Four Week 11 Storylines: An AFC West Showdown
"Are the Chiefs the worst 5-0 team ever?"
"Are the Chiefs the worst 7-0 team ever?"
"But guys, the Chiefs are the worst 9-0 team. Ever."
Do yourself a favor and Google "Worst Kansas City Chiefs". It won't bring up results from their 2-14 2012 season. It won't mention the fact that Tyler Palko started four games for them in 2011. Instead, the word "worst" is being associated with a team that has all but locked up a playoff spot in their conference after only playing nine games. The word "worst" is describing a team that has yet to lose a meaningful football game in 2013.
I understand the thought process behind dubbing the Kansas City Chiefs the "worst 9-0 team ever". They've played three straight backup quarterbacks (all of whom, I will say, are arguably better than the players they replaced), and their opposition is consistently a bottom-of-the-barrel team. But nine straight wins is nine straight wins. This team is undefeated, and they're doing it with a conservative, risk-averse quarterback, and the best defense in the entire NFL when you adjust for strength of schedule.
Perhaps you've avoided social media all week and are unaware that said undefeated team is facing off against the 8-1 Broncos on Sunday night. That's where we'll begin with this week's storylines.
Can the Chiefs stay undefeated?
According to our metrics, the Broncos offense has performed 128.63 points above expectation this season, over 17 points better than the second-place Saints. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs have held opponents to 64 fewer points compared to what a team in a similar situation would have, coming in as the best defense in the league.
It’s what we’ve all been waiting for: The Chiefs will finally be tested, while the Broncos will face an admirable defense for the first time all season long.
Someone’s gotta lose.
Instead of speaking to these team’s strengths though, let’s look at their weaknesses. The Chiefs offense, when adjusted for strength of schedule, ranks as the 23rd-best one in the league, just between the Steelers and Texans. Much of this has to do with their lack of passing attack – led by Alex Smith – which ranks 23rd. Passing’s more efficient than running, which is why it’s weighted more within the overall team offense ranking.
Kansas City can run the ball with Jamaal Charles though, as their Adjusted Rushing Net Expected Points is 11th-best in the NFL. Unfortunately, this is a potential danger against Denver – the Broncos have a very underrated rush defense, ranking as the top one in the entire league when adjusted for strength of opponent.
The weakest links – Denver’s pass defense versus Kansas City’s passing attack – will be an interesting matchup to watch on Sunday night. The Broncos rank in the bottom-10 against the pass, but the Chiefs rarely throw the ball downfield, making Alex Smith feel a little more comfortable in the pocket. However, if the Chiefs want to stay in the game, a few shots down the gridiron will have to take place.
This is why, from a fantasy perspective, you could finally see Dwayne Bowe step up and be the WR2 you drafted back in August. He’s been miserable and was just arrested (yikes), sure, but the matchup has a lot of potential, and the Chiefs will surely have to put up more points than they’re used to posting.
Needless to say, this is easily the top story going into a hectic Week 11.
Can the Panthers get another statement win?
The Panthers now-number two power-ranked defense will face Tom Brady’s healthier Pats on Monday night, in what will surely be another exciting contest.
Shane Vereen is expected to return for New England, which as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, is great news for New England. Patriot running backs this season have essentially been playing at half the efficiency as we saw last year, and Vereen should certainly help that cause with his pass-catching ability.
I worry for the Patriots offense against the Panthers front seven, which could create a lot of shorter passes to Danny Amendola. Just because the matchup is frightening doesn’t mean he won’t produce in fantasy. We have him as a low-end WR2 in 12-team leagues this week, which could rise in PPR leagues.
Cam Newton’s proven to be more of a matchup play this year, posting middling numbers against tough defenses like Seattle, Arizona and San Francisco. The Patriots, according to our metrics, have the fourth-best defensive unit in the league when adjusted for strength of schedule, so there’s a chance that Cam doesn’t put up QB1 numbers in Week 11. Be prepared for potential disappointment, and if you have another option (perhaps Nick Foles), I’m not against plugging him in instead of Cam if you need a high upside play.
Will the 49ers defense contain Drew Brees?
After a big loss, the 49ers now have to travel to the Superdome and face a Saints team that can, right now, do whatever they want to do offensively.
My goodness these games are good this week.
At this point, it should be expected that Drew Brees’ Saints will perform well offensively, as they’ve posted 20 or more points in each game since Week 2. As a fantasy quarterback, Number 9 is unbenchable no matter the matchup, too – his lowest point output came in that Week 2 game, and he still threw for 322 yards and a score.
The real potential quarterback issue in this game could be with Colin Kaepernick. He, like Newton, has mostly performed well against bad defenses, and is coming off a 91-yard stinker against the Panthers. The good news is that it looks like tight end Vernon Davis will play – or so it’s been reported. Without Davis, Kaepernick is often lost due to lack of weapons in the offense.
As we continue to say here at numberFire, don’t sleep on the Saints defense. This is by no means an easy matchup for Kap, as the Saints have the 10th-best power-ranked defense, and come in with the fourth-best pass defense. As a result, Kaepernick is our 17th-ranked Week 11 quarterback.
Will weather impact any Midwest games?
There’s a storm brewing near Chicago, and it could not only impact the Bears game against the Ravens, but the contest in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh as well. Keep an eye out on reports prior to game time.
Why is this important? Well, according to the data we’ve gathered here at numberFire, wind speeds of 10-plus MPH create a total of about three less points in NFL games, a slight increase in rushing attempts, and a decrease of about 32 yards in total passing. And when there’s heavy rain, you should expect fewer completions, more rushing and fewer field goals attempted.