8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Chiefs -3.5, Over/Under: 55
The first Quarter of the 2018 Regular Season goes into the books with what should be a spirited Week Four Finale as the surging Kansas City Chiefs travel to Denver to face the Broncos in a crucial division battle from Broncos Stadium at Mile High in Denver, Colorado. In what was predicted (by some) to be a bit of a transitional season has quickly evolved into something special for the Chiefs (3-0, 1st in AFC West), who are off to a surprising 3-0 start on the strength of arguably the most explosive Offense in the league. Indeed, Andy Reid has certainly opened up the Playbook this year, with his young charges lighting up opposing Defenses, averaging a remarkable 39.3 Points per Game (1st Overall) on 402.0 Total Yards (9th Overall), including a whopping 298.7 Yards through the air (9th Overall) on 9.1 Net Yards per Attempt (3rd Overall), and another 103.0 Yards (18th Overall) on 3.9 Yards per Carry (21st Overall). Furthermore, they’ve met very little resistance in moving the chains, converting on an impressive 50.0% of their Third Downs (2nd Overall), while scoring a Touchdown on a ridiculous 91.7% of their Red Zone opportunities (1st Overall). And while cynics will quickly point out that they also got off to a torrid start to the previous campaign (5-0, averaging 32.8 Points through the first five games) before falling off considerably afterward, there is plenty of reason for optimism, and the main proponent of that has been the scintillating performance thus far from Patrick Mahomes (66.7%, 297.8 Y/G, 9.12 NY/A, 13 TD, 0 INT). With this kid waiting in the wings, it’s no wonder that Reid & Co. hastened the exit of his predecessor Alex Smith in the Offseason, for the Sophomore Quarterback is off to a historic start, tossing an NFL Record Thirteen Touchdowns in the first three games of the term, and breaking the record set by Peyton Manning in doing so without throwing a single Interception. The most apparent change with Mahomes under Center is the verticality that this attack possesses, which is something that had long been criticized with Smith pulling the proverbial trigger. In five years with Smith as their starting Signal-Caller, the Chiefs rarely stretched the field vertically, improving only incrementally over that span averaging just 5.7 (24th Overall), 5.9 (23rd Overall), 6.3 (16th Overall), and 6.5 (16th Overall), before finally breaking the 7.0 Net Yards per Attempt threshold with 7.1 in 2017 (6th Overall), though that in all likelihood had more to do with the emergence of weapons such as speed demon Tyreek Hill (75 REC, 1,183 YDS, 7 TD, 15.8 Y/R in 2017) and Rookie Tailback Kareem Hunt (325 Touches, 1,782 YDS, 11 TD, 5.5 Y/T in 2017). With Mahomes at Quarterback, that figure has risen to a staggering 9.1, for the youngster has proven to possess a truly special arm, with a rare strength that has allowed Reid to truly open things up. Case in point, when we last saw them, the Chiefs were busy thrashing the San Francisco 49ers in a 38-27 victory at Arrowhead Stadium. The Hosts started off fast and furious, establishing a 35-7 lead shortly before Hafltime, which they wouldn’t come close to relinquishing. Mahomes completed 24-of-38 Passes for 314 Yards and Three Touchdowns, while Hunt made the most of his Nineteen Touches with Forty-Four Yards and a pair of scores, Pro Bowl Tight End Travis Kelce going off for 114 Yards on Eight Receptions. And it’s with that said, that we will see just how potent this Offense really is, for Denver’s Defense provides Mahomes & Co. with their first true test; their first three opponents, the Chargers, Steelers, and Niners have all struggled on the defensive side of the football this season, ranking 23rd, 30th, and 20th Overall in Total Yards Allowed, while the Broncos have remained one of the league most staunch outfits for the better part of this past decade. And speaking of Defense, it would be nice if at some point the Chiefs started playing some, for they’ve been particularly dreadful in this regard, with their explosive Offense overshadowing what has become a considerable weakness. Through three games, Kansas City has yielded 30.7 Points (30th Overall) on an abysmal 474.0 Total Yards (32nd Overall), with opponents shredding a beleaguered Secondary, which has afforded Quarterbacks to rack up 362.7 Passing Yards (32nd Overall) on 7.4 Net Yards per Attempt (27th Overall), and Eight Touchdowns (27th Overall). After trading Pro Bowler Marcus Peters (46 TKL, 5 INT, 9 PD, 3 FF, 1 TD in 2017) to the Rams in the Offseason, his replacement, Orlando Scandrick, has been a train wreck, while former All-Pro Safety Eric Berry continues to be held out of action in recovering from a torn Achilles suffered in last year’s Season Opener.
