8:20 PM EST, NBC – Line: Chiefs -6.5, Over/Under: 54.0
The NFL returns with a bang tonight in Kansas City, as the (reigning Super Bowl Champion) Chiefs are set to defend their second Lombardi Trophy in four years, hosting the much-improved Detroit Lions, who are coming off their first winning season in five seasons, in this primetime showdown from GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Arguably the most pleasant surprise of the 2022 campaign, the Lions took a major leap in their development under the current regime headed by (Head Coach) Dan Campbell and (General Manager) Brad Holmes, narrowly missing the playoffs at 9-8, matching their most wins in a season since 2017. Indeed, Ford Field had served as little more than a wasteland over the previous four seasons, as Detroit mustered a meager 17-46-2 record (.261) from 2018 to 2021, second worst in the NFL during that time. However, Campbell & Co weathered the initial storm to reap the benefits of their hard work, on the strength of an explosive offense that really found it’s rhythm over the second half of the campaign. Following a brutal 1-6 start that wasn’t a bad as that mark would lead you to believe (four losses by four points or less), the Lions caught fire to win eight of their final ten outings. During that stretch, the offense roared to the tune of 28.0 points per game on a balanced 369.6 total yards, buoyed by a healthy +13 turnover differential along the way. Campbell, along with (Offensive Coordinator) Ben Johnson, one of the few holdovers from the previous regime, have done a tremendous job of cultivating the offense into a high-powered attack, successfully resurrecting the career of (former No. One Overall Pick) Jared Goff in the process. By now, we all know the story with Goff (pictured below), who after falling out of favor in Los Angeles was traded along with a pair of first-round picks to Detroit, and after enduring a rough first run in Motor City emerged refurbished in 2022. The 28-year-old completed 65.1% of his passes for 4,438 yards on 7.02 net yards per attempt and 11.6 yards per completion, both of which were in line with his earlier days with the Rams, while tossing twenty-nine touchdowns opposed to just seven interceptions, matching a career-best. Furthermore, he thrived throwing the football downfield; Goff logged 7.0 intended air yards per attempt last season, his most since his sophomore campaign in the City of Angels. Building the talent base around him was also key to their turnaround, as (Pro-Bowl Receiver) Amon-Ra St. Brown erupted for 106 receptions, 1,116 yards, and six touchdowns, while five other players posted at least 350 receiving yards. The ground game played a large role too, with a vastly improved Offensive Line opening wide lanes for the likes of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, with the latter leading the NFL with seventeen rushing scores. Granted, Campbell and Holmes saw fit to allow both to leave in the offseason (Swift via trade, Williams via free agency), but that was because the added one of the premier playmakers from last spring’s draft, Jahmyr Gibbs. Chosen twelfth overall out of Alabama, Gibbs is a versatile threat in the mold of Alvin Kamara (whom Campbell coached in New Orleans), and alongside (former Bears’ Tailback) David Montgomery should see this unit be even better this fall. However, the biggest concern lies on the defensive side of the football, where the Lions simply weren’t up to standard, ranking twenty-eighth in points allowed (25.1) and dead-last in total defense (392.3). Needless to say, this was the difference between them being a playoff team and a playoff hopeful, with Campbell and Holmes understanding the need for more reinforcements, despite showing growth down the stretch. Last year’s second overall pick, (Defensive End) Aidan Hutchinson, is expected to build upon a solid rookie campaign, while the additions of (Defensive Backs) C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Cameron Sutton should improve a pass defense that has been dismal for years now. Gardner-Johnson was a jack-of-all-trades for (NFC Champion) Philadelphia last season, tying the league-lead with six interceptions along with eight defended passes, a sack, and five tackles for loss, lining up in several different positions across the defense.
From a betting perspective, the Lions were a stellar 12-7 against the spread last season, covering the line in all but one of their final ten games of the campaign. The road has been good to them of late, with a 4-1 record against the spread over their last five outings away from Ford Field, while also covering five consecutive contests as an underdog. Furthermore, Campbell’s troops are riding a four-game win streak against the spread as a road dog, while also posting a perfect 4-0 mark against the number last September. As for this particular matchup with the Chiefs, they have won just three of their last ten meetings both straight-up and against the spread, though have dropped three consecutive trips to Arrowhead in both regards. When these teams last met back in 2019, it was a surprisingly competitive affair given the quality of Detroit, who lost their handle on a game in which they led on three different occasions en route to coming up short, 30-34. Both sides posted over 430 total yards of offense, with the hosts possessing the football for nearly thirty-four minutes thanks to a season-high 186 rushing yards. With that said, nobody of note from that contest remains on Campbell’s roster, which is probably for the best given that that particular team finished with a miserable 3-12-1 record. On the injury front, these Lions figure to be far from healthy coming into tonight’s tilt at Kansas City, with (Linebacker) Julian Okwara, (Cornerback) Emmanuel Mosley, and the aforementioned Gardner-Johnson all out of action for at least the first four weeks of the schedule, with those three players suffering from various ailments in the preseason. Fortunately, St. Brown is probable to participate after being hindered throughout the practice week with a tender ankle, though is expected to start, which is a major lifeline to a Receiving Corps that will be without (sophomore Wideout) Jameson Williams, who will be serving a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s gambling policy.
