Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Super Bowl LV Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (14-5) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (16-2) in Super Bowl LV

Tom Brady will be appearing in his 10th ever Super Bowl in Super Bowl 55, an incredible number that is double the next highest total and that is more than all of Brady’s Hall-of-Fame contemporaries combined. This one will be unique from all the others because he’ll be doing it with a new team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in his first season with the team after two record breaking decades in New England. Brady is being given most of the credit, understandable if you just pay attention to team’s records, as the Buccaneers improved from 7 wins to 11 wins and a Super Bowl appearance, while New England fell from 12 wins to out of the playoffs with 7 wins, after Brady had made the post-season in 16 straight healthy seasons in New England. 

However, that is far from the whole story and ignores the reasons why Brady headed south in the first place. The Patriots won 12 games last year, but Brady and the offense weren’t the primary reason they won those games, as the Patriots had a dominant defense, but an offensive supporting cast that left a lot to be desired, especially in the receiving corps and especially down the stretch as injuries mounted. The Patriots’ defense led the league in first down rate allowed by a mile, but their offense ranked just 21st in first down rate, their lowest finish since before Brady arrived.

The Patriots didn’t make any major upgrades to their receiving corps last off-season, so it’s likely the Patriots’ 2020 offense would have resembled their 2019 offense if they had kept Brady, rather than the 2020 Buccaneers’ offense, which has a much better receiving corps. That still would have been enough for the Patriots to make the post-season had their defense continued playing at a high level like in 2019, but the Patriots’ defense is where they had by far their biggest dropoff from 2019 to 2020, finishing the 2020 season ranked 23rd in first down rate allowed. 

Given how much their defense fell off, it’s very likely the Patriots would not have made the playoffs even if they had kept Brady and, by some metrics, the Patriots were better offensively in 2020 with Cam Newton leading a run based attack than they were in 2019 when they relied primarily on an ineffective aerial attack with Brady throwing to arguably the worst receiving corps in the league. The 2019 Patriots ran a league leading 1,126 plays because their defense kept getting them the ball back so often, 115 more plays than they ran in 2020, but the 2019 Patriots only managed 6 more first downs than the 2020 Patriots and they averaged fewer yards per play as well, 5.3 vs. 5.2. 

The Patriots have gotten a lot of criticism for not bringing back Brady, but that would have required at least matching a fully guaranteed 2-year, 50 million dollar contract for a 43-44 year old quarterback who might not have even gotten them back to the post-season in the first year of the deal. For a team that needs to rebuild and reload, that kind of contract could have set them back a year or two. The contract obviously has worked out for the Buccaneers, but it’s kind of comparing apples to oranges, because the Buccaneers are built to win now much more than the Patriots and were right to be aggressive to try to capitalize on that.

Brady, of course, likely recognized the two teams were heading into opposite directions, which is why he made the decision he did. For all the talk about how Tom Brady is back in the Super Bowl because of what he did as a player this season, what Brady did this off-season as a scout probably has more to do with him being back here than anything. The Buccaneers were not widely discussed as a potential destination for Brady last off-season, but I put them at the top of my list for Brady last February and, while I wasn’t expecting Brady to actually leave New England, it was easy for me to see why he picked the Buccaneers when he picked them. 

The Buccaneers won just 7 games in 2019, but they finished 9th in first down rate differential, suggesting they were better than their record. They also had a massive need at quarterback after years of subpar play from Jameis Winston, they were well coached, going into the second season of the Bruce Arians regime, and they got a lot better down the stretch in 2019, particularly on defense, leading to the Buccaneers winning 6 of their last 9 games, with the exceptions being a loss to the division leading Saints and two losses by less than a score in games in which Winston threw at least one pick six. Tampa Bay’s loaded receiving corps was the main draw, but this was a talented roster overall, beyond their pass catchers and, after Brady brought his friends Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski along for the ride, Tampa Bay suddenly became legitimate contenders.

