Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs: 2014 Week 1 NFL Pick

Tennessee Titans (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0)

This is one of a few plays that I’m really disappointed I didn’t get in earlier. The Chiefs used to be 6 point favorites and there was obvious value with Tennessee in that situation. The Chiefs are not going to be nearly as good as they were record wise last season. Everything suggests the Chiefs will decline this season. Teams that have big win improvements tend to decline by about half the win improvement total from the previous season. The Chiefs won 2 games in 2012 and 11 games in 2013, a 9 game win improvement. Obviously the addition of Alex Smith and Andy Reid had something to do with that, but the rest of the team is pretty much the same. History suggests they’ll decline by about 4 or 5 wins, which would put them right around the win total they had in 2011, when they went 7-9.

That’s not the only thing I’m basing my decline theory on though. The Chiefs were not as good as their record suggested last season. They played the league’s easiest schedule in terms of DVOA, which doesn’t even take into account the number of teams they faced who were starting backup quarterbacks. Now they trade out the NFC East and the AFC South for the AFC East and the NFC West. They also suffered an unsustainably low amount of injuries, with the fewest adjusted games lost in the NFL last season. Yes, they did lose Justin Houston for 5 ½ games which hurt, but their other key players, Derrick Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Tamba Hali, Eric Berry, Dontari Poe, Alex Smith, Dwayne Bowe, and Mike Devito missed a combined 1 game between them last season, excluding the finale, in which the Chiefs rested their starters. That much injury luck is unlikely to happen again. They’re already without Dwayne Bowe for this game with a one-game suspension and Eric Berry could be limited by a lingering heel problem.

The Chiefs were also overly reliant on winning the turnover margin, with an AFC best +18 turnover margin. Winning the turnover margin consistently is hard to do, unless you have a top quarterback, and even then it’s hard. Teams with a turnover margin of +4 in a week on average have the same turnover margin the next week as a team that had a turnover margin of -4 the previous week, a turnover margin of about +0.0. Meanwhile, teams that have a turnover margin of +15 or better in a season see their turnover margins drop by an average of about 15.8 the following season, resulting in 2.32 fewer wins.

Teams with a turnover margin of -15 or worse in a season have an average turnover margin the following season of +2.04. Meanwhile, teams with a turnover margin of +15 or better in a season have an average turnover margin the following season of +3.42, a difference of about 1.38. These things are unpredictable. If you’re using a team’s turnover margin from the previous season as a reason why they’re going to continue to have success the next season, it’s usually not going to work out well. The Chiefs are unlikely to recover 58.70% of fumbles again next season, 4th best in the NFL. The tougher schedule and the fact that they’ll likely have more injuries will also play a role in this.

In addition to the Chiefs not being as good as their record last season, they also have less talent than last season, because of all of their off-season losses. They lost their 3 most talented offensive linemen, who combined for 26 starts last season. They also lost valuable depth at wide receiver, safety, and middle linebacker. They’re unlikely to get much out of their rookie class this season, as their first round pick was used with 2015 in mind and they didn’t have a 2nd round pick. In terms of pure talent level, I have them closer to the bottom of the league than the top.

I would have considered Tennessee +6 as a pick of the week because these two teams are pretty similar talent wise, but the sharps also know the Chiefs are going to decline and they bet this line all the way down to 3.5. There’s not nearly as much value here anymore. That being said, I’m going with the Titans still for a medium confidence pick. There isn’t as much wiggle room in case the Titans don’t win straight up in Kansas City, but I also feel more confident in my Chiefs decline theory knowing that the sharps seem to agree with me. Meanwhile, the public is likely all over the Chiefs as small favorites. This has all the makings of a trap bet for the public and I’m going the other way.

Tennessee Titans 20 Kansas City Chiefs 17 Upset Pick (+150)

Pick against spread: Tennessee +3.5

Confidence: Medium

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