8:15 PM EST, ESPN – Line; Chiefs -10, Over/Under: 52
Week Eight comes to a close with a pair of teams that have fallen well short of expectations, as the struggling Kansas City Chiefs look to get back on track against the decimated New York Giants on Monday Night Football from GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. While they certainly weren’t expected to challenge the hierarchy within the NFC, a moderate level of growth was absolutely expected out of the Giants (2-5, T-2nd in NFC East) coming into 2021, which marks the second season of this new regime headed by (Head Coach) Joe Judge. Needless to say, the 39-year old was dealt zero favors last season, taking over a franchise in dire need of a makeover which under normal circumstances is nothing short of an arduous task in the National Football League, let alone for a team residing in the Big Apple. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made everything that much more difficult for a new coaching staff looking to evaluate their roster and implement their strategies and philosophies, as New York stumbled their way to a 6-10 finish despite remaining remarkably in contention to win the division up until the final weekend of the campaign. So with 2020 in the rearview mirror, how has this season unfolded thus far for Big Blue, you ask? Well, it really hasn’t differed much from it’s predecessors, which is disturbing for a franchise that barring a major turn of events is heading towards their fifth straight losing campaign and eighth since 2013. With eight games in the books it’s clear that the biggest issue that continues to plague Judge and his charges are injuries, for this roster has been utterly decimated throughout the early stages of 2021, with a host of significant names missing serious time, particularly on the offensive side of the football. The Giants already have FIFTEEN players on Injured Reserve and tonight’s affair will see them without (former Pro Bowl Tailback) Saquon Barkley (68 TCH, 325 YDS, 4.8 Y/T, 3 TD) and (Pro Bowl Receiver) Kenny Golladay (17 REC, 282 YDS, 16.6 Y/R, 0 TD), while (fellow Wideouts) Kadarius Toney (23 REC, 317 YDS, 13.8 Y/R, 0 TD) and Sterling Shepard (28 REC, 299 YDS, 10.7 Y/R, 1 TD) are labeled as game-time decisions with various ailments. Simply put, this is a MAJOR problem for an Offense that has yet to take off under the current coaching staff, averaging a meager 19.9 points per game (25th Overall) on 368.7 total yards (19th Overall), including 277.0 yards through the air (13th Overall) on 6.5 net yards per attempt (18th Overall), and another 91.7 yards on the ground (26th Overall) on 3.8 yards per carry (26th Overall). Furthermore, they’ve converted just 38.7% of their opportunities on third down (22nd Overall), while ranking dead-last in the NFL in red zone (45.0%). Ultimately, any hopes that New York may harbor of making the playoffs hinges on considerable growth from (third-year Quarterback) Daniel Jones (63.5%, 1,727 YDS, 6.32 NY/A, 5 TD, 4 INT, 47.0 QBR), who has been much maligned throughout his tenure in the Big Apple; the 24-year old is only 10-23 (.303) in thirty-three starts with the franchise that made him a surprise selection in the 2019 NFL Draft (6th Overall), and has thus far become more synonymous with the frequent mistakes that he’s made than any big plays that he may claim credit for. Since his first start back in 2019, Jones has been responsible for as many turnovers (45) as touchdowns, the most of any player during that span, which breaks down to a dismal average of 1.36 turnovers per game. This season it’s been more of the same, with seven touchdowns opposed to six turnovers to his name, oftentimes spoiling the incremental progress that he’s made in year three; his completion percentage (63.5%), yards per attempt (7.2), net yards per attempt (6.32), and sack percentage (5.5%) all register as the best of his career, while at 229 rushing yards he’s second among his peers. With that said, he was expected to improve across the board given the reinforcements that (General Manager) Dave Gettleman has supplied him with, for Golladay was a sizable catch in Free Agency, while Toney appears to be an inspired choice with their first pick in the 2021 NFL Draft (20th Overall). Of course, Jones NEEDS these guys to stay on the field, with none more important than the aforementioned Barkley, who will miss his seventeenth game dating back to last season. Simply put, the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for