8:15 PM EST, Prime Video – Line: Chiefs -10.5, Over/Under: 48.0
Division rivals heading in very different directions clash tonight at Arrowhead, as the surging Kansas City Chiefs play host to the struggling Denver Broncos in this midweek battle to kick off Week Six. Indeed, it has been an absolute failure to launch for the Broncos (1-4, Last in AFC West) in this, their first season of the Sean Payton era, losing all but one of their first five outings of the campaign. If we’re being honest, it has been nothing short of a dismal 7+ years for Denver, who since winning Super Bowl 50 have floundered to a 45-74 (.378) record, including zero playoff appearances and three consecutive last place finishes within the division. Last Fall, they made waves with a blockbuster trade for (veteran Quarterback) Russell Wilson, hoping to finally bring some stability to the most important position in the sport; the ponies had started NINE different QBs since Peyton Manning rode off into the proverbial sunset, with Wilson, a nine-time Pro-Bowler and Super Bowl Champion with the Seahawks, expected to be bring a definitive end to that era of ineptitude under center. However, Wilson underachieved in spectacular fashion, posting career-lows in completion percentage (60.5%), touchdown percentage (3.3%), yards per attempt (7.3), net yards per attempt (5.87), passer rating (84.4), and QBR (38.7), while suffering the most sacks in the league (55). As a result, the offense scored the fewest points in the NFL (16.9), leading to (former HC) Nathaniel Hackett losing his job just sixteen weeks into his first year at Mile High. And it is with that said, that the franchise went big-game hunting in the offseason and landed its biggest prize: Super Bowl-winning Head Coach, Sean Payton, who in fifteen seasons with the Saints posted a stellar 152-89 (.631) record, including NINE playoff appearances and more importantly, THIRTEEN top-10 finishes in total offense. If anyone could resurrect Wilson and turn around a misfiring attack, it would have to be Payton (pictured below), right? Hell, the 59-year-old was so confident in doing so, that he openly stated that Hackett “performed one of the worst coaching jobs that he had ever seen.” Well, through five games Payton has managed to improve upon that particular side of the football, as the Broncos rank tenth in points scored (24.2), sixteenth in total offense (346.2), thirteenth in passing yards (242.0), and nineteenth in rushing yards (104.2), along with fifteenth on third down (39.3%) and seventeenth in red zone efficiency (55.6%), which are all marked improvements over the previous regime. To his credit, Wilson has been better as well, completing an efficient 66.9% of his throws for 1,210 yards on 6.29 net yards per attempt, with eleven touchdowns opposed to just two interceptions and a QBR of 45.2. Ironically, the biggest issue for Denver has been their defense, which has been consistently good throughout these lean years. Payton even brought back (former HC) Vance Jospeh to coordinate this side of the football, which appears to have been a MAJOR mistake; the defense has gone from ranking in the top-8 in the previous two seasons to the worst unit in the league, shipping 36.2 points (32nd Overall) on 450.6 total yards (32nd Overall), punctuated by an ugly 20-70 (SEVENTY!!!) loss at Miami. Their struggles continued in last weekend’s 21-31 loss at home to Hackett’s current team, the Jets, who despite dealing with a plethora of offensive issues managed to hang 407 total yards and a whopping 234 of the rushing variety on the hosts. With that being said, Payton’s troops managed to keep it close late, trailing by just three points as they drove to midfield with less than a minute to go. Unfortunately, Wilson was strip-sacked at the 41-yard line by Quincey Williams and recovered by Bryce Hall, who promptly returned the ball to the house. It was the fourth consecutive game in which the Broncos had relinquished 400+ yards, with Payton being forced to eat his words by none other than the man that preceded him. Now on a short turnaround, it appears that he has come to the understanding that further changes need to be made; word from Mile High suggests that this team is indeed open for business prior to the October 31st Trade Deadline, with virtually the entire roster up for sale, including (Receivers) Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, along with (Safety) Justin Simmons and even (Pro-Bowl Cornerback) Patrick Surtain II. Remember, prior to last weekend’s defeat, Payton and (General Manager) George Paton abruptly traded away (veteran Edge-Rusher) Randy Greogry to the 49ers in exchange for a late-round pick, cutting his tenure short one season into a $70 million deal.
From a betting perspective, the Broncos may have one outright victory, but they have yet to make the bettors any money through five games as they have failed to cover the spread in any of their outings thus far. Their lone victory, a 31-28 rally at the Bears, saw Payton & Co push as 3.0-point road favorites. Last weekend’s reunion with Hackett’s Jets featured these ponies as 2.5-point favorites, which as we covered earlier, did NOT end the way that they expected. Dating back to last season, this is a team that is 3-6-1 against the spread over their last ten games overall, including a 4-5-1 mark away from Mile High and a 6-4 record as an underdog. However, being a heavy underdog has been a role that they have fancied during this lean period in Denver, covering the line in four consecutive games as a dog of at least 10.5 points, which is once again the case tonight. Looking at this particular matchup, the Broncos have been DOMINATED in this series, losing FIFTEEN straight meetings outright, while covering the spread in just FIVE of those encounters, though they have covered three consecutive affairs, all of which have come as underdogs of at least 9.5 points. When they last faced off, a 24-27 loss at Arrowhead on New Years Day, Denver (+12.5) led 17-13 until early in the fourth quarter when the hosts scored back-to-back touchdowns to take a 10-point lead, which they wouldn’t relinquish despite a late rushing touchdown from Wilson making it look more respectable. Speaking of Wilson, he hasn’t enjoyed much success when facing Kansas City, owning a 1-3 record in which he has completed 64.4% of his passes for an average of 229.5 yards on 6.00 net yards per attempt, with eleven total touchdowns opposed to three turnovers. As for Payton, he has split six career meetings with his opposite number, Andy Reid (more on him shortly), with tonight’s tilt marking their first as division counterparts. On the injury front, this is a team that is dealing with their share of bumps and bruises on this short turnaround, with the likes of (Tailback) Javonte Williams (hip), (Defensive Linemen) Mike Purcell (ribs) and D.J. Jones (knee), (Center) Lloyd Cushenberry (quadriceps), and the aforementioned Simmons (quadriceps) all listed as questionable. Looking ahead, the Broncos will get an opportunity to right the proverbial ship coming off the mini-bye in hosting the fading Packers (who will coincidentally be coming off their own bye week), before welcoming the Chiefs for the return-leg of their annual matchup.
Meanwhile, another Fall is upon us and the Chiefs (4-1, 1st in AFC West) continue to find themselves sitting atop the division, even though they may not appear to be the unstoppable juggernaut that they have so often been in the past. In fact, Kansas City has been the absolute antithesis to Denver during the latter’s seven years of ineptitude; since the conclusion of the 2015 campaign, this is a team that has amassed the best record in the NFL at 90-29 (.756), winning SEVEN consecutive AFC West Titles and a pair of Super Bowls to boot (2019 and 2022). (Head Coach) Andy Reid and (General Manager) Brett Veach have done a remarkable of job of threading the needle and turning over the roster over the last two seasons as (two-time MVP) Patrick Mahomes progresses further into the mammoth extension that he signed three years ago. Indeed, the evolution of the Chiefs has been fascinating to watch as they have since parted ways with virtually all of the main figures from their first Super Bowl triumph back in 2019, with only Mahomes, (All-Pro Tight End) Travis Kelce, and (Pro-Bowl Defensive Tackle) Chris Jones remaining at Arrowhead. Coming into this season, the offense bid farewell to a number of starters from last February’s victory over the Eagles, counting on the development of a number of young players to keep them in championship contention. So, with five weeks in the books, how has this gradual turnover progressed, you ask? While they haven’t been dominant on either side of the football (yet), Kansas City still ranks within the top-10 in points scored (25.6) and allowed (16.0), along with total offense (386.6) and defense (301.4), all the while ranking within that same range offensively and defensively in third down percentage and red zone efficiency. Of course, Mahomes makes up for A LOT of issues, with the 28-year-old completing 66.8% of his passes for an average of 257.4 yards on 6.70 net yards per attempt, with ten touchdowns opposed to four interceptions, and a QBR of 73.3. Granted, the Offensive Line has been a work in progress after adding some new faces, while the Receiving Corps has been a point of contention for many in Kansas City, but credit Mahomes for continuing to adapt to the weapons at his disposal. Through five games, his targets have already dropped TWELVE passes, which equates to 6.7% of his throws, which is by far and away the highest mark of his stellar career. Kadarius Toney, who arrived midseason last Fall via trade with the Giants, leads the team with three drops despite starting just two games, while the likes of Skyy Moore and Rashee Rice