Meanwhile, the Broncos (2-1, 2nd in AFC West) figure to provide their young counterparts with their first true test of the campaign, particularly in the form of a Defense that figures to create problems for Mahomes & Co. Granted, we completely realize that this isn’t quite the Denver Defense that dominated in route to winning Super Bowl 50, but make no mistake this is still a unit that is flush with a talent on all levels, while sporting one of the most fearsome Pass Rushes in the league. Through three games, Vance Joseph’s charges have relinquished a middling 23.3 Points (15th Overall) on a respectable 340.4 Total Yards (11th Overall), including 262.7 Yards against the Pass (16th Overall) on 6.9 Net Yards per Attempt (22nd Overall), along with another 77.7 Yards versus the Run (3rd Overall) on 3.3 Yards per Carry (2nd Overall). Furthermore, they’ve been especially difficult to matchup with on Third Down, relegating opponents to just 34.2% in this regard (8th Overall), with a Pass Rush that has already amassed Nine Sacks playing no small role in their success. Former Defensive Player of the Year Von Miller (14 TKL, 4.0 SK, 1 PD, 2 FF, 1 FR) is off to a torrid start, registering Four Sacks thus far, while opening up opportunities to pressure the Quarterback for his teammates. However, while the Defense has been a constant in Denver over the years, the Offense has oftentimes held them back since hoisting that Lombardi Trophy three years ago, thanks to a rotating door at Quarterback, an inept Offensive Line, and a dormant Rushing Attack. Needless to say, Joseph is starting over on this side of the football, with General Manager/VP of Football Operations (and Hall of Fame Quarterback) John Elway acquiring Case Keenum (61.1%, 247.7 Y/A, 6.32 NY/A, 3 TD, 5 INT) in the Offseason, which would mark the team’s fourth Starting Quarterback since Peyton Manning retired after the 2015 season. After surprising many in leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC Championship Game last year behind a career-best performance (67.6%, 3,547 YDS, 6.78 NY/A 22 TD, 7 INT in 2017), the journeyman has been counted upon to make this Offense at the very least respectable, which at this point has been very much debatable. The Broncos hung 470 Yards of Total Offense in the Seattle Seahawks in a 27-24 victory in the Season Opener, with Keenum completing 25-of-39 Passes for 329 Yards, Three Touchdowns and an Interception, followed by a 20-19 comeback win over division rival Oakland in which he authored a 10-Play, 62-Yard Drive inside of two minutes to seal the deal. With that said, last weekend’s trip to Baltimore, was disastrous, as the Offense could muster just 293 Total Yards in a 14-27 defeat, in which Keenum struggled mightily on 22-of-34 Passing for just 192 Yards and an Interception, while suffering Three Sacks and a Fumble. At the end of the day, this guy is a Game Manager. Plain and simple. So with that in mind, Denver needs to continue to run the ball effectively behind a retooled Offensive Line and a pair of promising young Tailbacks; rookies Royce Freeman (36 CAR, 152 YDS, 2 TD) and Phillip Lindsay (33 CAR, 198 YDS) have really impressed thus far, leading a ground game that has churned out 144.7 Rushing Yards (4th Overall) on a healthy 5.2 Yards per Carry (5th Overall). Affording Keenum the luxury of Play-Action will go a long way towards keeping this Offense afloat, which can only mean positive things for the Broncos, who with a win tonight can prove that there is indeed a worthy adversary to the Chiefs reign as champions of the AFC West.