This article is part of our Game Spotlight series.
Kansas City vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Open: 56.5 O/U, KC -3.5
Live: 53.5 O/U, KC -3.5
Thanks to injuries to all of Melvin Gordon* (knee), Spencer Ware (hamstring), and Austin Ekeler (stinger/concussion), this single-game slate offers improbable affordability for the backfield production at stake. Justin Jackson is the obvious substitute for the Chargers, while Damien Williams is the presumed replacement for Ware on the Kansas City side. I see no reason to fade either player at these glitch-like prices, though the Kansas City side presents more complications. Both players are above average pass catchers, so the upside is big in any case.
Jackson isn't a serious long-term workhorse consideration at around 6-feet, 199 pounds, but his skill set is strong and he has just enough athleticism to make it work in a part-time role. Part-time players sometimes have to step up into bigger roles when the team is pressed by injuries, though, and for one game at least Jackson should be up for the task. That's particularly true given the matchup, as the Kansas City defense hasn't defended running backs well this year. The lumbering inside linebacker duo of Anthony Hitchens and Reggie Ragland is notably weak in defending the pass, where Jackson poses a greater threat than most. Allowing 5.1 yards per carry and 7.5 yards per target (80.6 percent completed) to running backs, the Chiefs just don't seem like a serious obstacle to Jackson. Similarly, there's nothing aside from injury that could present a problematic game script for Jackson. He's a dual-threat running back on a shorthanded offense in a game that could turn into a shootout due to the quarterbacks involved. Detrez Newsome is the short-notice backup, and probably your lone means of fading Jackson if you for some reason wish to do so. It doesn't mean he can't produce with the opportunity, but Newsome doesn't project to be in the league in a couple years.
Williams is probably more risky than Jackson, because whereas Jackson's only competition is the seemingly harmless Newsome, Williams will compete with two other running backs who know the offense, including a recent pickup who knows the offense very well in Charcandrick West. West was just picked up 10 days ago and didn't play last week, but with four years of work with Andy Reid there's no need for West to account for anything but his conditioning. If West isn't the first back off the bench then it will be undrafted rookie Darrel Williams, who has just six snaps and one target to his name. Predicting the usage here is very difficult. The Chiefs presumably wouldn't have signed West if he wasn't at or near game shape at the time, and if he's physically prepared I would generally figure he's the preferred backup option for Reid given that West logged 341 touches for the Chiefs from 2015 to 2017. But Darrel is a polished passing-down back if nothing else, and his polished skill set gives him a chance to contribute meaningfully despite his 4.7 speed and clear backup projection as a prospect.
I'm inclined to mostly ignore West and Darrel Williams to maintain focus on Damien, however, because I think he's clearly the best player of the three and might be an understated threat generally. Damien likely has poor field vision out of the backfield, because it would otherwise be difficult to explain his career rushing average of 3.6 yards per carry, but he's big (5-foot-11, 224 pounds), fast (4.45-second 40), and is well-versed on passing situations, which is enough for me in a Patrick Mahomes offense. Damien almost exclusively played special teams for the first 12 weeks of the year, but in the last two games he's been busy with 62 snaps, resulting in 13 carries for 52 yards and a touchdown while adding six catches for 23 yards and a touchdown on seven targets.
With cheap dual-threat running backs on the slate, there's enough salary cap relief to still invest substantially in the potent passing games of this matchup. This is an important divisional matchup between the MVP and one of the few guys making a race of it in the first place, and neither defense is particularly suited to stopping the other. That the over/under on this game declined from the opening figure is interesting to me, and a move I generally don't follow given the quarterbacks involved. It is supposed to be a bit chilly, just under 40 degrees, so perhaps that has something to do with it. Yahoo.com credits Rivers with 16 career games in weather colder than 41 degrees, and in those games he posted 25 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. Those aren't terrible numbers, but also below his historical standards.
