Kansas City Chiefs (11-5) at Denver Broncos (7-9)
The Broncos had the talent to be a playoff team this season, but they had more than an average amount of player absences, which kept them from reaching their potential. It started early in the season on defense, with their talented middle linebacker duo of AJ Johnson and Josey Jewell both suffering season-ending injuries that limited them to 6 games and 2 games respectively. Talented edge defender Bradley Chubb never suffered a season-ending injury, but he’s played just 6 games due to a variety of injuries, plus time missed with COVID. On top of that, starting cornerbacks Bryce Callahan and Ronald Darby were limited to 10 games each.
With a banged-up defense and the team looking unlikely to make a playoff push, the Broncos traded away Von Miller and his expiring contract at the trade deadline for draft picks, a smart move in the long-term, but another big loss for this defense. However, this team was still in the playoff mix at 7-6 before losing possibly their most important player, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, an unspectacular, but steady quarterback who was replaced by erratic backup Drew Lock, who has overseen the Broncos’ fall out of the playoff race at 7-9.
Their offense was relatively healthy compared to the defense, aside from season ending injuries suffered by wide receiver KJ Hamler and right guard Graham Glasgow after three games and nine games respectively, as well as seven games missed by starting wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and three games each missed by starting offensive tackles Garret Bolles and Bobby Massie, but they couldn’t handle the loss of Bridgewater, which sunk the Broncos’ offense, leaving a depleted defense unable to pick up their slack.
Bridgewater remains out for what is now a meaningless week 18 game for the Broncos, aside from the opportunity to hurt the Chiefs’ playoff seeding, and the Broncos will be even more short-handed than they have been, with a trio of starters in the secondary, safety Kareem Jackson and cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Patrick Surtain, expected out in this game. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are relatively healthy as a team and are overall one of the best teams in the league, with an offense that ranks 1st in schedule adjusted efficiency, a special teams that ranks 2nd, and a defense that has been much better since a terrible start to the season when they were missing key personnel and that is much more talented on paper than their 28th ranked defensive efficiency.
Even with their underwhelming defensive efficiency, the Chiefs still rank 2nd in overall mixed efficiency, while the Broncos rank 22nd and are even worse than that now given all they are missing. Unfortunately, we have lost a lot of line value in the past week, with this line creeping up to Kansas City -11.5, despite the Chiefs’ last-second loss to the Bengals. My calculated line still favors the Chiefs by 14, but there isn’t enough here for the Chiefs to be bettable at this high number. One thing to keep an eye on is that both the Broncos’ kicker and punter are in COVID protocols and the Broncos have yet to sign a replacement for either. They do expect both players to clear before gametime, but if one doesn’t, it would leave the Broncos in a tough situation, one that might make the Chiefs’ bettable if this line doesn’t skyrocket.
Kansas City Chiefs 31 Denver Broncos 17
Pick against the spread: Kansas City -11.5