Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (5-8) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-4)

Last week, the Broncos were 9-point underdogs in Houston against a Texans team that was likely to have a let down performance after a huge win over the Patriots the week before. With a defense that has consistently ranked in the top-8 in first down rate allowed all season and a promising new quarterback under center in Drew Lock, the Broncos seemed like a smart bet last week. Ultimately, they exceeded everyone’s expectations, getting a convincing win on the road against a team in first place in their division.

This week, the Broncos are in a similar situation in Kansas City against a Chiefs team that is likely to have a let down performance after a huge win over the Patriots last week, and yet, despite last week’s strong performance, the Broncos are still 10-point underdogs. The Chiefs are better than the Texans, but not by much, especially with Patrick Mahomes playing at less than 100% through a hand injury. 

Drew Lock is unlikely to be as good as he was last week every week, but he definitely has the most upside of any quarterback who has started for the Broncos this season and, even with poor quarterback play for most of the season, the Broncos still rank 20th on the season in first down rate differential at -1.14%, thanks to a defense that ranks 6th with a 32.97% first down rate allowed. With Lock under center, this team could easily continue playing spoiler going forward.

I don’t think the Broncos are necessarily going to win straight up convincingly again this week or that they’re even going to win at all, but I have this line calculated at Kansas City -7, so we’re getting good line value with the visitor, even before any situational factors are taken into account. While the Chiefs could give less than their best effort after a huge win, the Broncos should be fully focused, with arguably their easiest game of the season on deck, a home game against the Lions, in which they are expected to be 6.5-point home favorites. Double digit underdogs are 65-44 ATS since 2002 before being favorites, including 43-25 ATS before being favorites of 3 or more. The Broncos should be able to keep this game close and, without an obvious other option, they are my Pick of the Week this week.

Kansas City Chiefs 23 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +10

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Denver Broncos at Houston Texans: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-8) at Houston Texans (8-4)

The Texans got a big win over the New England Patriots last week, but even with that game included, they haven’t played as well as their record would suggest in recent weeks. Dating back to week 7, the Texans rank just 23rd in the NFL in first down rate differential at -0.80%, in large part due to their defense struggling without the injured JJ Watt. They could also be a little flat this week, facing a 4-8 Broncos team, in between a big home upset victory and a key divisional matchup against the Titans next week.

The Broncos are better than their 4-8 record, led by a defense that ranks 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.40%. Their offense ranks just 30th in first down rate at 30.64%, but they still rank 22nd in first down rate differential at -1.76%, which is better than their record suggests, and they are starting a new quarterback in Drew Lock who has the most upside of any quarterback they’ve started this season. The second round rookie is raw in only his 2nd career start, but Joe Flacco is washed up and Brandon Allen is barely an NFL caliber passer, so it wouldn’t be hard for Lock to be their best quarterback yet this season. 

With a defense as good as theirs has been, the Broncos won’t be an easy matchup going forward if they can get decent quarterback play. Given that, I like the Broncos this week as 9-point underdogs in Houston, against a Texans team that has just one win by more than a touchdown all season. I’d need confirmation that Von Miller will play before locking in a bet on the Broncos, but Miller seems more likely to play than not, after missing last week with a knee injury, and they showed they’re still a strong defense without him last week in their win over the Chargers, so I like the Broncos for pick ‘em purposes even if Miller can’t go.

Final Update: Miller will play for the Broncos, while Will Fuller will be unable to go for the Texans. The line has moved down to 8, but neither 8 or 9 are key numbers, so that’s not that big of a deal. The Texans have just 2 wins by more than 8 points and the Broncos have just 3 losses by more than 8 points, so this should be a relatively close game. The Broncos aren’t in a great spot with a big game against the Chiefs on deck, but the Texans are probably in a worse spot, facing an 4-8 team in between a huge home upset victory and a key divisional matchup. My calculated line is Houston -6.5, which crosses the key number of 8, so I like the Broncos for a small bet this week.

Houston Texans 22 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +8

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) at Denver Broncos (3-8)

A year after going 12-4, the Chargers have had a highly disappointing year, coming out of last week’s bye at 4-7, likely needing to win out to even have a shot at a playoff berth. They’ve been better than that record suggests though, as all of their losses have come by 7 points or fewer. A year after a 5-1 record in games decided by 7 points or fewer powered them to a 12-4 record, the Chargers are just 2-7 in games decided by 7 points or fewer this season. They have a positive point differential at +6, despite the 6th worst turnover margin in the league at -9. Turnover margins are unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and in terms of first down rate differential the Chargers rank 8th in the NFL at +2.52%, impressive even against a relatively easy schedule. 

