Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
For weeks, the Chiefs have been at the top of my overrated teams list. They’re still on the list, as they are overly reliant on winning close games (5 wins by a touchdown or fewer), winning the turnover margin (+14 on the season), and getting return touchdowns (+5 on the season), but they’re a lot healthier now than they were a couple weeks ago. Top pass rusher Justin Houston showed his All-Pro form last week in his first real game back from off-season knee surgery. Top cornerback Marcus Peters also returned from a 1-game absence last week. This week, the Chiefs get Dee Ford, their top pass rusher in Houston’s absence, back from a 1-game absence.
With Houston and Ford healthy, the Chiefs already strong defense gets even better. They rank 10th in first down rate allowed, but I think you could argue they’re on the cusp of being a top-5 defense with everyone healthy. The problem is their offense, especially with Jeremy Maclin set to miss his 4th straight game with injury. They rank 25th in first down rate and have just 20 offensive touchdowns on the year, including just 6 in the past 4 games, even with one of those games going to overtime. Despite a 8-3 record, they’ve allowed 4 more offensive touchdowns than they’ve allowed. That’s been masked by their turnover margin, return touchdown margin, and record in close games, but those types of things tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, the Chiefs rank 22nd in first down rate differential.
They’re better than that suggests because of their improving injury situation, but they face a tough opponent on the road this week in a tough spot. The Falcons rank 5th in first down rate differential and are still a solid team at worst even with cornerback Desmond Trufant and defensive end Adrian Clayborn hurt. They have major issues on defense, especially without those two, but they have one of the best offenses in the league. They also have a relatively easy game on deck, as they head to Los Angeles to face the Rams next week, a game in which they figure to be big road favorites. Teams are 86-63 ATS since 2012 before being road favorites of 4 or more, as teams tend to take care of business with no upcoming distractions on the horizon.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have to play a big divisional game against the Raiders in Thursday Night Football a few days after this one and are coming off of basically a 5 quarter game, winning in the final seconds of overtime on a field goal. The game didn’t end in a tie but it took the whole overtime period, meaning they played about as much football as they would have in a tie. Unsurprisingly, teams are 5-13 ATS off of a tie since 1989. This line is too high at 5.5 for me to be at all confident in the Falcons, but they should be the right side.
Atlanta Falcons 23 Kansas City Chiefs 17
Pick against the spread: Atlanta -5.5