Sunday Night Football Betting Preview: Will the Chiefs Cover as Lopsided Favorites?
Well, at least the Denver Broncos get to have a quarterback this week.
After an unprecedented Week 12 when all of Denver's signal callers ended up on COVID-IR at the same time, the NFL schedulers have another treat in store for Denver as the 4-7 Broncos hit the road to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.
Unsurprisingly the line is huge, with the Chiefs favored by 13.5 on FanDuel Sportsbook. Bettors aren't scared off from the Chiefs, either, as 82% of the bets and 86% of the money is backing the home team, per our oddsFire tool. Bookmakers can't set the moneyline high enough, as even at -1000, Kansas City is drawing 75% of the bets and 95% of the money on an outright win. And with a total set at 50.5, the bets are split with 54% taking the over. However, 69% of the money is backing the over, implying that some sharp bets have come in on the over.
It's pretty obvious that we should expect a Chiefs win, but by how much? And can the Broncos put up enough points to hit the over? Let's look to our projections for some answers, including some intriguing prop bets along the way.
Passing Game Preview
Denver ranks dead last in the NFL in our passing metrics, producing -0.12 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back through 12 weeks. While last week's performance by Kendall Hinton certainly doesn't help those numbers, this passing game has been bad all year.
Drew Lock ranks 38th in Passing NEP per drop back out of 43 quarterbacks with 50 or more passing attempts on the year, while also ranking 41 out of 43 in Passing Success Rate. They face a Chiefs defense that has allowed 0.08 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back on the season, good for the 10th-best mark in the league. While Denver would certainly love to run the ball, they haven't been able to stick with it to the extent that they would like, and their 1.39 pass-to-rush ratio is fairly middle of the pack.
Rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy has a bright future and looks every bit the first-round pick Denver hoped he would be, but he hasn't developed that chemistry with Lock. While Jeudy's 78 targets lead the team, he has just 37 receptions for a 47% catch rate. Tim Patrick has actually been the best option on the team, as his 0.82 Reception NEP per target leads all Broncos pass-catchers. Patrick has one fewer reception than Jeudy on 20 fewer targets, and Patrick may be a sneaky-good prop bet as he flies under the radar among the betting public. Patrick, Jeudy, and K.J. Hamler should see the bulk of the passing-game work for Denver, with talented but inconsistent tight end Noah Fant also involved. Fant's 60 targets on the year ranks second on the team, but the quarterback play is holding him back from a true breakout.
The Chiefs' passing game certainly looks like the best in the league when watching from our couches, and the numbers 100% back up what we see. KC ranks first in the league with 0.37 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back on the season, and Patrick Mahomes appears to be on his way to his second MVP award.
The Chiefs have the ninth-most pass-happy offense in the league with a 1.60 pass-to-rush ratio, but that honestly feels low when watching them play, as they seem to get bored with running the ball when a big play in the passing game is potentially just around the corner. Denver will try to slow them down with the sixth-best passing defense in the league, as they allow 0.04 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back on the year. Mahomes just lit up a top-five Tampa Bay D last week, however, so the Broncos will have to bring their A game to have a chance of slowing down this offense.
Kansas City has a plethora of efficient options, but everything flows through Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. With 101 and 97 targets, respectively, Hill and Kelce more than double the third-most targeted Chief. Both are a weekly threat to go off, but if you are looking for a dark-horse candidate for a big game on a prop, Sammy Watkins may be your best bet.
Watkins returned from injury last week and played 72% of the snaps, tied with Demarcus Robinson for most snaps behind Hill among KC's receivers. Watkins' presence dropped the explosive Mecole Hardman to a 30% snap share, so Hardman is no more than an occasional big-play threat with that usage. Watkins has been up and down over the years, but when healthy in 2020, he has at least seven targets in four of six games. That kind of opportunity is intriguing in a Mahomes-led offense.
Rushing Game Preview
On the ground, Denver ranks 25th in the NFL with -0.02 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry, a number that is certainly a frustration of the coaching staff. They have an opportunity this week, as the Chiefs possess the worst run defense in the league, allowing 0.17 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry.
The trick, however, is keeping up with KC's offense, as teams frequently have to abandon the run as they fall behind Mahomes on the scoreboard. Despite the crazy splits between the Chiefs' good pass defense and their awful run defense, Kansas City has faced a 1.33 pass-to-rush ratio, which places them near the middle of the pack in the NFL. With Melvin Gordon absorbing 134 carries and producing -0.09 Rushing NEP per carry, there isn't a lot of reason for optimism in this matchup. Phillip Lindsay appears to be trending toward playing after leaving last week's game with a knee injury, but his -0.03 Rushing NEP per carry on 82 rushes isn't much of an upgrade.
Kansas City's ground game ranks a respectable 16th in the league with 0.06 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry, though some of that can be attributed to Mahomes and his 0.50 Rushing NEP per carry on 36 rushes. Still, for all of the fantasy football disappointment that Clyde Edwards-Helaire has caused his managers, he's been solid on the ground. On 151 carries this season, Edwards-Helaire has produced 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry -- not bad for a back who had questions coming out of college about whether or not he could hold up to the NFL's physicality. He's been better than Le'Veon Bell, who has -0.21 Rushing NEP per carry on 47 rushes between the Chiefs and New York Jets.
If the Chiefs do decide to focus on the ground game, they will be facing the league's 16th-ranked rushing defense. Denver has allowed 0.07 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry, and coupled with the Broncos' stout pass defense, teams have chosen to run on Denver. They have faced a 1.26 pass-to-run ratio on the season, the 10th-most run-heavy in the league. I wouldn't expect the Chiefs to follow suit, but it is available if they need it.
Of the 10 most comparable games to this matchup, the favorite has won outright in all 10 games. The results on the spread have been a bit closer, however, as the favorite has covered only 6 of 10 times. Finally, the under has a bit of a strong trend here, as this set of games hit the under in 7 of 10 matchups.
Game Projections and Props
Our algorithm gives the Chiefs an 88% chance to win, putting the projected return on investment (ROI) on the moneyline in the negative on each side. You're going to need a large bankroll to make that KC -1000 line worthwhile. We give the Chiefs a small 3.5% projected ROI at -13.5, so that may be worth looking at to add to a same-game parlay to increase the payout. We also see a small projected ROI (6%) on under 50.5 points. With some thin margins, let's check out some props and same game parlays.
On FanDuel Sportsbook, one prop to take advantage of may be injury related. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been out of practice this week with a stomach illness, and while he is expected to play, taking the under on 50.5 rushing yards may be a smart choice. He's topped that number only once in the last five weeks, and if he is still feeling the effects of the illness, he could see his workload reduced. If you want to ride the hot hand, the prop on Tyreek Hill's receiving yardage is set at 73.5, a number he has topped in each of the last four weeks. It is worth noting, however, that Hill was held to 55 yards on 10 targets against the Broncos in Week 7.
For a bit of a longshot play, let's parlay the over on Sammy Watkins receiving yardage (46.5) with his +210 line to score a touchdown for a payout of +359 that needs to hit 22% of the time to be profitable. Denver did a good job of bottling up Hill and Kelce in Week 7, and Watkins was absent that week. Watkins could see a lot of opportunities Sunday night if the passing attack continues to operate at the top of its game and Denver keys in on Hill and Kelce once again.