have yet to develop into consistent targets in the passing game. Why is this relevant, you ask? Well, for the second time this season, it appears that Reid & Co will have to do without the services of Kelce (pictured below), who sprained his ankle on a non-contact play during last weekend’s 27-20 victory at Minnesota. Simply put, you would be hard-pressed to find a Tight End that has EVER put together a more impressive 5-year run than the four-time All-Pro, who from 2018 to 2022 has averaged 101.4 receptions, 1,288.8 yards, and 9.4 touchdowns per season. However, the 34-year-old tweaked his knee prior to the season opener against the Lions, leaving the offense without a true reference point; the Chiefs managed just 316 total yards, seventeen first downs, and 5-of-14 on third down in that 20-21 loss, as that aforementioned Receiving Corps dropped FIVE passes. Getting back to their successful trip to Minneapolis, the Chiefs began to take control of this one right before halftime, driving fifty-three yards downfield in 1:39 as (veteran Kicker) Harrison Butker tied the affair at 13-13 prior to intermission. In the second half, the visitors opened things up with back-to-back 11-play drives of 74+ yards, as Mahomes found both Rice and Kelce for short touchdowns to take a commanding 27-13 lead. The hosts would cut the deficit to seven points early in the fourth quarter, but could get no closer than that, as (Defensive Coordinator) Steve Spagnuolo’s unit forced a turnover on downs just outside of the red zone, before once again stopping the Northmen from advancing too deep into their territory on the final possession of the afternoon. In the end, it was a statically even affair between the two teams, with a fumble recovery from (Sophomore Safety) Bryan Cook on the opening drive of the day setting the tone for Reid & Co. Mahomes completed 31-of-41 passes for 281 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with (Sophomore Tailback) Isiah Pacheco rushing for fifty-five yards and a score, and a total of ten different players catching a pass from the reigning MVP. Defensively, three different players logged a sack of Kirk Cousins, with the unit as a while racking up TWELVE hits of the Vikings Quarterback, forcing a fumble to boot. For Reid, the win was his 251st in the regular season, vaulting him past (Hall of Famer) Tom Landry for fourth on the all-time list, adding yet another pelt on the wall of the 65-year-old.
From a betting perspective, the Chiefs may be 4-1 straight-up thus far, but they are 3-2 against the spread through five weeks as they have been favored in every contest thus far. After falling in that season opener, Kansas City turned right around and covered as 3-point favorites at Jacksonville (19-7) in a rematch of last January’s Division Round matchup, before blasting the Bears (+12.5) in a 41-10 drubbing at Arrowhead. Their trip to the Meadowlands saw Mahomes pull up before scoring an easy touchdown that would have seen them cover an 8-point spread, choosing instead to run out the clock, while that aforementioned win in Minneapolis came as 3.5-point favorites. Dating back to last season, Reid’s troops have covered the spread in six of their last ten games overall (including playoffs), while posting a 4-6 record in that regard in their past ten outings at Arrowhead as well as their last ten as a favorite. As we covered earlier, the Chiefs have owned this series of late, winning fifteen consecutive meetings and posting a 10-5 record against the spread along the way. Granted, they are just 2-3 versus the spread in their last five encounters at Arrowhead, where they have been favored by no fewer than 8.5 points in any particular matchup, including last year’s tilt on New Years Day, where they escaped with a 27-24 win despite being 12.5-point favorites. It was a sloppy game in which each side committed a pair of turnovers, though it once again came down to Mahomes’ magic; the soon-to-be MVP completed 29-of-42 passes for 328 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception, hooking up with (versatile tailback) Jerick McKinnon for a pair of receiving scores. Spagnuolo’s defense got after Wilson, sacking him four times, hitting him on eight occasions, with a total of twelve pressures, while picking him off and strip-sacking the QB to boot. Going back to Mahomes, he has NEVER lost to the Broncos in eleven meetings, completing 65.9% of his throws for an average of 269.0 yards on a healthy 7.54 net yards per attempt, with twenty total touchdowns, though has suffered eight interceptions and sixteen sacks, his most against any single opponent. On the injury front, we covered Kelce’s status earlier and he is currently listed as questionable to participate in this affair, with (Sophomore Defensive End) George Karlaftis (hamstring) and (Linebacker) Nick Bolton (ankle) also carrying that designation. Looking ahead, the Chiefs will continue their run through the AFC West, hosting the Chargers before heading to Mile High for the return leg with the Broncos, followed by a seismic encounter with the high-powered Dolphins on November 5th.