Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
The Bengals are in the driver’s seat in the AFC North right now, only needing to win one of their next two games to clinch the division, but they’re going to find it very difficult to get that win this week, with the Kansas City Chiefs coming to town. The Bengals point differential of 9th is +86 best in the NFL, but they have also faced the easiest schedule in the league in terms of opponents’ efficiency, which doesn’t even take into account that they played a skeleton crew Ravens team last week. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Bengals rank just 17th, 16th, and 7th respectively, while ranking 13th in overall mixed schedule adjusted efficiency. That schedule will be getting a lot tougher this week, as the Chiefs are arguably the best team in the league.
The Chiefs got off to a slow start this season, sitting at 3-4 through the first seven games of the season, but their biggest problems were the turnover margin (-10 through the first 7 games of the season) and their horrendous defensive play. Since then, their defense has since gotten healthy (cornerback Charvarius Ward, safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive end Frank Clark, and defensive tackle Chris Jones all missed time early in the season) and added edge defender Melvin Ingram in a key mid-season acquisition, which has led to a huge defensive improvement, while their turnover margin has predictably swung as well, as they have been at +13 in the eight games since their slow start.
Between the turnover margin and their much improved defensive efficiency, the Chiefs have won all eight games by an average of 17.0 points per game since their 3-4 start, leading to them now being all alone in the #1 seed in the AFC at 11-4, despite the fact that their offense has not been as healthy in recent weeks as it is now, with starting right tackle Lucas Niang, top wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and stud tight end Travis Kelce all back in the lineup.
This line, favoring the Chiefs by five points on the road, might seem high, given that the Bengals are a division leader, but my calculated line is actually at 6, so I think this line is not high enough, as this is just such a step up in competition from most of the Bengals’ schedule. The Chiefs rank 2nd in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, 2nd on special teams, and their defense (25th on the season) has been a complementary unit in recent weeks. There isn’t enough here to bet on the Chiefs, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, in a rare battle of two relatively healthy teams this week.
Kansas City Chiefs 27 Cincinnati Bengals 20
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -5