Each week, Coach Kevin Kelley will give a coach’s perspective and provide analysis for a few games against the spread throughout the 2022 NFL season.
When you have been on a run and hit a small bump in the road, in life, or in NFL picking, go back to what you believe in the most in the NFL. That is, there are just constants in this league that you can’t argue with. The Patriots always beat the Jets (15 straight, I think they are at). The Cowboys are always overrated. The Kansas City Chiefs, in the Patrick Mahomes era, and the Los Angeles Chargers with Justin Herbert, almost always play close. The Chicago Bears and Justin Fields are at a disadvantage to the Atlanta Falcons and Marcus Mariota because accuracy matters!
All that said, I like two of those games to write about and play this weekend.
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers (+6)
In the eight games of Chargers and Kansas City during the Patrick Mahomes era, I was surprised to find that the record is only 5-3 straight up (six of those eight being one-score games) by Kansas City (I say only because I would have thought that the last few years would have been completely dominated by the Chiefs having been to Super Bowls, and winning a ton of games).
In the Justin Herbert era, he is 2-3 straight up as a starter, and two of those losses were in overtime and the other was by a field goal. I am pretty sure he is 5-0 ATS against them.
Let’s take a look at the teams as a whole and find what in the world could help it be a close game this time.
The Chiefs are the Chiefs. They have the best tight end in the league in Travis Kelce. Their offense in the red zone is creative and they have more ways to score a touchdown than the NFC South combined. They come in ranked No. 5 overall in DVOA and No. 1 on offense. Their defense does lack some things and comes in at No. 22. They obviously have some deficiencies giving up a lot of plays at times but they have been able to overcome with great offense.
The addition of Isiah Pacheco is one that I bet we see more and more of as we go along and getting Kadarius Toney from the Giants is a steal. Travis Kelce made the statement that he didn’t know how the Giants let him out of their locker room. With that defense giving up big plays, they will need all those guys to be able to accomplish their goal of another Super Bowl.
The Chargers come in ranked No. 24 overall, No. 20 passing, and No. 24 rushing. With all their talent, and simply a quarterback that is accurate, mobile, and shows up in big moments, the only thing holding them back is their coaching staff. Herbert is ranked No. 5 worst in average depth of target, another huge factor in winning and losing games. How their coaches don’t see what our own Warren Sharp has pointed out so many times, I have no idea about.
They have done a little better at using Austin Ekeler but they need to throw the ball down the field more and run Ekeler at appropriate times, instead of second-and-10 off an incompletion and in the right personnel groupings. They are lacking in the receiver department but Herbert makes up for even without Mike Williams and Keenan Allen, who could both be back for this game.
This game is not a bad matchup for the Chargers defensively because what they are best at, pass defense, coming in at No.12, is what the Chiefs want to do. And oddly enough, the Chiefs’ defense comes in at No. 22 against the pass and that is what I believe the Chargers should be doing more of. The Chargers’ overall defense is actually ranked ahead of the Chiefs.
I would love to see the Chargers come out with a nothing to lose attitude and put the ball in Herbert’s hands and let him use an intermediate passing game instead of all the short throws. We have talked about that before in this column, and you have seen it everywhere. It is a shame to use such a talent in the way they do.
The last game between these teams in Week 2 ended in a three-point win by the Chiefs although the Chargers had 401 yards of offense to 319 against the Chiefs. Both teams were around 33% on third down but the Chargers were 4-for-4 on fourth down. This enabled Los Angeles to hold the ball more and they ran 74 plays to Kansas City’s 54.
They just seem to always play in close games and they always play the Chiefs in close games. That said, getting six points against the Chiefs is a no-brainer. Give me the plus-6 and the Bolts.
Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons (-3)
I have always said there is a direct correlation in pure throwing the football on target and winning and covering a spread. So this week, I am going back to it. Justin Fields is running all over people and as a matter of fact, had two of the most productive rushing days for a quarterback in NFL history. That got him a lot of Sportscenter time and exactly zero wins.
You see, there are 39 quarterbacks who have qualified to be ranked by Next Gen Stats in accuracy. Justin Fields is ranked No. 37 by completion percentage over expectation (CPOE). He is just ahead of the two Carolina Panthers quarterbacks, P. J. Walker and Baker Mayfield. On the other hand, Mariota checks in at No. 11 on the current starting quarterback list.
You Fields lovers and Bears hopefuls will say but look at the electricity at times when the Bears have the ball. I say, inconsistency gets you beat. Last week versus the Lions, when the Bears HAD to throw the ball, Fields threw a huge interception right to former teammate at Ohio State, Jeff Okudah.
There are a variety of ways that quarterbacks can throw less accurately than others. It can be footwork, some level of fear which causes not transferring weight and short arming the ball, poor vision, the inability to judge different receivers’ speed, etc. I think Fields has just a little bit of almost all of them.
Mariota on the other hand, has somehow learned from years past, or gotten a quarterback coach that could get through to him, and straightened some things out. That is one reason the Falcons are one game out of first place in the NFC South and have three losses by one score. Accurate quarterbacks can keep you in games, and can win games.
What about running the ball, that has to account for something right? Well, maybe, but the Falcons are ranked higher than the Bears at running the ball according to Football Outsiders and DVOA. Don’t even ask about passing because the Falcons come in at No. 14 while the Bears come in at No. 23.
Neither team is going to throw a star receiver at you. The Bears’ best receiver is Cole Kmet, their tight end. He is solid but sure doesn’t scare you as a speedster or someone you have to double cover. Darnell Mooney leads the Bears this year and most people have never heard of the guy. Dante Pettis is catching an average of a ball a game. It is partially the scheme of the Bears and partially Fields. But nevertheless, your quarterback running only won’t win you a lot of games.
The Falcons don’t exactly exploit you with Drake London or Olamdie Zacchaeus. And during the game most of the time, they forget that Kyle Pitts exists. But when they do use them, at least Mariota can hit them.
The ONLY good news for both offenses is that the defenses of the Bears and Falcons come in ranked No. 29 and No. 30 respectively, with neither run or pass defense chiming in above No. 25.
So with a better run offense and better quarterback accuracy plus home-field advantage, I think the Falcons finally get a solid win of 10 or more here. Give me Atlanta -3.