the Giants, amassing an NFL-best 3,469 yards from scrimmage during his first two years in the league, only to miss all but two games in 2020 with a torn ACL along with three this season courtesy of a nagging ankle sprain. Barkley’s route-running, soft hands, and pass-protection are borderline elite for a Tailback of his experience, with his presence sorely-missed; after limping off the field early in a 44-20 thumping at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, New York has mustered an average of just 18.0 points on 281.5 total yards, including a scant 81.5 rushing yards on 3.3 yards per attempt. It’s imperative that Big Blue gets this guy healthy and contributing because there are MANY people within their organization whose jobs are riding on the progression of Jones, with the Quarterback’s prospects in turn tethered to the success of Barkley. With that said, the Giants are coming off their second victory of the season, a 25-3 drubbing of the Carolina Panthers in what has been dubbed as the “Gettleman Bowl”. Of course, the longtime scout/executive has spent a considerable amount of time with both franchises, and is no doubt happy to see his current charges win in such convincing fashion; the hosts dominated in a number of categories, including total yards (302-173), first downs (21-11), rushing yards (103-57), third down (7/16-2/15), and time of possession (34:35), while winning the all-important turnover battle 1-0. Jones completed 23-of-33 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown along with another twenty-eighty yards on the ground, while a number of reserves made the most of the opportunity as (Tailback) Devontae Booker (49 CAR, 156 YDS, 3.2 Y/A, 2 TD) totaled fifty-one yards and a score on fourteen carries, as well as (Receiver) Darius Slayton (12 REC, 190 YDS, 12.8 Y/R, 1 TD) with five receptions for sixty-three yards. Despite their struggles over the last decade, New York are no strangers to the bright lights of primetime, particularly Monday Night Football where they’ve made seventeen appearances though earning a miserable 5-12 record (.294), including six losses in their last seven contests.
Meanwhile, though we expected the Giants to struggle on their long road to recovery, we cannot say the same for the Chiefs (3-4, T-3rd in AFC West), whose continued erratic play has been arguably the most shocking storyline of the season thus far. Indeed, after going an NFL-best 36-10 (.782) from 2018 to 2020 and advancing to back-to-back Super Bowls (including their first Lombardi Trophy since 1969), Kansas City inexplicably finds themselves in a position that absolutely nobody could have predicted: last place within the AFC West. In fact, this is the latest in a season that (Head Coach) Andy Reid’s charges have found themselves below .500 since 2014, which is coincidentally the last time that this franchise has missed the playoffs. So what in the name of Hank Stram is going on in Arrowhead, you ask? Well, it’s been a combination of a remarkably mistake-prone Offense neutering a toothless Defense that has regressed mightily following the growth that they’ve exhibited over the past two years. Make no mistake, the Offense has remained prolific as hell in averaging 428.8 total yards (3rd Overall), but all that production has been wasted over and over again due to a league-worst SEVENTEEN turnovers, which matches a franchise record over the first seven games of a campaign. Yes, this unit still sports (2018 MVP) Patrick Mahomes (67.5%, 2,093 YDS, 6.96 NY/A, 18 TD, 9 NT, 64.0 QBR) along with a pair of All-Pro targets in the form of (Tight End) Travis Kelce (45 REC, 533 YDS, 11.8 Y/R, 4 TD) and (Receiver) Tyreek Hill (52 REC, 641 YDS, 12.3 Y/R, 5 TD), and Reid is still calling the plays, but this is ultimately a case of a group failing to adapt to their surroundings, which have changed considerably over the last few months. Needless to say, that humiliating 31-9 thumping at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV sounded the alarms across the NFL, serving as the definitive blueprint in defending Mahomes & Co; rather than applying pressure, Defenses are opting to drop a plethora of defenders into coverage in turn forcing the 26-year old to patiently take what he’s given, which is quite frankly the antithesis to how he plays the game. And to his fault, Mahomes has been resistant to adapting to the new status quo, tossing an NFL-high NINE interceptions through the first seven games along with a pair of lost fumbles. To