More concerning than the temperature are Rivers' splits against the Chiefs generally. Rivers simply hasn't been very good against Kansas City in his career, so perhaps defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has his number. Rivers' career numbers for completion percentage, YPA, and TD:INT ratio are respectively 64.6, 7.8, and 2.16:1. Against the Chiefs he's completed 62.3 percent of his passes at 7.5 YPA, throwing 36 touchdowns and a whopping 31 interceptions. I don't know by what mechanisms the Chiefs give Rivers such issues, but there's probably some signal in a sample that big. I think Rivers is a reasonable fade in the matchup, even when noting the fact that he already defied his historical splits against Kansas City in Week 1 of this year, when he torched them for 424 yards and three touchdowns.
Even if you fade Rivers, the odds of him truly tanking are quite low, so you'll probably want at least one of Rivers' pass catchers. I expect Jackson to be busy as far as that goes, but the receivers have to do something eventually, Keenan Allen is of course your first and second suspect for the role, Rivers' struggles against Kansas City have weighed down Allen's production accordingly, but with 44 receptions for 557 yards on 65 targets in seven games, Allen has played well on his own part. That Allen has only one career touchdown against the Chiefs is at once not his fault yet a persisting concern all the same. With that noted, particularly with Gordon and Ekeler out, Allen's usage has never been more assured, which is truly saying a lot. To say Allen does nothing in this game is to basically say Rivers posts a YPA of 5.0 or Mahomes has a bad game. If Mahomes dictates the pace he has all year and Rivers plays anywhere near his historical standards, then Allen should see a lot of targets if nothing else.
You get what you pay for with Allen, who owns roughly 30 percent of the Chargers' targets and 32.5 percent of their air yardage, but that he comes at a premium price might make him a tough fit for your lineup. If so, particularly in tournaments, you may want to consider one of the peripheral wideouts in the Chargers offense. Tyrell Williams is probably the overall best player of that group, though Mike Williams may be the best red-zone target among them, while Travis Benjamin is mostly a pest but one with the speed to score from long distance all the same. Tyrell reliably plays the most snaps of the three, and his 13.2-yard average depth of target speaks to the big-play upside he presents. His catch rate of 66.7 is notably excellent for a player who works so far downfield. The catch with Tyrell is his sporadic usage – he has the same number of targets (48) as Mike, even though Mike has played 109 fewer snaps. Mike also has nine red-zone targets to Tyrell's four. Basically, Tyrell only applies between the 20s, and even in that range he shares space with Mike and Benjamin. Mike's depth of target is even further downfield than Tyrell's, and so it's not surprising that with an ADOT of 15.4 the younger Williams has a catch rate of just 62.5. To bet on Tyrell is to bet on his skill, because I think in terms of usage things objectively project better for Mike. Benjamin, as previously noted, is a pest, and I think he probably matches up worst against a crew of Kansas City corners who are all shorter than six feet. Pest or not, Benjamin has a catch in three straight games and with an ADOT of 19.2 his big-play potential is obvious.
Antonio Gates may be the most well-known tight end for the Chargers, but Virgil Green plays more snaps, with Gates logging about 33 percent on the year to Green's 70. Gates is the busier receiver between the two all the same, as Green spends a lot of his time blocking while Gates' snaps mostly come in the form of slot receiver looks these days. So Green has just 189 yards and a touchdown on 21 targets this year despite playing 554 snaps, while Gates has 21 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns on 33 targets in 268 snaps. Their usage is infrequent, but the matchup is great for the Chargers tight ends against a Chiefs defense allowing the second-most fantasy points to tight ends.
Mahomes of course lit up the Chargers in Week 1 for 256 yards and four touchdowns, but the test is tougher this time around because Sammy Watkins (foot) is out and because Joey Bosa is in after missing the first nine games. Bosa has four sacks in the last three weeks, and since his return the Chargers have allowed the fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks, conceding 761 yards (6.2 YPA), four touchdowns, and two interceptions in four games. Among those four quarterbacks, though, were Case Keenum, Josh Rosen, and Jeff Driskel. I think in any case we should probably just defer to Mahomes these days, and aside from the Bosa worry there's not much especially concerning with the matchup. The Chargers have a lot of talent in the secondary, but I'm not sure any of it is geared toward stopping Tyreek Hill. More specifically, the Chargers corners are probably especially vulnerable to a speed receiver like Hill.
