CHARGERS // BILLS OVERVIEW
Each of these teams had a disappointing loss in Week 1, but the Chargers are the team that seems set to rebound, with elite talent on both sides of the ball. I cannot recall ever before seeing a team installed as a seven-point road favorite when traveling West Coast to East Coast for an early start. This is a reminder of just how much better this Chargers team is on paper than the unit across from them in Week 2.
CHARGERS PASS OFFENSE
The Bills have an average defense, after finishing last season 26th in yards allowed per game and 18th in points allowed per game — and while their secondary is absolutely above-average, their run defense maintains serious question marks, and their inability to create pressure puts too much strain on the back end of their defense. Last year, the Bills ranked 27th in pressure rate when rushing four, and they ranked 30th in pressure rate when rushing more than four. This will allow Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen to pick apart the Bills on the short passes that Buffalo likes to force anyway. From an upside perspective, it should be noted that only three teams in the NFL last season allowed fewer yards after catch than Buffalo (on a per-reception basis), but they are perfectly comfortable giving up short completions all day, which is the bread and butter of the Rivers-to-Allen connection.
Last season, only six defenses allowed fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than the Bills allowed, so this is a tougher spot for Tyrell Williams than he had last week (in a game where he should have smashed, but had a couple of critical drops and mistakes). Williams did play over 75% of the Chargers’ snaps last week, and Travis Benjamin appears unlikely to suit up, which opens a clear path to reliable playing time.
If Benjamin misses, Mike Williams should see even more time on the field (though honestly, things should start trending in that direction regardless). Williams played 53.7% of the team’s snaps last week and ran a pass route on 56.7% of Rivers’ drop-backs. For now, his biggest value will still come in the red zone, where the Bills were excellent last year, allowing the second-fewest wide receiver touchdowns in the league.
Antonio Gates rounds out this passing attack after running a pass route on 42.4% of Rivers’ drop-backs last week. He’s a touchdown-dependent play against a Bills defense that was below-average against the position last year.
CHARGERS RUN OFFENSE
Melvin Gordon played on “only” 75.6% of the Chargers’ snaps last week, which is a lower rate than the other elite, high-priced running back options; but he touched the ball on 38.7% of his snaps, and he is locked into all the work inside the five-yard-line on this offense, against a Bills defense that is easier to score against on the ground than through the air.
While Gordon’s touch total was buoyed by the Chargers being on the field for a massive 82 snaps, there is still no reason to have concerns here from a “floor” perspective. Obviously, we would prefer Gordon to be on the field more than 45 to 48 plays if the Chargers run a more reasonable 60 to 65 plays in this game, but if the Chargers somehow fall behind, Gordon will be involved in the pass game (an awesome 13 targets last week), and if the Chargers are playing with a lead, Gordon will be the engine that runs out the clock. His touchdown equity is huge on a team that has one of the highest Vegas-implied totals on the slate; and while the emergence of Austin Ekeler as a truly viable breather-back and third-down option takes a bit of the shine off Gordon’s workload ceiling, the workload floor still makes him a very safe play, while the touchdown upside drives his ceiling to a respectable place.
BILLS PASS OFFENSE
Josh Allen will take over under center this week, after being the only quarterback in Week 1 (in limited action) to notch a higher average depth of target than Patrick Mahomes notched against the Chargers last week. Allen’s aggressive style and powerful arm will create opportunities for splash plays from the Bills, but the matchup — in spite of what the Chiefs did last week to this defense — is brutal; and Allen’s scheme and weapons are both inferior to what Kansas City was working with. Only two teams allowed fewer passing yards last year than the Chargers. Only two teams allowed fewer passing touchdowns. Only five teams picked off more passes. Even if Joey Bosa misses again, this team has the upside to wreck one of the weakest offensive lines in football, and to confuse one of the least-polished NFL passers.
If you are set on attacking the Chargers with a team that currently has the second-lowest Vegas-implied total on the weekend, Kelvin Benjamin is the best bet for upside after seeing seven targets (one catch) last week.
BILLS RUN OFFENSE
In the Bills’ blowout loss to the Ravens last week, LeSean McCoy earned seven carries and one catch, while playing on only 34 of the team’s 64 snaps. Most of that can be thrown out of the window, as the Bills would like Shady to touch the ball at least 20 times each week; but it will be difficult once again this week for him to see that sort of volume against a talented Chargers offense and a shutdown Chargers pass defense. There is a chance game flow goes off the rails again in this spot, and that Shady is again stuck with limited action behind a poor offensive line. Even with the Chargers being comfortable giving up free yards on the ground between the 20s, McCoy is more “bet on talent” this week than “bank on guaranteed points.” The Bills offense should continue to struggle as a whole, rendering everyone on this side of the ball a tourney-only dart throw.
Given how good the Bills were last season at preventing passing touchdowns and yards after the catch, there are some other high-priced receivers I prefer over Keenan Allen this week; but his floor is awesome, as he should dominate in the short passing game — making him particularly valuable on DraftKings and FantasyDraft. And he obviously has the talent to still show elite ceiling.
Melvin Gordon put up a few red flags last week in terms of price-considered usage, even with his incredible 13 targets, as he is priced amidst guys who all earn 85% to 90% of their team’s snaps, while Gordon appears set to operate this year at under 80%. He’s an interesting case, however, as his small dip in snap rate is countered by his monstrous share of red zone work. As a good player in a great matchup, with his team installed as a heavy favorite, he’s in play in both cash games and tourneys. He doesn’t pop off the page the way some of these more snap-assured guys do, but he’s absolutely in the discussion at the top end of the price range.
Philip Rivers is solid, though touchdown upside projects to be higher for Gordon than for this passing attack. If going off the board in tourneys in a hunt for upside, Tyrell Williams carries big-play upside, while Mike Williams and Antonio Gates project for enough red zone usage this year to be in the conversation as well.
Finally, the Chargers’ defense is obviously in play. They’re not quite the lock-button option the Ravens were last week, traveling West-to-East for an early start, with Joey Bosa still out; but they’re right there for me alongside the other top options on the slate.