Brady, for his part, played at an above average level and was obviously a massive upgrade over the backup caliber Jameis Winston, but Brady is not the same player he was in his prime or even a few years ago when he could single handedly elevate a team with an underwhelming supporting cast to the league’s highest stage, likely part of the reason why Brady looked for a better football situation to spend the twilight of his career last off-season. Focusing too much on Brady overlooks the talented players and coaches (including defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) that the Buccaneers have throughout their roster and throughout their staff, which is a huge part of the reason why the Buccaneers are where they are.

For Brady, being in the Super Bowl is nothing new, but what is relatively new is that he won’t be favored, with the Buccaneers listed as 3.5 point underdogs. Brady led the historic upset as massive underdogs in his first Super Bowl appearance back in Super Bowl 36, but he’s been favored in each of the past 8, covering in just 3 of them. Brady and the Buccaneers being underdogs has everything to do with the team on the other side, as Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are defending Super Bowl Champions and have been presumptive Super Bowl favorites all season, having lost just one meaningful game. 

For Mahomes, this is his second straight Super Bowl appearance and, in 3 seasons as the starter, he’s lost just once in the post-season, in 8 appearances. His one loss was to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in the 2018 AFC Championship, one of four matchups between these two quarterbacks in just the 3 seasons that Mahomes has been the starter. The 4th matchup was earlier this season when the Chiefs won by a field goal in Tampa Bay in a matchup that previewed the Super Bowl, both in matchup and in location, with the Buccaneers being fortunate enough to be the first team ever to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. 

The common narrative is that the Chiefs dominated that game and the Buccaneers came back in garbage time, but the Buccaneers’ score to cut it to a field goal came with over four minutes left on the clock and two timeouts left for Tampa Bay, so those were hardly meaningless possessions. A better way to think of that game is that both teams dominated a single quarter (the Chiefs in the 1st jumping out to a 17-0 lead and the Buccaneers in the 4th cutting it from 27-10 to 27-24), but that the Chiefs played slightly better overall. How much better overall may be very slight though, as the Chiefs only won the first down rate battle by just 0.66% and actually had slightly fewer yards per play (7.6 vs. 7.5). 

Winning close games was a big part of the story of the Chiefs’ season this year, as they snuck out 8 of their 14 wins by 6 points or fewer, including several against teams much worse than the Buccaneers. Overall, the Buccaneers actually had the edge in point differential (+137 vs. +111), DVOA (33.7% vs. 25.2%), and schedule adjusted first down rate differential (4.25% vs. 3.36%) on the season and, even though they won 3 fewer games, they had significantly more double digit wins (8 vs. 5). Wins by larger totals tend to be predictive of future winning at a much higher rate than close victories. 

Some ignore that most of the Chiefs wins have been close because the Chiefs have Mahomes and they assume that quarterbacks of his caliber can consistently win close games. Even ignoring the obvious fact that even the most elite quarterbacks couldn’t consistently win 88.9% of their one score games like Mahomes did this season, there isn’t much evidence of elite quarterbacks even consistently winning close games at a significantly higher than average rate. Entering this season, Mahomes was just 9-8 in one score games in his career, as dominant as he was in his first two seasons in the league. In fact, the only quarterback who has seemed to be able to consistently win close games is the quarterback on the other sideline, who is a remarkable 94-44 in his career in one score games. 

In addition to his dominance in one score games, Brady has somehow been even more dominant in tough games like this. Not only is Brady 33-11 in the post-season, but Brady almost always plays his best in these big games against tough opponents, particularly when his team is doubted and not expected to win. Overall in his career, Brady is 56-26 ATS as an underdog or a favorite of less than 2.5 and he’s 44-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including an incredible 42-13 straight up record in those games. 

As an underdog, Brady is 28-6 ATS in games against teams with a better record than his, pulling the straight up upset in 21 of 30 games. Most of that was with Bill Belichick and the Patriots, but the Buccaneers went 4-1 ATS as underdogs and against teams with a better record than theirs this season, including their 3-point loss as 3.5-point underdogs against the Chiefs earlier this season and their wins over the Saints and Packers in their past two games. 

