Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (7-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7)

The Chargers lost on the road in Houston in embarrassing fashion to one of the worst teams in the league, with a final score of 41-29 as 12.5-point road favorites. There are plenty of reasons to expect the Chargers to bounce back this week though. For one, their loss last week was largely the result of losing the turnover battle, as they won the yards per play battle (+0.49) and first down rate battle (+2.86%). 

The Chargers will also be healthier than they were last week, with top edge defender Joey Bosa, stud center Corey Linsley, talented starting wide receiver Mike Williams, and feature back Austin Ekeler all back in the lineup. Teams tend to bounce back from big upset losses anyway, covering at a 57.3% rate all-time after a loss as favorites of 10 points or more, as teams tend to be much more focused after getting embarrassed by a bad team.

The Chargers also get another easy game this week, as the Broncos will be the team with the significant injury issues in this game, rather than the Chargers. The Broncos only lost by four to the Raiders last week, but they lost despite winning the turnover battle by three and they lost the first down rate battle (+13.30%) and yards per play battle (+1.15) by significant amounts, especially struggling on offense in the first start of the season for backup quarterback Drew Lock. 

Lock will start again this week, but he’ll be without at least two of his top wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick, as well as starting right tackle Bobby Massie. Meanwhile, their defense is expected to be without talented edge defender Bradley Chubb and stud slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, on a unit already missing a trio of talented players who began the season with the team, AJ Johnson, Josey Jewell, and Von Miller. 

The Broncos could also be without top wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who reportedly could also go on the COVID list with Jeudy and Patrick, giving Drew Lock an even thinner receiving corps. The Chargers aren’t 100% either, as they could be missing a pair of starters in the secondary in Chris Harris and Nasir Adderley, but even if they are out and Sutton plays, I still have the Chargers favored by 10 points. If they play and Sutton doesn’t, my calculated line moves to -13. I want to lock this one in at -7.5 before the line potentially increases and I may increase this play before gametime.

Update: The Broncos will likely have Sutton for this game, but the Chargers are getting Harris and Adderley back, while Broncos interior defender Mike Purcell is out, meaning the Broncos will also be without at least two (DeShawn Williams) of their interior defenders and possibly a third if Dre’Mont Jones, who is questionable, is unable to go. This line hasn’t moved from 7.5, but I am glad to have bet the Chargers at that number, as the disparity in player absences between these two teams is massive.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -7.5

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Las Vegas Raiders: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (7-7) at Las Vegas Raiders (7-7)

The Raiders are 7-7, but they have a 4-2 record in one-score games and a 3-0 overtime record, so they could easily have a couple more losses. On top of that, their point differential of -75 is significantly worse than would be expected for their record and ranks just 25th in the NFL overall. That would normally suggest they are worse than their record, but they have faced a tough schedule overall and have largely underperformed on third and fourth downs relative to their early down performance, which tends to even out in the long run. 

The Raiders rank 15th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 9th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but are just 28th and 16th respectively in third and fourth down conversion percentage and just 27th and 30th respectively in both third and fourth down conversion percentage allowed. In terms of schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, the Raiders rank 15th overall. Their offense has been noticeably worse since losing top wide receiver Henry Ruggs and stud tight end Darren Waller, but they still have an above average defense and are still better than their point differential.

The Broncos have a much better point differential at +42, but rank just 18th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency. The Broncos are also dealing with a key injury absence as veteran starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is out with a concussion and will be replaced by inconsistent young backup Drew Lock, who will almost definitely be a significant downgrade. Despite the Raiders having the higher schedule adjusted mixed efficiency and a healthy starting quarterback at home, this line is even. 

Not only is that line too low, but it’s also the exact same line as the early line a week ago, despite the Bridgewater injury, which came in a Broncos home upset loss to the Bengals. The oddsmakers and public clearly were not impressed with the Raiders narrowly winning in Cleveland against a COVID depleted team last week, but that game would not have been as close if the Raiders had not lost the turnover battle by two, which is not a predictive metric. In terms of first down rate and yards per play differential, which are much more predictive and are the basis for efficiency ratings, the Raiders had the edge by significant margins. 

My calculated line has the Raiders favored by 3.5 points, so we are getting a lot of line value with them on an even line, line value that would increase in the somewhat likely case that talented Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs gets cleared from the COVID list before this game. I am not locking in a lot of games until gameday morning because of all of the COVID uncertainty this week, but this is one I’m comfortable betting now because neither team is having much of a COVID outbreak and the line value is too significant.

