employ the Chiefs’ Kryptonite as their base defense. It will, of course, be easier for the Chiefs to score if Charger S Derwin James (hamstring) is out.
Of course, this is a Chief team that also got 4 TDs from its RBs last week, and the Chargers still have the NFL’s worst run defense by FootballOutsiders DVOA. Clyde Edwards-Helaire accounted for 2 of those 4 TDs last week, and ran for 100 yards last time out against the Chargers. He’s a strong RB2 in this matchup with Darrel Williams a FLEX play if you need him.