It will take a lot more than just Tom Brady to win this game, but the Buccaneers have it, with arguably the most well-rounded roster in the league and a better overall team than the Chiefs, who may have the passing game stars, but have questions on defense and on the offensive line, particularly with the Chiefs now being without both of their starting offensive tackles, Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz, who are one of the best duos in the league when healthy. This offensive line was already not the same since losing Schwartz in week 8, a 11-game stretch in which they’ve won by more than 6 points just twice and Fisher going down in the Chiefs’ last game in the AFC Championship makes things much worse. 

The Chiefs have done a good job of rebuilding their offensive line on the fly this season, but they figure to be overmatched against a tough Tampa Bay front. I like the Buccaneers to pull the upset straight up and, even if they can’t, they should be able to keep it close, especially in what will be something of a home game for the Buccaneers. About 1 in 4 games are decided by 3 points or fewer and the Chiefs haven’t blown out most of their opponents this season. The Buccaneers seem like a relatively safe bet against the spread and a great value on the money line.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30 Kansas City Chiefs 27 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3.5

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 AFC Championship Pick

Buffalo Bills (15-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (15-2)

The long awaited news has come that Patrick Mahomes will be able to play in this game and be 100%, despite being knocked out of last week’s win with a concussion. The betting public obviously likes that, shooting this line up to Kansas City -3.5, but Mahomes doesn’t solve all of the Chiefs’ problems and the Chiefs are still overpriced for a team that hasn’t covered a spread since week 8, despite winning their last 11 games started by Mahomes. 

Of those 11 wins, their last 8 have all come by 6 points or fewer, including a 5-point win over the Browns last week. The Chiefs were obviously doing better in that game before Mahomes got hurt, but they were up just 9 points as 10-point favorites when Mahomes left and that was despite a missed personal foul penalty that would have nullified a goal line fumble that became a touchback and a turnover rather than a likely Browns touchdown.

The Chiefs still have a great offense, but they haven’t been quite as dominant this season, particularly in the second half of the season, with key right tackle Mitchell Schwartz out due to injury from week 7 on, a big part of the reason why they have been failing to blow teams out in recent weeks. Overall, the Chiefs actually finished 2nd in first down rate expected this year, behind their opponents this week the Buffalo Bills, who also have the edge on the Chiefs in points per game. That is true even if you exclude the Chiefs’ meaningless week 17 loss. 

The Chiefs also have concerns on defense, where they rank 20th in first down rate over expected at +0.88%. The Bills haven’t fared well on that side of the ball either, ranking 22nd at +0.91%, but even with that they’re still ahead of the Chiefs in first down rate differential, ranking 4th at +3.39%, while the Chiefs rank 6th at +2.75%. The Bills also have played a lot better in recent weeks defensively, primarily due to improved health in their linebacking corps, leading to them winning their last 8 games straight by 17 points per game. In fact, excluding a week 10 loss in Arizona on a Hail Mary, the Bills have won 11 straight games and have won by fewer than 6 points just twice, a more impressive streak than the Chiefs’ recent streak because the Bills have blown out most of their opponents. 

The Chiefs will have the benefit of some fans in the stands in this game at home and, in a playoff atmosphere, the Chiefs could have something resembling normal home field advantage, but I have the Bills as the slightly better team and have them calculated as just 1.5-point underdogs, so we’re getting great line value, passing the key number of a field goal at Buffalo +3.5. Even if the Bills can’t pull off the road upset, I like their chances of keeping it close, as 1 in 4 of games are decided by 3 points or fewer (including 1 in 6 by exactly 3) and the Chiefs have won only half of their last 8 games by more than a field goal, with their other margins of victory being 4, 5, 6, and 6. This should be a close game either way, so I love getting more than a field goal with the Bills.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Buffalo Bills 33

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3.5

Confidence: High

Cleveland Browns at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Cleveland Browns (12-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-2)

After the Browns’ upset victory in Pittsburgh last weekend, I was expecting them to open as 7 or 7.5-point underdogs in Kansas City this week. When they opened as 10-point underdogs, I was surprised, leading to me locking this line in early, and I am even more surprised it hasn’t moved off that number since. I knew the Chiefs were a team the books could inflate the line on, but this is more than I was expecting. 