Las Vegas Raiders 21 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Las Vegas PK

Confidence: High

Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at Denver Broncos (7-6)

These two teams are pretty similar. Both teams are 7-6 and in the playoff mix a year after finishing well below .500 and both teams have point differentials that are better than their records, with the Bengals at +61 and the Broncos at +47. However, both teams have also faced among the easiest schedules in the league. In schedule adjusted efficiency, the Bengals rank 21st, 17th, and 15th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, while the Broncos rank 18th, 5th, and 29th and have a slight edge in mixed efficiency, ranking 17th, about a point ahead of the 19th ranked Bengals.

My roster rankings still have the Bengals about a point better though, mostly due to the Bengals’ significant edge at the quarterback position. The Broncos have performed about evenly with the Bengals, despite their significant quarterback disadvantage, but my roster rankings suggest they have overachieved to do so. The Bengals have a pair of significant absences in this game, missing starting right tackle Riley Reiff and top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, but the Broncos are shorthanded as well, missing a pair of key front seven players Malik Reed and Dre’mont Jones, as well as talented right guard Graham Glasgow.

The line, favoring the Broncos by a full field goal at home, suggests they are the slightly better team, but I think it’s the other way around, so we’re getting some line value with the Bengals, who I have calculated as just 1-point underdogs. It’s not enough to bet on the Bengals confidently and I still have the Broncos winning straight up, but the Bengals should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes as these two teams are no worse than even and this line suggests the Broncos are the slightly better team.

Denver Broncos 27 Cincinnati Bengals 26

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (1-10-1) at Denver Broncos (6-6)

I have picked the Lions in recent weeks, betting them frequently, as winless teams tend to be a good bet late in the season and, in fact, the Lions have now covered in five of their last six games, after last week’s upset win over the Vikings. However, now the Lions are not winless anymore and they could be in a bad spot after an emotional upset victory, as teams cover at just a 41.0% rate after a win as home underdogs of 5 points or more. The Lions could easily still be overlooked though, especially by a Broncos team that is coming off a tough loss to the Chiefs and now gets an easy opponent before another tough conference matchup against the Bengals. 

Teams cover the spread at just a 42.7% rate as favorites of a touchdown or more before facing an opponent with a winning percentage over 50% higher than their current opponent, which applies in this situation and effectively cancels out the Lions’ bad trend. On top of that, part of the reason why teams tend to struggle after a big home upset wins is because they become overrated off of overreaction to a single week of play, but the Lions went from being 8.5-point underdogs on the early line last week to now being 10-point underdogs this week, despite the Broncos looking underwhelming in Kansas City. 

That’s partially because the Lions will be without a pair of key offensive playmakers in running back Jamaal Williams and tight end TJ Hockenson, after already losing running back DeAndre Swift the week before, but my calculated line still has the Broncos favored by just a touchdown at most, despite the Lions’ injury absences. Even though the Lions have a terrible record, they haven’t been blown out much, as just three of their 12 games have ended in a defeat by more than 10 points, which is important, considering this line is at 10. 

The Broncos are unlikely to be the team that pushes that number to four. The Broncos started 3-0 against a weak schedule, winning all three games by double digits, but they have lost key players like Von Miller, Josey Jewell, AJ Johnson, and Graham Glasgow since then and have slipped to 6-6, while ranking just 21st, 4th, 29th, and 19th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. The Lions, despite their league worst record, rank 25th, 28th, 9th, and 27th respectively, about four points behind the Broncos. This isn’t worth a big play, but I would expect this to be another relatively close game for the Lions, who are not as bad as their record.

Update: The COVID absences have continued for the Lions, with safety Tracy Walker and edge defender Julian Okwara being the most notable of the players who were also ruled out after Jamaal Williams. I am regretting locking this in at 10, as the line has since shifted to 11, and even at 11 I don’t know if I would be confident in the Lions, given how short-handed they will be this week.

Denver Broncos 23 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Detroit +10

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

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

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (6-4) at Denver Broncos (5-5)

The Broncos started 3-0 and, while all three games were against mediocre at best opponents, they won all three in convincing fashion, winning all three by double digits. However, since then, the Broncos have lost five of their last seven games to fall to 5-5. Part of the problem is their schedule got tougher, but they still have faced a below average schedule overall and, even when adjusted for schedule, their performance has dropped off significantly. The culprit has been injuries, as the Broncos have lost as much talent to injury since the beginning of the season as any team in the league. 

