Denver Broncos (6-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)
Many people wrote the Chiefs off when they got off to a 3-4 start, but there were always reasons to expect they would turn around. For one, the Chiefs started the season with the arguably toughest schedule in the league. They also struggled mightily in the turnover margin, starting the season with a -11 turnover margin through their first eight games. Turnover margins are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and common sense suggested that the Chiefs, with one of the top quarterbacks in the league, would not continue to rank among the league worst in turnover margin, especially since so many of their interceptions came off tipped passes.
On top of that, the Chiefs’ offense was still moving the ball as well as they ever had, with their defense dragging down the team’s performance significantly, as they were arguably the worst in the league to begin the season. Defense is the less predictive side of the ball, however, and the Chiefs had significant injury issues on that side of the ball early in the season, with safety Tyrann Mathieu, edge defender Frank Clark, interior defender Chris Jones, and cornerback Charvarius Ward all missing time.
Their defense is now healthy, with all four of those players in the lineup, as well as a key mid-season addition in Melvin Ingram. The Chiefs’ turnover margin has also stabilized (+4 their past three games) and now they get to an easier part of their schedule as well. The Chiefs are on a 4-game winning streak and, looking at their remainder of their schedule, it’s possible they don’t lose a game the rest of the way if they stay healthy and play turnover neutral football.
Even if they do lose another game, I don’t expect it to be this one, at home, coming out of a bye week, against a mediocre Broncos team. Denver is 6-5, but three of their wins were against terrible teams early in the season, when the Broncos were a lot healthier. In total, they are missing edge defender Von Miller, middle linebackers Josey Jewell and AJ Johnson, right guard Graham Glasgow, running back Melvin Gordon, and slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, who all began the season as key contributors for this team. Even including their solid start, the Broncos rank just 21st, 4th, 29th, and 20th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency on the season.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, rank 1st on offense and 2nd on special teams, with their 31st ranked defense being much improved in recent weeks, but having their rank dragged down by how terrible they were to begin the season. If their defense can even be an average unit the rest of the way, the Chiefs are among the toughest teams in the league and should still be considered the favorites to come out of the AFC. My calculated line has the Chiefs as 12.5-point favorites, so we’re getting value with the Chiefs at -9.5. It also helps that Andy Reid has been one of the best coaches in NFL history when given extra time, going 34-21 ATS in week one games and games following bye weeks in his career. This is my top pick this week.
Kansas City Chiefs 34 Denver Broncos 20
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -9.5
Confidence: Pick of the Week