The Chiefs are defending Super Bowl Champions and only lost one meaningful game all season, but they weren’t the dominant team their record suggests they were in the regular season, especially down the stretch, when their last seven wins all came by one score or loss, with the Chiefs failing to cover the spread in any of those games. Some of that was due to garbage time, but, considering this line is as high as it is, garbage time, and the possibility of a backdoor cover even if this game isn’t close throughout, is very relevant to this pick.

Even dating back to earlier this season, the Chiefs have just five double digit wins all year, with three of them coming against teams that finished 5-11 or worse and one of them coming against a Patriots team that was starting a backup quarterback. Their week 3 win over the Ravens was their only double digit win over a capable opponent this season, so I don’t know why the Chiefs would be expected to blow out the Browns, especially since the Chiefs have not played as well since that early season matchup with the Ravens. The main reason for that is the absence of right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, a massive blow to this offense that hasn’t gotten enough discussion.

The general narrative is that Patrick Mahomes and the skill position players on this offense are so good that the Chiefs’ offense is invincible, but the Chiefs actually finished the season 2nd in schedule adjusted first down rate behind the Buffalo Bills, who were ahead of them by a pretty decent margin (+4.71 vs. +3.65%), and the Chiefs were noticeably worse after Schwartz went down in week 6, leading to many of their close late season contests. All of this is true even if you ignore the Chiefs’ week 17 performance when they rested their stars in a meaningless game. 

The Chiefs’ defense has always been somewhat shaky and finished this season 22nd in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.88%, and, as good as Mahomes and his skill position players are, the Chiefs’ concerns on the offensive line and on defense can’t be ignored as they head into the post-season. They’re obvious a top Super Bowl contender, but they’re far from a lock to even make it back to the big game. Their 6th ranked finish in schedule adjusted first down rate differential also shows them to be an obvious contender, but not the juggernaut the general public seems to think they are and the oddsmakers have priced them as.

Let’s take advantage of that with the 10-point underdog Browns. The Browns may not cover this spread if they play like they did last week, when they won by 11, but were largely gifted the game by the Steelers committing 5 turnovers (the Chiefs had 16 giveaways all season) and lost the first down rate battle by 9.71%. However, the Browns are getting reinforcements, with stud left guard Joel Bitonio and top cornerback Denzel Ward returning to give the Browns a boost on both sides of the ball. The Browns aren’t quite at 100% right now with right tackle Jack Conklin questionable and likely to play at less than full strength with a hamstring injury and key defensive end Olivier Vernon out for the season, but compared to earlier this season, the Browns are much healthier. 

Stud running back Nick Chubb (4 games missed), key right guard Wyatt Teller (5 games), #1 wide receiver Jarvis Landry (1 game), starting left tackle Jedrick Wills (1 game), dominant left guard Joel Bitonio (1 game), starting tight end Austin Hooper (3 games), edge defender Myles Garrett (2 games), top cornerback Denzel Ward (5 games), starting cornerback Kevin Johnson (4 games), and safety Ronnie Harrison (5 games) have all missed time with injury and are all expected to play this week, for the first time together since early this season. That also doesn’t include a rib injury to quarterback Baker Mayfield that slowed him significantly earlier this season that he is well past at this point.

The Browns rank just 25th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential on the season at -1.53%, but they’re noticeably better on offense, ranking 11th in first down rate over expected at 1.17%, which is the significantly more predictive side of the ball, and a lot of their bad performances were earlier this season when they were not as healthy as they are now. My calculated line has the Chiefs favored by just 5 points, so I love the Browns at +10. Even if this isn’t a close game throughout, they have a great shot at a backdoor cover in garbage time, but I expect this game to be as competitive as the Chiefs’ recent games have been.