put that in perspective, he’s already eclipsed his interception total of 2020, and is just two picks away from matching his figure from the last two seasons COMBINED. Furthermore, his interception rate was a league-low 1.0% last year only to balloon to a career-worst 3.2% in 2021, while his net yards per attempt (6.96) is the lowest of his career after previously never posting a number fewer than 7.53 yards in that particular category. Mahomes has committed multiple turnovers in four of his seven starts thus far, with the Chiefs posting a 1-3 record in those affairs. However, this isn’t simply a case of reckless decision-making, for the three-time Pro Bowler has been the recipient of less than stellar protection, suffering fourteen sacks equating to a rate of 4.8%, which you guessed it, is also a personal-worst. After watching in disgust as the crown jewel of the franchise ran for his life throughout Super Bowl LV, Reid and (General Manager) Brett Veach went about completely overhauling the Offensive Line, which features five new starters from the one that started in February’s postseason finale. No position group thrives on continuity more so than the O-Line, which is clearly still searching for the requisite chemistry to keep their Quarterback clean on a consistent basis. As a result, this Offense isn’t quite the sure thing that they’ve been in the past, and in turn hasn’t provided their cohorts on the defensive side of the football the luxury of an early lead, which has been a HUGE issue. Arguably the biggest factor in Kansas City advancing to each of the last two Super Bowls was the growth they achieved on Defense under the tutelage of (Defensive Coordinator) Steve Spagnuolo. In his first year with the club, Spagnuolo’s charges ranked seventh in points allowed (19.3), seventeenth in total defense (349.6), and tenth in takeaways (23). Despite the influences of the pandemic those figures proved sustainable into 2020, with Kansas City finishing tenth in points yielded (22.6) sixteenth in total defense (358.3), and once again tenth in takeaways (22). The train of thought coming into 2021 was that with a full and proper offseason to continue building on the foundation that had been laid, they would emerge stronger than ever. While there’s still plenty of time to turn it around, their performance thus far has left A LOT to be desired as they rank twenty-seventh overall in points (29.0) and twenty-eighth in total yards (404.6) allowed, with just seven takeaways to their name (19th Overall). Injuries have certainly played a role in their regression, with the few playmakers that can be found on this side of the football, such as (Defensive Linemen) Chris Jones (7 TKL, 3 TFL, 4 QBH, 2.0 SK) and Frank Clark (5 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 QBH) along with (Pro-Bowl Safety) Tyrann Mathieu (25 TKL, 1 TFL, 2 INT, 4 PD, 1 TD), each missing a number of contests. Given the Offense’s penchant for turning the ball over, this unit hasn’t had the luxury of playing with a lead nearly as often as they’ve been accustomed to, thus minimizing the opportunities afforded to them to get creative with Spagnuolo’s pressure packages. Essentially, with Mahomes & Co doing their thing, this Defense was frequently playing with a 7-0 lead right off the bat, and that just hasn’t been the case this season. And all of these flaws were exploited in last weekend stunning 27-3 defeat at the Tennessee Titans; shutout altogether in the first half, the Chiefs allowed the hosts to start the affair with twenty-seven unanswered points as the Titans accounted for all but seventy three of their total 369 yards prior to intermission. Even with (two-time reigning rushing champion) Derrick Henry relegated to respectable eighty-six yards on twenty-nine attempts, Spagnuolo’s troops were still gashed for 275 passing yards, as the home side converted 8-of-12 third downs en route to possessing the football for a commanding 36:21. The visitors in turn could muster just 334 total yards as Mahomes completed 20-of-35 passes for 206 yards and an interception, while suffering four sacks and a lost fumble, along with a vicious knee to the head which knocked him out of the affair in the final period of play. Now they’ll get yet another opportunity to correct their course, on primetime no less, which is a place they’ve frequented since Mahmoes became the starter back in 2018; the Chiefs are 10-7 (.588) under the bright lights when he starts, including 4-1 (.800) on Monday Nights.