Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) at Tennessee Titans (4-5)
When Pat Mahomes went down in severe pain during the Chiefs’ Thursday Night Football game against the Broncos a few weeks ago, it looked like the Chiefs’ season might be over. Instead, Mahomes only missed about two and a half games, the Chiefs only lost once in his absence, and now Mahomes returns to a team that is 6-3 and still very much in the mix for a first round bye in the AFC.
The Chiefs may have treaded water without Mahomes, but his return is undoubtedly a major boost for this team. In 32 drives in place of Mahomes, backup Matt Moore led this offense to 44 first downs and 6 offensive touchdowns on 154 plays, a 32.47% first down rate. That’s down significantly from the 44.96% first down rate the Chiefs have had in the 22 games Mahomes has started and finished over the past two seasons.
The reason the Chiefs were able to stay afloat without Mahomes is that their defense stepped up, allowing a 31.44% first down rate over the past 3 games, after allowing a 41.85% first down rate in the 22 games Mahomes started and finished over the past couple seasons. Has this defense finally turned a corner? It’s possible, but there were no major changes on this defense, so I’m skeptical they are for real based off of just three games. More likely, the Chiefs’ defense was just playing extra hard for a short stretch while their quarterback was out. Now with Mahomes back, they may not be able to maintain that level of effort. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see this whole team relax a little bit with their MVP franchise quarterback back.
If that happens, the Titans could easily catch this Chiefs’ team off guard at home in Nashville. The Titans led the league with nine games against eventual playoff opponents in 2018 and won four of them, including multi-touchdown wins over the Cowboys and Patriots. Despite the tough schedule, the Titans finished last season at 9-7, falling just short of qualifying for the post-season. This season, they have started 4-5, but they’ve been better than their record suggests.
They have a positive point differential at +5 and, while they have benefitted from the turnover margin (+5, 6th in the NFL), which tends to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, they have also missed a league leading 8 field goals, which is effectively 8 turnovers, as not only do you lose out on the 3 points, but the opposing team gets the ball at the spot of the miss. The Titans first down rate differential (13th, +1.47% in the NFL) is very similar to last season’s (14th, +1.35% in the NFL), but they’ve fallen to a 46.7% field goal percentage from 86.7%.
Normal kicker Ryan Succop returned last week from injury and, while he went 0-3 in his season debut, he was an 86.6% field goal kicker for the Titans over the previous 5 seasons and may have just needed a game to shake off the rust. His poor performance was a big part of the reason why the Titans couldn’t pull the upset in Carolina in a game in which they won the first down rate battle by 3.95% but lost by 10.
Even though the Titans have a good chance to catch the Chiefs off guard and possibly pull the upset, they’re still 6-point home underdogs. I have the Chiefs at -1, so we’re getting significant line value with the host. The odds makers (and the public) seem to forget that the Chiefs lost at home to the Colts and Texans and nearly lost in Detroit even with Mahomes under center. Unless the Chiefs’ defense can keep up their recent intensity, this should be a close game. The Titans are my Pick of the Week.
Tennessee Titans 24 Kansas City Chiefs 23 Upset Pick +225
Pick against the spread: Tennessee +6
Confidence: Pick of the Week