In total, the Broncos are without a trio of offensive linemen, stud left tackle Garret Bolles, starting right tackle Bobby Massie, talented starting right guard Graham Glasgow, talented edge defender duo Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, every down middle linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson, talented starting safety Kareem Jackson, and impressive slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, who all played for this team week one this season. It’s possible Chubb returns this week, but he seems to be no better than 50/50 and, at the same time, Shelby Harris, their top interior defender, seems legitimately questionable as well and could miss his first game of the season, which would be a big absence.

The Broncos did beat the Cowboys in Dallas in a convincing win a few weeks ago, but that was more due to Dak Prescott not being 100%, stud left tackle Tyron Smith being out for the Cowboys, and the Cowboys being flat after giving their best effort to beat the Vikings in Minnesota without Prescott the week prior. That win is likely a big part of the reason why the Broncos remain overrated, but their only other win in their past seven games was a one-score game against Washington in which the Broncos blocked a pair of field goals and, missing all they are missing, I have the Broncos 4 points below average in my roster rankings right now.

Despite that, they are underdogs of less than a field goal at home against the Chargers, who are 2.5 points above average in my roster rankings. The Chargers only have one win by more than one score this year, after their only two wins by more than one score last year came in a meaningless game against the Chiefs backups and a game against the eventual 1-15 Jaguars, but they are still a more talented team than a year ago and their lack of blowout wins this season likely stems from the fact that they have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league.

They only won by one-score last week against an injury depleted Steelers team, who were arguably the easiest opponent they have faced to date, but they won that game despite losing the turnover battle and having a punt blocked, which led to the Steelers cutting into what was a 14-point 4th quarter lead. Overall, the Chargers won the first down rate by 12.24% and the yards per play battle by 3.1 yards per play, both substantial amounts. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, the Chargers rank 4th, 17th, and 32nd respectively on offense, defense, and special teams respectively on the season, while ranking 12th in mixed efficiency. 

The Chargers also have done that despite not having any real homefield advantage, frequently playing in front of crowds that mostly favor the road team. That has been the case since they moved to Los Angeles in 2017 and, as a result, Chargers are 21-13 ATS on the road and 13-22 ATS at home since moving to Los Angeles. The Broncos, meanwhile, rank 24th in mixed efficiency and are even worse now than that suggests because of all of the missing talent. The Chargers shouldn’t have too much trouble handling them in Denver, which makes them an intriguing bet in a game in which they basically just need to win to cover, with only about 8% of games decided by two points or fewer. 

I am leaving this as a low confidence pick for now and not placing a bet on the Chargers because of injury uncertainty, with not only the status of Bradley Chubb and Shelby Harris up in the air, but the Chargers also possibly being without talented left guard Matt Feiler, who is reportedly a gametime decision and would be a big absence if he didn’t. Depending on the status of those three players and where this line ends up, I may update this pick and bet on the Chargers. Either way, they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Chargers 20 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -2.5

Confidence: Low

Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 10 NFL Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (3-6) at Denver Broncos (5-4)

The Eagles are just 3-6, but they also have a +9 point differential, despite facing one of the tougher schedules in the NFL. All but one of their six losses have come to teams with a winning record, with the exception being a 49ers team that has played significantly better than their record suggests. The three easiest games the Eagles have faced this season were all victories for the Eagles, including a pair of blowout wins over the Lions and Falcons. The Broncos aren’t quite as bad as those two teams, who are among the worst teams in the league, but they fit much more in line with the teams the Eagles have beaten than the teams the Eagles have lost to.

The Broncos won last week in Dallas in shocking fashion, but I think that has more to do with the Cowboys not showing up than anything the Broncos did. This is still a team that has won just two of their last six games since starting 3-0 against a very easy schedule, with the other being a one score win over a mediocre Washington team in a game in which Denver blocked a pair of field goals, and they still have a significant amount of key players no longer with the team since their hot start. 

In total, the Broncos are without stud left tackle Garret Bolles, above average starting right guard Graham Glasgow, talented edge defender duo Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, every down middle linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson, and impressive slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, all of whom started for the Broncos week one. Without those players, the Broncos still rank well below average in my roster rankings, about five points below average, even despite their upset win last week.

If anything the Broncos’ win last week just puts them in a bad spot this week, as it could be tough for the Broncos to maintain that same effort two weeks in a row, especially with a team with a losing record coming to town. Teams cover at just a 41.2% rate all-time after a win as double digit underdogs, as teams tend to be a combination of flat and/or overvalued by the public and odds makers in that situation. In this case, it seems like both, as we are getting a ton of value with the Eagles at +2.5. My calculated line has the Eagles favored by 4 points, even before taking into account that the Broncos could be flat. This is my favorite play of the week.

Philadelphia Eagles 24 Denver Broncos 17 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +2.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-4) at Dallas Cowboys (7-1)

The Broncos are 4-4, but they’ve had one of the easiest schedules in the league and have yet to beat a team that has more than two wins on the season. On top of that, three of those four wins were the first three games of the season. Those wins all came by double digits, but the Broncos have had as many injury absences as any team in the league since then and, as a result, they are not nearly the same team, barely beating an underwhelming Washington Football Team last week. 

In total, the Broncos are without stud left tackle Garret Bolles, starting tight end Noah Fant, talented edge defender duo Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, every down middle linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson, and impressive slot cornerback Bryce Callahan, who all played for this team week one this season. That’s a lot of missing talent. The Cowboys are favored by 10 points in this matchup, but I don’t think the public quite realizes how much worse the Broncos are without all of the players they are missing, as my calculated line has the Cowboys favored by 13.5 points. 

The Cowboys have a key injury absence with stud left tackle Tyron Smith out, but the Cowboys are much better equipped to deal with an absence like that than the Broncos are with Bolles out, as the Cowboys have much more talent on the rest of this offensive line. Right tackle La’El Collins isn’t as good as Smith, but he has missed most of the season and the Cowboys hardly missed him and brought him back in a reserve role because of how well this offensive line played without him. Now Collins can plug into the lineup with Smith out and the Cowboys can still field a strong offensive front. 

This line has moved up from 7.5 last week on the early line to 10 this week, so we’re not getting as much line value as we would have last week, but the Cowboys did have an impressive upset win in Minnesota last week without Dak Prescott and much of this line movement is because of sharp action on the Cowboys. The Cowboys are still worth a bet at 10, and if this line happened to go back down below 10, I would probably make this a bigger bet.

Update: Some 9.5s have started showing up again Sunday morning. I am going to lock this in as a high confidence pick at that number. The talent disparity between these two teams is just so much more significant than this line suggests, with the Broncos losing so much talent since the beginning of the season.

Dallas Cowboys 31 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Dallas -9.5

Confidence: High

Washington Football Team at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (2-5) at Denver Broncos (3-4)

The Broncos got off to a 3-0 start, but have completely collapsed since then, losing four straight games by a combined 37 points. It’s easy to say that the Broncos stopped winning because their schedule got harder, as their three wins came against teams that are a combined 4-15, but the Broncos won those three games in convincing fashion, all by double digits, by a combined 50 points, and their schedule hasn’t been that difficult over the past four games, as the Raiders and Steelers are middling teams at best, while the Browns were starting a backup quarterback, leaving the Ravens as the only legitimately tough opponent the Broncos have faced all season.

A bigger deal than the schedule getting harder for the Broncos is simply how many players they have lost due to injury, as they have lost talented edge defender Bradley Chubb, their two starting inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alexander Johnson, who were both playing above average, as well as promising young wide receivers Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler, though the former could return this week from a 6-game absence. Even bigger than any of those absences would be the loss of Von Miller, who is highly questionable for this game after not practicing all week. 

The oddsmakers and/or the public don’t seem to have caught up with how much less talent the Broncos have than they did earlier this season when they were beating bad teams convincingly, favoring the Broncos by 3.5 points in this home game against Washington. Washington isn’t as bad as the teams the Broncos have beaten and those wins were back when the Broncos were not missing so many key players, so this could easily be a close game or an upset. My calculated line has the Broncos favored by 2, so we’re getting some line value at +3.5, although I would need Miller to be ruled out for Washington to be worth betting.

Update: Von Miller sounds unlikely to play, but this line still moved up to 4. Jerry Jeudy will play for the Broncos, but this line is still too high. If Miller doesn’t play, Washington is the better of these two teams and homefield advantage isn’t what it used to be.

Denver Broncos 24 Washington Football Team 23

Pick against the spread: Washington +4

Confidence: Medium