Whether Hill is himself is another question of some significant concern, but it looks like he's locked in for his usual workload despite playing through heel and wrist issues. He briefly left last week's game against Baltimore but eventually returned to finish with 139 yards on eight catches and 14 targets. Hill lines up everywhere, and all of the Chargers' top three corners (Casey Hayward, Desmond King, Michael Davis) are overachiever types who lack the athleticism to run with Hill even a little. Particularly with all of Kareem Hunt, Ware, and Watkins subtracted from the picture, I will have Hill in every lineup.
That's not to say that Hill is the only wide receiver who looks promising for the Chiefs, however. Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson respectively ran as the clear No. 2 and No. 3 receiver last week, and both bring some substantial amount of merit for single-game slates. Conley strikes me as the far better prospect and is my preferred fantasy option generally, but for whatever reason Robinson has seen a higher target rate on his snaps, which somewhat offsets the fact that Conley outpaces his snap volume. On 308 snaps this year Robinson has 25 targets (8.1 percent target rate) while Conley has 41 targets on 652 snaps (6.3 percent target rate). What Conley has working against him is the fact that the Chiefs have pretty much utilized him in the opposite fashion of what they should, using him as an underneath target (7.7 ADOT) when his skill set is almost exclusively that of a downfield specialist. Particularly against slow Chargers corners the Chiefs would be smart to send Conley downfield instead and leave the underneath brush clearing to Robinson, who lacks the speed and hops to threaten vertically the way Conley can. The picture for Conley and Robinson is made even more blurry by the expectation that Kelvin Benjamin make his debut for the Chiefs following his release from the Bills, but I think to wager on Benjamin is to do so for no reason other than chaos. He's a bad player debuting in a new system on short notice, and I have no faith he'd get past the jams of those Chargers corners anyway.
Travis Kelce is of course one of the most important players of the game, and in single-game slates his output will hold a great deal of sway over the results. The circumstances are novel because the matchup looks relatively tough, but the matchup variable collides with a potentially heightened usage variable with Hunt, Ware, and Watkins subtracted from the offense since Week 1, when Kelce finished the game with just a six-yard catch on six targets. Derwin James is the headlining opponent on the other side, and things indeed look difficult for Kelce on however many snaps he lines up against James. We'd more so hope he gets some looks against the corners, linebacker Jatavis Brown, or safety Jahleel Addae. I'm generally inclined to bet on Kelce's talent and usage over the matchup, especially since the Chargers might want to devote more safety resources toward doubling Hill. For Kelce to have a bad game would either dictate a bad game for Mahomes or a big game for at least one of Conley or Robinson, and the latter two possibilities seem so distant to me relative to the possibility of Kelce producing, even with the Chargers allowing the ninth-fewest fantasy points to tight ends this year.
As always, you can bet on the under by considering the kickers involved, and in this case we have two of the league's most promising kicker prospects in Harrison Butker and Michael Badgley. Butker ranks third in the league for fantasy points by a kicker, and Badgley probably wouldn't be far behind if he had been the Chargers' kicker all year. Since taking over as the Chargers' full-time kicker in Week 10, Badgley is 11-of-12 on field goals, with his only miss from over 50 yards. It should be noted that both kickers have long range and are candidates to knock down field goals of the four- and five-point variety.
For my own teams I will have Justin Jackson for sure in every lineup, and Damien Williams in almost all, as well. I'll prioritize Tyreek Hill next, followed by Keenan Allen and Travis Kelce. I'll probably stay away from Rivers but will want a few shares of Mahomes. Chris Conley and Demarcus Robinson will take up a similar relative presence, maybe an even split on whatever volume I buy them. Same with Mike and Tyrell Williams, though I'd probably lean Mike. I'll probably consider Charcandrick West before I will Darrel Williams. My main captain candidates are probably Jackson, Mahomes, and Hill.
*Gordon technically could play, I just doubt he will.