Kansas City Chiefs 38 Cleveland Browns 34

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +10

Confidence: High

Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (6-9) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-1)

The Chiefs have locked up the #1 seed in the AFC and will be resting key starters in this one to avoid catastrophic injuries ahead of what the Chiefs hope will be a 2nd straight Super Bowl run. The Chargers will not be resting starters, but it may be tough to tell the difference, with all of the key players the Chargers will be without in this matchup. In addition to some long-term absences, the Chargers will be missing top wide receiver Keenan Allen, top tight end Hunter Henry, talented right tackle Bryan Bulaga, their top-3 defensive ends Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Uchenna Nwosu, top cornerback Casey Hayward, and top safety Rayshawn Jenkins. 

The Chargers’ injuries on defense are especially a big deal, as they have played significantly better on that side of the ball this season, ranking 10th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.90%, as opposed to 24th in first down rate over expected on offense at -1.40%. The absence of their top-3 defensive ends is particularly concerning, as that was a position of significant strength that is now a significant weakness. In their current state, I have the Chargers just 28th in my roster rankings.

The Chargers have played a lot of close games even when healthier (12 of 15 games decided by one score), don’t have a single win over a winning team, and their only two wins by more than a field goal came by 6 against the Jets and by 10 against the Jaguars, arguably the two worst teams in the league, so I’m skeptical that they’re going to win by more than 4 points on the road over the Chiefs backups and cover this spread when they are missing as many players as they are missing. I don’t feel like betting on a team that isn’t taking this game seriously, but the Chiefs should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes because this line is too high in favor of a depleted Chargers team.

Los Angeles Chargers 24 Kansas City Chiefs 23

Pick against the spread: Kansas City +4

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (4-10) at Kansas City Chiefs (13-1)

Several weeks ago, I said that the rule of thumb with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs was to pick them unless there’s a good reason not to, citing their 28-15-2 ATS record in games in which Mahomes has started in his career, including 18-7 ATS even after Mahomes won the MVP in 2018, as their defense had been noticeably improved since 2018. Since then, the Chiefs have continued winning, but somehow they haven’t managed to not cover the spread in any of their past 6 games, making them the only team in the past 30 seasons to win 6 straight games and not cover the spread in any of them. None of their wins have been blowouts either, with those 6 wins coming by a combined 24 points and none of them coming by more than 6 points.

Mahomes and the offense have not been the problem, as, while they have fallen behind the Bills by a significant amount in first down rate over expected (+4.89% vs. +3.87%), that has more to do with how the Bills’ offense has played in recent weeks against top level defenses than anything to do with the Chiefs’ offense. However, the Chiefs’ defense has struggled and now ranks 18th in the NFL in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.55%. The Chiefs’ defense has been very inconsistent throughout Mahomes’ tenure as the starter, essentially single handedly keeping the Chiefs and their record setting offense out of the Super Bowl in Mahomes’ first season as the starter, but then being the complementary unit needed to go all the way last season. 

Defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent week-to-week than offensive performance anyway, so the Chiefs’ defense could certainly swing back the other way, but they’re also no better than a middling group in my roster rankings, so it’s definitely a concern for this team. The general consensus is this Chiefs team is borderline unbeatable, but I don’t think they’re balanced enough for that to be the case, even if they are rightfully the Super Bowl favorites right now. In fact, their underwhelming defense drags them down to “only” 3rd in both schedule adjusted first down rate differential and in my roster rankings, so, while they’re obviously a great team, I think they’ve been a little overrated.

Even with their recent non-covers, the Chiefs remain overrated as 10.5 point home favorites over the Falcons. Some of their recent non-covers are as a result of opponents scoring garbage time touchdowns, but when a line is 10.5, garbage time touchdowns that lead to a backdoor cover is definitely something that needs to be considered and I think there’s a great chance that could happen this week, even if the game isn’t close throughout.

