Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) at Tennessee Titans (4-2)
The Chiefs lost at home to the Bills a couple weeks ago and then the Bills went to Tennessee the following week and lost as 6-point favorites. Now with the Chiefs going to Tennessee, they are only 4-point favorites and seen as a popular pick to be upset this week. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story, as the Bills brought their best effort to knock off the Chiefs and then subsequently were flat the following week against a Titans team that brought its best effort to knock off the newly anointed AFC favorite.
Now it could be the Titans’ turn to be flat. It’s tough to bring your best effort for back-to-back tough games and teams cover at just 40.8% rate all-time after a win as home underdogs of 5 or more. The Titans are also dealing with some injury absences, most notably left tackle Taylor Lewan, who is out with a concussion. The Chiefs are, meanwhile, significantly better than their 3-3 record, as they have faced a tough schedule, have struggled mightily with turnovers (-8, second worst in the NFL), and have had significant defensive injuries that have heavily contributed to them ranking dead last in yards per play allowed.
All three of their wins came against opponents who are 4-2 or better and the Chiefs lost the turnover battle by a combined 8 across those three losses, while only being outscored by 25 points total, in games in which key defensive players were missing. At the same time, the Chiefs haven’t been much healthier in their three wins, which have come by a combined 34 points, despite only an even turnover margin across those three games. Their only one score win has come against another tough team, the Cleveland Browns.
Turnover margin is one of the least predictive stats and I would expect any team that has struggled with turnover as much as they have to be significantly better going forward, but that’s especially the case for the Chiefs, as having an elite quarterback is one of the few ways to consistently fare well in the turnover margin. Overall, the Chiefs were +23 in turnover margin in Patrick Mahomes’ first 3 seasons in the league prior to this season. Even this season, most of Mahomes’ interceptions have been off of drops or tipped balls, which are unlikely to continue recurring at this rate.
The Chiefs defense should also be a lot healthier this week. So far this season, defensive linemen Frank Clark (3 games missed) and Chris Jones (2 games missed), cornerback Charvarius Ward (4 games missed), and safety Tyrann Mathieu (1 game missed) have yet to play in the same game all year and those are arguably their four most important defensive players. The Chiefs should have at least three of them back this week with Ward, the least important of the three, being the only one of the four to even be legitimately questionable this week. Most notably, they will get Chris Jones back from his absence this week and he’s one of the best defensive linemen in the league when healthy.
Aside from turnovers, which I mentioned earlier as unlikely to continue, the Chiefs’ offense has been as effective as ever this season, leading the league with a 40.6% first down rate that is even more impressive when you factor in schedule adjustments (+10.71% first down rate above expected), so if their defense can even be a complementary unit, this team should be as tough to beat as ever going forward. Even at 3-3, they could easily be considered a Super Bowl favorite in the long-term.
Defense is a much less predictive side of the ball anyway, but I would expect them to be a lot better on that side of the ball going forward, while the offense should continue dominating, barring key injuries of their own. I was hoping for a better line after the Titans won last weekend, but even with the Chiefs as 4-point favorites, we are getting line value, as my calculated line has the Chiefs favored by a touchdown. This is still worth a small bet, as somehow the Chiefs have wound up underrated.
Update: After considering the Titans’ injuries more, I am upping this bet. The Titans will have Bud Dupree active despite barely practicing this week, but he’s struggled mightily this season, while safety Amani Hooker, who has played very well when on the field this year, is inactive after injuring himself in practice on Friday. The Titans were already down a pair of starting cornerbacks and their top linebacker from a defense that was already underwhelming entering the season, so it’s hard to see them having much success at all slowing down the Chiefs this week. This line remains at 4, while my calculated line is Kansas City -8.5, so we’re getting a lot of value with Kansas City.
Kansas City Chiefs 38 Tennessee Titans 30
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -4