Denver Broncos (8-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-4)
These two teams met back in week 12 in a game in which the Chiefs prevailed in overtime on a last second field goal. Despite Kansas City’s win, the Broncos actually outplayed the Chiefs for most of the game. The Chiefs needed a return touchdown and a Denver muffed punt just to get it to overtime and still trailed by 8 until the final drive, when they scored their 2nd offensive touchdown of the game and converted for two. At the very least, it was a game that could have gone either way, but it’s arguably a game that the Broncos should have won outright in regulation.
That game was in Denver and this one is in Kansas City, but that actually puts the Broncos in a good spot, as comparable teams tend to split the season series, even if the road team pulls the upset in the first game. Divisional road underdogs are 61-34 ATS since 2002 in same season divisional revenge games against an opponent that previously beat them as home favorites and they also pull the upset and win straight up about half the time. These teams aren’t quite comparable though, as I have the Broncos ranked a few spots higher, so their likelihood of pulling the upset should be even higher.
The Chiefs have 10 wins, but have allowed 44 first downs and 3 offensive touchdowns more than they’ve scored. Their record is largely the result of 6 wins by 8 points or less (including two overtime victories), a +13 turnover margin, and a +7 return touchdown margin, but it’s tough to rely on takeaways and return touchdowns to win you close games, as there’s no week-to-week correlation in turnover margin and, as a result, there’s no week-to-week correlation in return touchdown margin.
The Chiefs won the turnover margin by 2 at home against the Titans last week, but still lost the game as big home favorites because they lost the first down battle 21 to 13 and the first down rate battle by 10.19%, a huge margin. Teams that win the turnover margin by 2, on average, win the game about 81.6% of the time, but the following week they win just 54.2% of the time and an have an average turnover margin of -0.1. That’s the same average turnover margin had by teams that had a +4 turnover margin the week before and the same average turnover margin had by teams that had a -4 turnover margin the week before. There’s simply no correlation between a team’s turnover margin one week and the following week.
While the Broncos enter this game 12th in first down rate differential, as opposed to 28th for the Chiefs. That gap seems bigger than it is because the gap between 12th and 28th is smaller than the gap between 12th and 4th, but the Broncos still have a 3% advantage in that metric, a significant amount. If we assume turnover neutral football, which we always should because of how inconsistent turnover margins are, the Broncos have a great chance to win this game on the road, even before taking into account any trends.
The Broncos enter this game pretty banged up, with middle linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety TJ Ward out and defensive end Derek Wolfe being a game time call, but the Chiefs are expected to be without their best defensive player, outside linebacker Justin Houston, while talented middle linebacker Derrick Johnson went down for the season with a torn achilles two weeks ago, so that kind of evens out. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, but I like the Broncos’ chances to win straight up as well. The Broncos are a high confidence pick at 4 or 3.5 and I’d take them all the way down to 3 if I had to.
Denver Broncos 17 Kansas City Chiefs 16 Upset Pick +170
Pick against the spread: Denver +4