The Falcons shouldn’t be trusted to win anything, now having blown the same amount of games in which they had a 95% chance to win (four) as they have actual wins, but they can definitely keep a game like this close. Their 10 losses have come by a combined 67 points (6.7 points per game) and just three of them have come by multiple scores. If they had held on to win in even some of those improbable losses, the Falcons could easily be a .500 team right now and their point differential of +2 is right in line with a .500 team. The Falcons are slightly worse than that in schedule adjusted first down rate differential because of an underwhelming schedule, but their 22nd ranked differential of -1.05% is still significantly better than their record would suggest. My calculated line is Kansas City -8.5, so we’re not getting a ton of line value, but I like the Falcons’ chances of keeping this one close, enough to bet on it.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Atlanta Falcons 27

Pick against the spread: Atlanta +10.5

Confidence: Medium

Kansas City Chiefs at New Orleans Saints: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) at New Orleans Saints (10-3)

The Saints lost last week in big upset fashion, losing as 8-point road favorites in Philadelphia, ending a 9 game winning streak in the process. I don’t really hold that against them though, as the Eagles have a solid defense and got better quarterback play from new starter Jalen Hurts, while the Saints were caught off guard, facing a sub-.500 team with an unfamiliar quarterback under center, the game before this huge game against the defending Super Bowl champs. The Saints should be much more focused this week and will likely prove last week was largely a fluke, as is usually the case after big upsets like that, as teams cover at a 60.5% rate historically after a loss as road favorites of 7 points or more.

Even with last week’s loss included, the Saints still sit at 10-3 and have really rebounded from their slow 1-2 start, as they typically do, going 4-17-1 ATS since 2010 in weeks 1 and 2 and 91-58-7 ATS in week 3-17. Making that even more impressive is the fact that they really haven’t been healthy all season. They lost #1 wide receiver Michael Thomas in week 1, followed shortly after by some defensive starters and they haven’t been at full strength since.

Their defensive starters later returned and the Saints’ defense has been on fire since, while Thomas returned as well a few weeks later, but in his first game back, quarterback Drew Brees got hurt and went on to miss the next 4 and a half games. Brees is back this week, but, at the same time, they will be without Thomas again, as the fates seem to be coinciding to make sure one of the most accomplished pass catching duos in the league barely gets to play together this season.

Even with Thomas out, I still like the Saints’ bounce back chances, as they really haven’t been healthy all season and have still managed to be very effective, not just in the win/loss column, but also ranking 3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.43%. That lines up with my roster rankings, which have the Saints ranked 4th even without Thomas. At their best, the Saints are probably the best team in the league and, though we may never actually see them at full strength, they still have enough talent on both sides of the ball to still be one of the top teams in the league, even when missing key players.

The Chiefs are obviously a high level team, but even they shouldn’t be getting a field goal on the road in New Orleans, as these two teams aren’t far apart in my rankings, even with the Saints missing Thomas. The Saints have minimal homefield advantage this season with limited attendance in the stands, but, even still, I have this line calculated at New Orleans -1, so we’re getting great line value with the Saints. 

I normally don’t pick against the Chiefs unless I have a good reason to (28-20-2 ATS with Patrick Mahomes), but you could say the same thing about picking against the Saints after the first few weeks of the season, so I have no concerns betting big against the Chiefs this week. In fact, without a better option, this is going to be my Pick of the Week. The money line at +140 is also a smart play as this line is really off and should probably favor the Saints, even if only a little bit.

New Orleans Saints 35 Kansas City Chiefs 33 Upset Pick +140

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (11-1) at Miami Dolphins (8-4)

The Dolphins are 8-4, but they’ve faced one of the easier schedules in the league, with half of their wins coming against the three teams (Bengals, Jaguars, and Jets) who rank in the bottom-3 in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. They’ve also benefited significantly from opponents missing field goals, something almost entirely out of a team’s control, as their 57.14% opponents field goal percentage is lowest in the league by a wide margin over the 2nd ranked Ravens (65.00%) and an even wider margin over the 3rd ranked team (76.19%).

That third ranked team is the Chiefs, but there’s a wider gap between them and the Dolphins than there is between them and the last ranked Bills. It’s also hard to argue that opponents missing field goals is the reason why the Chiefs are 11-1 right now, as they rank 4th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +3.10% and have been incredibly dominant on offense once again, ranking 1st in first down rate over expected at +4.37%. Their defense ranks just 23rd in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.27%, but defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance and, if the Chiefs get even a middling defensive performance, they’re near impossible to beat because of how good their offense is consistently almost every week. 

It’s safe to say the Dolphins schedule is getting a lot tougher with the Chiefs coming to town, a problem since they’ve only been a middling team when you strip away the benefit they’ve gotten from their schedule and from opponents missing field goals, as they rank just 17th in first down rate differential at +0.19% and even that may be outplaying their talent level, as they rank just 25th in my roster rankings. Unfortunately, we’re not getting the line value I’d need to bet on the Chiefs, as the general public seems to have a pretty good idea that there is a big talent gap between these two teams, with this line favoring the Chiefs by 7, exactly where I have this line calculated. I’m still taking the Chiefs for pick ‘em purposes because the general rule of thumb is to pick Mahomes unless you have a good reason not to (28-19-2 ATS in his career, including 18-11 ATS after winning his MVP), but I would need a better line for this to be worth betting.

Kansas City Chiefs 26 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -7

Confidence: Low

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Denver Broncos (4-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-1)

When these two teams met in week 7, the Chiefs won with ease by a final score of 43-16, but the Broncos played close in first down rate, only losing by 1.75%. The Chiefs’ big win was primarily because of a +3 turnover margin (+5 if you include the Broncos 0 for 2 on 4th down) and two return touchdowns, including a kickoff return touchdown, as the Broncos’ defense held the Chiefs to a 33.33% first down rate that is their 2nd lowest mark of the season and 4.60% behind their league leading season average of 37.93%. This is nothing new for a Broncos defense that ranks 3rd in first down rate allowed over expected at -4.01%. I expect a closer game this time around, as the primary reasons why this was a blowout last team were things that tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis.

My calculated line is Kansas City -10 and the Broncos should be the much more focused team as well. In fact, after being embarrassed by the Chiefs earlier this season and being embarrassed by the NFL and having to play without a quarterback last week against the Saints, I think the Broncos are viewing this Sunday Night Football game as their Super Bowl, especially since they haven’t beaten the Chiefs in years. The Chiefs, meanwhile, probably won’t be fully focused for a team they already blew out when they have a more important conference game against the Dolphins next week and are coming off of back-to-back big close wins against the Buccaneers and Raiders. 

The Chiefs should still be able to win, perhaps easily, but with this line at 13.5, we have plenty of cushion. Pat Mahomes is 28-18-2 ATS in his career (including 18-10 ATS after his MVP season), so you always need really good reasons to bet against him, and I am not sure there is quite enough here, but if this line moves up to two full touchdowns, I may reconsider. Either way, the Broncos should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes as their defense could easily keep the Chiefs in check as much as you can and keep this game relatively close.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Denver Broncos 17

Pick against the spread: Denver +13.5

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4)

The Buccaneers lost at home to the Rams on Monday Night Football last week and the general opinion seems to be that the sky is falling in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers were already home field goal underdogs against the Chiefs on the early line last week, but their loss to the Rams has pushed this line to 3.5, which is significant, given that 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, including 1 in 6 games by exactly a field goal.

That seems to be an overreaction, as the Buccaneers were in a terrible spot last week and still were competitive with a Rams team that is a borderline Super Bowl contender. The Buccaneers were in a look ahead spot ahead of this huge game against the Chiefs and were also an east coast team playing a west coast team at night, which is a very tough spot. I expect much better focus and effort this week from a Buccaneers team that is still one of the top teams in the league.

