It will be the renewal of an AFC West rivalry at Arrowhead Stadium this weekend, as the first-place Kansas City Chiefs (9-4) host the third-place Denver Broncos (5-8). The Chiefs were victorious in their last three games, including last Sunday at New England, while the suddenly-hot Broncos have won two in a row.
Here is a preview of Sunday’s matchup between the Broncos and Chiefs, along with odds and a free pick.
By The Numbers
The Broncos struggled offensively prior to rookie Drew Lock taking over as the starting quarterback two games ago. Denver ranks 27th in both yards and points with 303.1 and 18.2, respectively, while also averaging the third-fewest passing yards per game. Those low rankings are even after Lock led Denver to back-to-back wins with 23 and 38 points.
Under new head coach Vic Fangio, Denver’s defense is still strong enough to keep it in many games. The Broncos are 10th in points allowed with 20.1 while also ranking 12th with 331.2 yards allowed. While struggling against the run at times, Denver does boast the sixth-best pass defense, allowing just 215.9 yards through the air.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs have strung together a 23-point showing against one of the league’s top defenses and a 40-point game the week prior. Overall, Kansas City is fourth in points per game with 28.5 and sixth in yards per game with 381.7. The Chiefs are one of the most lopsided teams in the league offensively, though, ranking as a top-five passing team but a bottom-five rushing team.
For much of the season, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense has been average, but it is starting to buckle down. Kansas City comes in 14th in points allowed with 21.6 but 20th in yards allowed with 364.8. Much like Denver, the Chiefs are solid against the pass but struggle against the run, allowing an average of 137.7 rushing yards per game, the fifth-most in the NFL.
Who To Watch
There is a lot of excitement about Lock, Denver’s second-round pick from this year’s draft. In two starts, the rookie has 443 passing yards with five touchdowns to two interceptions. He has formed strong connections with wide receiver Courtland Sutton and tight end Noah Fant, another rookie.
Sutton reeled in two touchdowns against the Chargers two weeks ago, while Fant exploded for 113 yards and a score last week against Houston. We’ll see if Lock and company, along with the underrated running back Phillip Lindsay, can continue their success this week in Kansas City.
As for the Chiefs, their pass-first nature forces quarterback Patrick Mahomes into the spotlight whenever they take the field. The reigning MVP has thrown for 3,266 yards and 21 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Look for tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill to play big roles for the Chiefs as well. Kelce is the team’s leading receiver with 989 yards on the season but is in search of his first touchdown in nearly a month. Meanwhile, Hill has five touchdowns this year, including one against Denver back in October.
A number of important players are listed on the injury report for the Broncos. Star linebacker Von Miller, Fant, and offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James are among the ones who carry injury designations as of now. Both Miller and Fant were limited during Thursday’s practice, while James hasn’t practiced all week.
The Chiefs are dealing with similar injury issues of their own. Pass rusher Frank Clark is the name to watch, as he is arguably Kansas City’s best defender. Clark is dealing with a shoulder injury as well as an illness and has yet to practice this week. As for the rest, guard Andrew Wylie and running back Damien Williams have each practiced on a limited basis.
Odds And Pick
The Chiefs are big favorites at home, listed at 9.5-point favorites and -550 on the moneyline. It should be noted that the last time these teams played was back on Oct. 17 in Denver, when Kansas City cruised to a 30-6 victory.
While I believe that Denver’s offense under Lock has improved, I don’t know if it will able to go toe-to-toe with the Chiefs at Arrowhead. Look for Mahomes and the Chiefs to come out and attack early, forcing Denver to throw the ball more often and limiting Lindsay’s effectiveness.
With the significant difference in offense and Kansas City’s improving defense, I’m picking the Chiefs -9.5 to take care of business on Sunday.