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  • Refreshed off a bye entering Week 9, the Chargers look like one of the strongest teams in football. Why is Los Angeles one of our experts' best bets in this weekend's action?
By The SI Staff
October 30, 2018

Our bettors have their eyes on the AFC West this week, plus Sunday night's quarterback duel in New England. What are their plays for Week 9?

Kansas City Chiefs (-8.5) at Cleveland Browns

Sun. 11/4, 1:00 p.m. ET

Pick: Kansas City -8.5

The Browns’ competitive 2-2-1 start feels like a distant memory after they ceded 38 points to the Chargers, 26 points to the Buccaneers and, most recently, 33 points to the Steelers. And let’s not forget that Cleveland is still the only team Oakland has beaten this season, after the hapless Raiders put 45 on Hue Jackson’s talented squad that is still learning to win. Andy Reid’s team, meanwhile, has only gelled further since it became apparent that it had something special in quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Sammy Watkins’s 107-yard, two-touchdown performance last week in Denver was just the latest offensive outburst from Kansas City’s embarrassment of riches.

Much will be asked of Baker Mayfield, who now has a new offensive coordinator with Freddie Kitchens taking over for Todd Haley. The Browns offensive line has been a turnstile—Mayfield has been sacked 20 times in 5.5 games—and he’s still developing trust with his receivers. He’ll only need to watch his opponent, which until last week’s two-point ATS loss had covered 11 consecutive regular season games, to see an offense completely in sync. — Ed McGrogan

Houston Texans at Denver Broncos (-1.5)

Sun. 11/4, 4:05 p.m. ET

Pick: Denver -1.5

Since the start of the 2010 season, the Broncos are 3-1 both straight up and against the spread when facing the Texans. That is also the same record that Denver has against Houston when playing in Colorado since the start of the Texans franchise in 2004. And while it’s never a good thing to rely too much on history, there are other reasons to believe that Denver will come through in this one. But the most important when looking at this matchup is the fact that Denver boasts a top-10 passing defense in the NFL. When facing a team like the Texans, that’s going to play a big role in the outcome of this game. Houston currently has a top-10 passing offense, but the team doesn’t have much of a running game. With Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, it hasn’t been that important for the Texans to get going on the ground. But the team will pay for not running the ball well against Denver, Von Miller will have Watson running for his life in this game and the Broncos’ physical corners will make Houston’s wideouts work for everything here. And on the other side of the ball, the Texans have allowed an abysmal 15 rushing touchdowns this season. Going up against a solid offensive line and explosive running back in Phillip Lindsay, Houston could get gashed on the ground. — Zachary Cohen

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Los Angeles Chargers at Seattle Seahawks (-1.5)

Sun. 11/4, 4:05 p.m. ET

Pick: LA Chargers +1.5

Refreshed off a bye entering Week 9, the Los Angeles Chargers look like one of the strongest teams in football. Their two losses have come to arguably the two best teams in the NFL—the Rams and Chiefs—and they've won four straight games by an average of more than 10 points per game. Most recently, they gritted out a 20-19 victory over the Titans in London, which is a 10-hour flight from L.A.

The short trip to Seattle this week will be far less of an imposition on the team's routine, and it will bring a remarkable offense into CenturyLink Field on Sunday. With his 37th birthday coming up in December, quarterback Philip Rivers has the Bolts averaging a league-best 6.9 yards per play through eight weeks. Rivers is third in the NFL in yards per passing attempt (9.1) and QB rating (117.8) thanks in large part to a deep group of weapons that includes RBs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler, who have over 500 receiving yards between them. They also each rank in the league's top 10 in yards per carry.

It's Rivers's matchup against the Seattle secondary that makes this one of the best games of the week. Despite having lost all the big names of the Legion of Boom's past, the Seahawks pass defense is ranked fourth in the league in allowing only 6.5 yards per pass attempt to opponents. But Seattle's weaker rush defense (4.5 yards allowed per carry, 22nd in NFL) should allow the Chargers to score one way or another.

Seattle might have trouble keeping pace. While Russell Wilson has been virtuosic as ever this season both in and out of the pocket, the Seahawks' offense as a whole is only 20th in the league in total offense (5.6 yards per play). Plus, the team's infamous Achilles' heel of recent years remains firmly in place: Wilson has been sacked on 10.3% of dropbacks, a rate higher than all but two other teams. If Seattle gets behind and is forced to pass most of the time, it won't be a fun afternoon for Wilson. — Sam Chase

Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots (-6)

Sun. 11/4, 8:20 p.m. ET

Pick: Green Bay +6

Teams playing on a Sunday after having been on the road the previous Monday night are 9-15 straight up and 8-16 against the spread since the start of last season, and that’s despite the fact that all but five of those teams have played those Sunday games at home. (All five of those instances of squads playing back-to-back road games fewer than seven days apart were last season, as every team that has played a Monday night road contest in 2018 has played at home the following Sunday.) Meanwhile, road teams coming off a road loss went a combined 14-6 against the spread in November games in 2016 and 2017. The Packers are 20-9 in road games when coming off a loss under head coach Mike McCarthy.

As dominant as New England has been at home in recent seasons, the Patriots are 9-6 straight up and 7-8 against the spread at home against NFC opponents over the past eight calendar years, which includes records of 4-5 straight up and 3-6 against the spread when New England has been favored over its NFC opponent by between 6.5 and 13 points. The Patriots managed to get through the first half of the 2018 season having faced only one of the 12 NFL teams that are currently averaging more than 270 passing yards per game. That team was Kansas City, which along with Green Bay is one of five offenses averaging more than 300 passing yards per game. The Chiefs threw for 352 yards at New England in a 43-40 loss as a 3.5-point underdog in Week 6, which was the third time in a five-game stretch that New England’s defense allowed more than 350 passing yards. Only the Buccaneers, Chiefs and Bengals have allowed more passing yards than the Patriots have this season, and that’s despite the fact that New England is coming off a game against a Buffalo squad with the only offense in the league that’s averaging fewer than 150 passing yards per game. — Scott Gramling

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