The Buccaneers’ defense hasn’t been quite as good since losing Vita Vea for the season and they’ll also be without starting cornerback Jamel Dean for the first time this season this week, but they’re still one of the best defenses in the league, while their offense has improved since getting Chris Godwin (4 games missed to injury) and Antonio Brown (8 games missed to suspended) into the mix. Overall, they still rank first in the NFL in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +5.13%, with three of their four losses coming to fellow top-3 ranked teams (Saints x2 and Rams), and they rank 3rd in my roster rankings as well.

The Buccaneers could be without left tackle Donovan Smith this week due to injury, but that isn’t a big deal because they can slide talented rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs to the left side and because they are likely getting back guard Ali Marpet from a 3-game absence and he’s a higher caliber offensive lineman. Tom Brady isn’t playing quite as well as he did in his prime, but he’s playing well enough and has enough talent around him for this to be a high level team. They shouldn’t be 3.5-point home underdogs against anyone, even against another high level team like the Chiefs.

Speaking of Brady, I would especially expect a much better performance from him this week, as this is the kind of spot where he has always played his best historically. His record off of a loss is famous at this point, but his ATS record off of a loss is even more incredible at 45-22 ATS and that becomes 21-3 ATS if you look only at instances where Brady is an underdog or favorite of fewer than 3 points, which is the case here. Brady is also a ridiculous 39-11 ATS against teams with a better record than his, including 28-9 ATS in week 5 or later (when records are more likely to be indicative of talent level). 

Those numbers were primarily accumulated in New England with Bill Belichick and Brady is now in his age 43 season, but it stands to reason that Brady still will be at his best when his back is up against the wall (he’s 3-0 ATS off a loss this season and 1-0 ATS against a team with a better record), even if that best isn’t quite what it was in his prime. I would expect this to be a close game either way, even if the Buccaneers can’t pull the upset, so I love getting +3.5. I locked this at +3.5 earlier this week, but that number is still available as the sharps haven’t pounded this game like I expected they would, so you can still get this number if you missed it. This is my Pick of the Week.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33 Kansas City Chiefs 31 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay +3.5

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Kansas City Chiefs at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 11 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (8-1) at Las Vegas Raiders (6-3)

Typically the rule of thumb with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs over the past few seasons has been to pick them unless there is a good reason not to, as they are 28-16-2 ATS with Mahomes under center since his first season as a starter in 2018. You might think that’s just because Mahomes caught everyone off guard in his first season and that oddsmakers have sufficiently compensated in recent years for how good Mahomes is, but Mahomes is actually 18-8 ATS winning his MVP at the end of the 2018 season, as he’s had a much better defense supporting him over the past two seasons

This line is decently high, favoring the Chiefs by 7 points over the Raiders, but that’s not good enough reason to go against the Chiefs, as the Raiders have only been a middling team this season, only slightly above average in point differential (+14) and schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+0.20%), and are still not fully healthy, missing a pair of starting offensive linemen in Richie Incognito and Trent Brown, as well as talented defensive end Clelin Ferrell and every down starting linebacker Cory Littleton.

On top of that, the Chiefs are in a great spot, coming off an extra week of rest, facing a team that they will be desperate to get their revenge against, after the Raiders shockingly handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season back when these two teams met in week 5, which may have simultaneously been the Chiefs’ worst performance of the season and the Raiders’ best performance. I would expect a better effort by Kansas City by default this time around, but Andy Reid is 21-9 ATS all-time in season with extended rest and big road favorites typically cover after a bye in general, going 52-26 ATS since 1989 as road favorites of 4 points or more. I would need this line to drop to 6.5 for this to be a bigger play, but the Chiefs should take care of business in this one, so they’re worth a bet even at 7.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Las Vegas Raiders 24

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -7

Confidence: Medium