Meanwhile, it may sound outlandish, but there were many (including this author) who wrote off the Chiefs as Super Bowl contenders entering last season. At the time, the logic was sound in expecting a team that was attempting to thread the needle by turning over so many positions while still trying to contend, taking a step backward, particularly after trading away arguably the top Receiver in the NFL, Tyreek Hill. After all, during his six years in Kansas City, all the four-time All-Pro did was post 6,630 yards and fifty-six touchdowns, playing a major role in their triumph in Super Bowl XLIV. However, if last year served as any lesson, we should never doubt the majesty and ingenuity of (Head Coach) Andy Reid and (reigning MVP) Patrick Mahomes. Any concerns over this offense or that particular Quarterback missing Hill were quickly debunked, as Mahomes (pictured below) absolutely thrived in 2022, turning in arguably his most impressive campaign to date, which is really saying something. Indeed, the 27-year-old led the league in passing yards (5,250), passing touchdowns (41), and QBR (77.6), while also setting personal bests in completion percentage (67.1%) and that aforementioned yardage. Oh, and he was utterly fantastic in their climactic, come-from-behind 38-35 victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII, completing 21-of-27 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for another forty-four yards on a bum ankle against the most prolific pass-rush that the NFL has seen in ages. Needless to say, this is Mahomes’ world and we’re all just living in it, folks. Of course, he had quite a bit of help along the way too, with (all-world Tight End) Travis Kelce staking his claim as the greatest of all time at his position, posting a career-high in catches (110) for 1,338 yards and a dozen touchdowns, which was also a personal high-water mark for the four-time All-Pro. Reid continues to devise more and more creative ways to utilize Kelce, which helps make up for the continuous turnover in the Receiving Corps. Coming into this season, Reid & Co will attempt to continue the process of turning over the roster while remaining among the realm of elite teams. The Chiefs said goodbye to (Receivers) JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman, along with (four-time Pro-Bowl Tackle) Orlando Brown and (Defensive End) Frank Clark, while effectively freezing out (former first-round Tailback) Clyde Edwards-Helaire, all in favor of younger, cheaper talent that Reid and (General Manager) Brett Veach believe they can develop into a new line of contributors. More will be expected from the likes of (sophomores) Isiah Pacheco and Skyy Moore, who were both mid-to-late-round draft picks from last year, with the former usurping the starting Tailback role from Edwards-Helaire midway through last season, while the latter’s versatility and speed compares favorably to that of Hardman. And then there is last year’s first-round pick, George Karlaftis, who started all seventeen games as a rookie, totaling thirty-three tackles, six sacks, eleven QB hits, and twenty-one pressures. More of a traditional Defensive End than a pure Edge-Rusher, the Greek International figures to play an important role in (Defensive Coordinator) Steve Spagnuolo’s unit while (four-time Pro-Bowl Defensive Tackle) Chris Jones is embroiled in a lengthy contract standoff with the organization (more on that in a bit).
From a betting perspective, the Chiefs were 8-12 against the spread last season (including playoffs), largely due to the fact that they were sizable favorites against most of the teams that they were pitted against. Kansas City was favored by NINE or more points on nine occasions, amassing a 3-6 record in those contests, though that doesn’t apply to this one, folks, as they posted a 4-5 mark against the spread in outings in which they were favored by seven points or less. Dating back to last season, Reid’s troops are 4-6 against the spread over their last ten games overall, while managing to cover the line in just three of their last ten affairs held at Arrowhead. Furthermore, they have failed to cover five consecutive matchups as a home favorite between 3.5-10.0 points (which is the case tonight), while beating the spread just once in their last six September outings. Coincidentally, that lone victory came in last season’s opener on the road at Arizona, where they were favored by six points and proceeded to blow the doors off the hosts via a 44-21 thrashing of the redbirds. In that aforementioned 2019 encounter, the Chiefs were certainly pushed to the limit by the upstart Lions, rallying back from a turnover-laden performance to steal a 34-30 victory; trailing by three points with just over two minutes remaining, Mahomes engineered a 13-play, 79-yard drive, accounting for all but the 2-yard rushing score that proved to be the winner. The two-time MVP wasn’t great in that contest, completing just 24-of-42 passes for 315 yards and served as the only game of the campaign in which he was held without a touchdown. On the injury front, Kansas City has received both good news and bad news in the past few days, with (third year Wideout) Kadarius Toney probable to participate tonight after the medical staff gave the proverbial green light following his rehab from surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The former twentieth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft was acquired via trade midseason from the Giants and would eventually catch on with fourteen receptions for 121 yards and a pair of touchdowns in seven games, along with a score in Super Bowl LVII. Unfortunately, Kelce may be out for this matchup, due to a hyperextended knee and bone bruise suffered on Wednesday in practice. Reports indicate that his ACL remains intact, and he will test his knee prior to the game before a decision is made on his availability. However, the aforementioned Jones will NOT be available for tonight’s opener, as he continues his holdout in seek of a lucrative new contract. The 29-year-old is in the final season of a 4-year, $80.0 million deal and is coming off the finest campaign of his stellar career, matching personal-bests in sacks (15.5) and QB hits (29) en route to earning his first All-Pro selection.