Green Bay Packers (7-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (4-4)
Earlier this week, I was expecting to make a big play on the Chiefs in this one, when they opened with an even line. The Packers are 7-1, while the Chiefs are just 4-4, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Chiefs still rank 2nd in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, despite having a down year by their standards, and their problems have been primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball, where they rank dead last in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency.
Fortunately, offensive efficiency tends to be much more predictive week-to-week than defensive efficiency and, on top of that, the Chiefs have gotten healthier on defense, as starting cornerback Charvarius Ward, talented safety Tyrann Mathieu, and their two best defensive lineman Frank Clark and Chris Jones have only all played together just in the past two games, with all four missing some action early in the season.
The Chiefs underwhelmed last week against the Giants, but they were likely caught looking forward to this bigger matchup with the Packers this week. The Chiefs have also had issues with turnovers, as they have the worst turnover margin in the league at -11, which has significantly capped their upside this season, but turnover margins tend to be highly inconsistent and unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and many of the Chiefs turnovers have been on deflected or tipped balls, so I don’t anticipate this being a problem all season.
In fact, while I would expect any team with a turnover margin like the Chiefs have had thus far this season to improve in that aspect going forward, that should especially be true for the Chiefs, as having a top level quarterback is the only way to have any sort of consistent success in the turnover margin. Across Mahomes’ first three seasons in the league, the Chiefs had a combined +23 turnover margin, before Mahomes’ recent string of mostly unlikely interceptions led him to currently lead the league with 10 interceptions. I don’t see that continuing going forward and, with the Chiefs defense likely to improve going forward as well, the Chiefs should be much better going forward.
The Packers, meanwhile, have not played as well as their record suggests, as they rank 9th, 22nd, and 27th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively and don’t have any overly impressive wins. Just two of their wins came by more than 10 points and those came in games in which the Packers were down at halftime at home to the winless Lions and in which the Packers were outgained at home on a per play basis by a mediocre Washington team.
The Packers did go into Arizona and win last week, giving the Cardinals their first loss of the season, but the Packers were very reliant in the turnover battle in that game, losing the first down rate battle by 5.93%, but winning by a field goal in a game in which the Packers won the turnover battle by three, including a late takeaway to seal the game when the Cardinals were in range to at least send the game to overtime, if not win outright. The Packers scored off the Cardinals’ other two takeaways too, so if any one of those turnovers doesn’t happen, the Packers could have easily lost. Given how inconsistent turnover margins are on a week-to-week basis, the Packers can’t count on that again and, given that the Cardinals outperformed the Packers in other key metrics, the Cardinals would likely win a rematch more often than not.
Because most of the Packers wins have been close, while most of the Chiefs issues have been concentrated on defense or have come as a result of a fluky turnover margin, I thought these two teams were at worst even going into this game, with the Chiefs holding an edge if anyone did, so getting them on an even line at home was a good value. Unfortunately, this game has changed drastically since earlier this week, with Aaron Rodgers set to mess this game after testing positive for COVID and the line shifting a whopping 7.5 points as a result, now favoring the Chiefs by that amount.
About half of NFL games are decided by seven points or fewer, so that’s a drastical line movement and I don’t think it’s warranted. As good as Aaron Rodgers is, his backup Jordan Love is a recent first round pick who made significant improvements this off-season, so I don’t expect quite as big of a dropoff as the oddsmakers and public seem to. The Chiefs could also be in a look ahead spot now that Rodgers is out, with a big divisional matchup against the Raiders on deck and, much like we saw out of the Chiefs last week against the Giants, we could see them play down to the level of their competition again this week what could be a look ahead spot for the Chiefs with Rodgers out. I am still taking the Chiefs for pick ’em purposes because we are still getting a little bit of line value with them, but this one is no longer bettable.
Kansas City Chiefs 33 Green Bay Packers 24
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -7.5