The Chargers also come out of their bye arguably as close to 100% as they’ve been all season and are really starting to resemble last year’s active roster. Tight end Hunter Henry (4 games), left tackle Russell Okung (8 games), defensive Melvin Ingram (3 games), running back Melvin Gordon (4 games), safety Adrian Phillips (9 games), and safety Derwin James (11 games) have all missed significant time this season, but all of those players are expected to play this week. James’ return is especially big because he was one of the top safeties in the league last season and is just now making his season debut after off-season foot surgery. With him and the others back, the Chargers currently rank 11th in my roster rankings. 

The Chargers’ opponents this week, the Denver Broncos, have also been better than their record, entering this game 20th in first down rate differential at -1.68%, but they’re going in the opposite direction injury wise, with a trio of key defenders, edge defender Von Miller, linebacker AJ Johnson, and defensive tackle Shelby Harris all considered highly questionable for this game after barely practicing all week. Miller, their best player on either side of the ball, would be a particularly big absence. 

The Broncos also have uncertainty at the quarterback position. Original starting quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t play well in 8 starts before getting hurt, but his replacement Brandon Allen has barely looked like an NFL caliber passer, leading the Broncos to a 28.66% first down rate in 3 starts, about 3% worse than Flacco and most comparable to the last ranked Redskins, who have a 28.14% first down rate on the season. The Broncos could start second round rookie Drew Lock in this game, as he’s expected to be active for the first time this season, but Lock has barely practiced with the team since off-season thumb surgery and was considered very raw coming out of college.

This line has shifted from Chargers +1 to -3 in the past week, but that’s appropriate line movement given the injury changes that have happened in the past week. The Chargers are on the road here in Denver, but they essentially play 16 road games per year because they don’t have any fans in Los Angeles, so I don’t think the fact that they’re away from home this week is much of a big deal. Since moving to Los Angeles, they are just 7-12-1 ATS at home, but 14-7-2 ATS on the road. Rather than the standard 2.5-3 point homefield advantage, I typically only use 1 point for Chargers games. With these two teams about 6 points apart in my roster rankings, I have this line calculated at Chargers -5 and that would increase if any of the Broncos’ questionable players are ruled out. I may have an update on this before gametime, but for now I like the Chargers for a small bet.

Los Angeles Chargers 23 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers -3

Confidence: Medium

Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-3)

At first glance, the Bills are having a strong season, going 7-3 and ranking 6th in first down rate differential at +4.18%. However, they’ve played by far the easiest schedule in the NFL so far. Their seven wins have come against teams that are a combined 15-55 and their only win against a team with more than three wins came by a touchdown in a game in which the now 5-5 Titans missed four makeable field goals. Even the record of the teams that have defeated the Bills is not overly impressive, at 18-12. My roster rankings have the Bills 18th, which is think is a much more accurate representation of how the Bills stack up against the rest of the league. 

That’s just one spot ahead of where I have the Broncos, who also rank 19th in first down rate differential at -0.80%. Denver is 3-7, but four of their losses have come by four points or fewer on last-second drives, so they could easily have 5 or 6 wins right now. They’re down to third string quarterback Brandon Allen, but he hasn’t been much of a dropoff from Joe Flacco. The Broncos have compensated for their offensive issues all season with a defense that ranks 5th in the NFL in first down rate at 32.46%. 

Unfortunately, we’re not really getting line value with the Broncos, as this line has been bet down from Buffalo -6 on the early line last week to Buffalo -4 this week. I have this line calculated at Buffalo -3.5, which isn’t much different than the actual line. I still like the Broncos chances of keeping this game close, with the Bills having to turnaround and play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football (a 44% cover spot all-time for favorites), but not enough to bet on it.

Buffalo Bills 20 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Minnesota Vikings: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (3-6) at Minnesota Vikings (7-3)

The Vikings are in a great spot this week, favored by 10 points at home going into their bye week, as large favorites tend to take care of business at home before a week off. Since 2002, home favorites of 6+ are 49-17 ATS before a regular season bye. Unfortunately, the Vikings are going into their bye week pretty shorthanded, which could really hurt their chances of covering this big spread. Still without Pro-Bowl wide receiver Adam Theilen due to injury, the Vikings’ offense will also be without starting right guard Josh Kline this week, a blow to an already underwhelming offensive line. On defense, talented safety Anthony Harris will join key run stuffing defensive tackle Linval Joseph on the sidelines this week. Missing those four key players, we’re not getting any line value with the Vikings this week.

The Broncos are 3-6 and starting third string quarterback Brandon Allen, but they’re better than that suggests. Their offense has significant problems, with Allen under center, top offensive lineman Ja’Wuan James out indefinitely with injury, and top wide receiver Emmnauel Sanders traded to the 49ers, but their defense is legitimately one of the best in the NFL, ranking 3rd in first down rate allowed at 31.71%, only behind the Patriots and 49ers. They’ve allowed just 13 offensive touchdowns in 9 games, led by defensive minded head coach Vic Fangio. Their defense could easily keep this game competitive against a banged up Vikings team. We’re not getting enough line value with the Broncos to pick them against such a strong trend on the Vikings’ side (my calculated line is Minnesota -8.5), but this is a no confidence pick either way.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Denver Broncos 13

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -10

Confidence: None

Cleveland Browns at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Cleveland Browns (2-5) at Denver Broncos (2-6)

Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco is done for the season with a neck injury and, with expected backup Drew Lock still working back from off-season thumb surgery, the Broncos will instead turn to Brandon Allen, a 2016 6th round pick who has never thrown a regular season pass across stints with 3 teams: the Jaguars, Rams, and Broncos. As a result, this line that opened at Denver -1.5 has now moved all the way to Denver +4.

It’s always risky to bet on a quarterback with no regular season experience, but it’s hard to justify a 5.5-point shift like that given the way Joe Flacco has played this season, especially in recent weeks. This offense has problems beyond Flacco, especially with Emmanuel Sanders now with the 49ers and right tackle Ja’Wuan James again injured, but they’ve ranked just 29th in first down rate this season at 31.54%, so Allen is unlikely to be a significant downgrade. And given the way we’ve seen some inexperienced backup quarterbacks come out and play well in their first few starts this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Allen actually ended up being a little bit of an upgrade under center for a few games.

Even with their offensive struggles, the Broncos have ranked 17th in first down rate differential this season at -0.41%, as a result of a dominant defense that ranks 4th in first down rate differential. An already talented unit last season, they have been taken to the next level in 2019 by defensive minded head coach Vic Fangio and free agent acquisition Kareem Jackson, who has been one of the best defensive backs in the league this season. The Broncos are just 2-6, but three of their losses came on last second field goals, so they aren’t far away from being a 4-5 win team right now. 

The Browns, meanwhile, rank 25th in first down rate differential at -3.70% and have had below average play on both sides of the ball, ranking 25th in first down rate and 20th in first down rate allowed. They’ve had one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, but the Broncos haven’t had a cakewalk schedule either. This line suggests the Browns would be favored by about 10 points if this game was in Cleveland, so I think it’s way too high. I have the line calculated at Denver -1, even with the uncertainty of Allen under center. There’s too much risk here for this to be a big bet, but the Broncos are worth a play this week.

Cleveland Browns 17 Denver Broncos 16

Pick against the spread: Denver +4

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos: 2019 Week 7 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at Denver Broncos (2-4)

During last week’s Broncos/Titans write up, I said I was disappointed the two teams were playing each other because I thought both teams were underrated. Fortunately, when two underrated teams square off, they tend to remain underrated, which is the case with the Broncos. They won that game against the Titans to improve to 2-4, but they’ve been better than their record suggests, as two of their losses came on last second field goals. Their point differential is even and they rank 17th in the NFL in first down rate differential at -0.33%, suggesting they’ve been an average team thus far. Their offense is underwhelming, but their defense has allowed just 9 offensive touchdowns in 6 games and they rank 5th in first down rate allowed at 32.42%.

Despite that, they are 3.5-point home underdogs against a banged up Chiefs team. This line is at least in part because the Broncos are underrated, but the Chiefs may be a little overrated right now, even after back-to-back losses, as the general public may not realize how bad their injury situation is. They are missing the left side of their offensive line and their best defensive player Chris Jones, while starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins and starting cornerback Kendall Fuller are both banged up and may not play as well. 

Most importantly, quarterback Patrick Mahomes is playing at less than 100% through an ankle injury and has not played as well in the past couple games. That could become even more of a problem on a short week without normal rest, especially on the road against a tough defense. Everything this team does revolves around Mahomes and his otherworldly playmaking ability, so having him at less than 100% severely hurts the Chiefs’ chances of playing the way they want to play. Right now, I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so a field goal or more with the Broncos at home is stealing. Thursday games can be unpredictable so I don’t want to make this my Pick of the Week, but this will definitely be one of my top plays of the week.

Denver Broncos 23 Kansas City Chiefs 20 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Denver +3.5

Confidence: High