The Denver Broncos (6-5) made the NFL’s decision to flex this game against the Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) to Sunday night a good one by upsetting the Chargers last Sunday to tighten this AFC West race. But coming off a bye, are the Chiefs still must-see TV with a high-flying offense, or is this team settling into a defensive mold that could help win more games?
Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, December 05, 2021 – 08:20 PM EST at Arrowhead Stadium
The Chiefs (4-7 ATS) are tied for the second-worst spread record this season, but they are a 10-point favorite over the Broncos (6-5 ATS) on the NFL odds board at many of BMR’s top sportsbooks. It was just a year ago in Week 13 when the 13-point underdog Broncos lost 22-16 in Arrowhead in a Sunday night game. Can Vic Fangio’s No. 3 scoring defense limit Patrick Mahomes again?
Patrick Mahomes vs. Denver Defense
Early in the season, the main concerns in Kansas City were the defense, but things have dramatically turned around there, leading to questions about the offense, which is having a down year based on the high standards set in the past. How a defense handles Patrick Mahomes is still crucial to a successful night against the Chiefs.
The division-rival Raiders thought they were improved on defense this year, but Mahomes shredded them for 406 yards and five touchdowns in his last prime-time game. However, that game did not reignite the offense as the Chiefs only scored 19 points on Dallas in Week 11, another low-scoring win. Unlucky bounces or not, turnovers continue to be an issue for the Chiefs.
Denver has a mediocre 13 takeaways this season, never getting more than two in any game. But the Chiefs have failed to score more than 20 points in five of their last seven games. Mahomes is 7-0 against the Broncos in his career, but crazy as it sounds, Denver has done one of the better jobs at limiting him offensively.
Mahomes has multiple touchdowns passes in two of those seven games, and the Chiefs only scored more than 30 points in one contest, a 43-16 snow game in 2020 where Mahomes only passed for 200 yards.
The Broncos will have to do better at getting pressure on Mahomes, who is rarely blitzed this year. Denver is above average at getting pressure and sacks this season, but Fangio may want to dial back some of the blitzes as Denver’s 30.4% blitz rate is the ninth highest in the league. These two defenses also have the fewest missed tackles this season according to Pro Football Reference.
It will be interesting to see if Mahomes patiently goes for the short passes or attacks deep in this matchup. On the season, Denver’s average pass faced is 9.3 yards down the field, the second-deepest average in the NFL. Excluding return touchdowns, only the Raiders (34) and Steelers (27) have scored more than 23 points on Denver’s defense this season.
Keep in mind that Mahomes is still 38-1 when the Chiefs allow fewer than 27 points in a game. The Broncos are 0-5 this season when allowing more than 16 points.
Broncos: Year of the Underdog?
In 35 games this season between teams who currently have a winning record going into Week 13, the underdog is a stunning 25-9-1 ATS (.729) and 22-13 SU (.629). Some of those games could disqualify by the season’s end if certain teams fail to finish with a winning record, but it is a sign of just how unpredictable this season has been with good teams having bad performances often.
The only double-digit dog in those games to win was when Denver upset the Cowboys 30-16, a game they led 30-0 with five minutes left, back in Week 9. After shutting down Justin Herbert and the Chargers last week, Denver looks respectable on defense in this matchup to hold down the Chiefs.
But can quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with his group of skill players finally healthy get the job done on offense? Under Fangio the last two years, the Broncos have not been able to score more than 16 points against the Chiefs. Bridgewater left Sunday’s game with a shin injury before returning to throw an important touchdown.
He will not put up big numbers in this game, but it is important for him to convert on third down and keep turnovers low. The Broncos have only one game with multiple giveaways this season when they turned it over four times to the Raiders, mostly on Bridgewater interceptions. What south of 100% Bridgewater does against a Kansas City defense that has allowed the fewest points since Week 6 will be interesting.
Advanced stats are in chaos over how good Bridgewater has been in 2021. Next-Gen Stats has him ranked third in CPOE, which speaks to his accuracy and probability of completing the passes he has thrown. While some EPA models like him as a top 10 quarterback, ESPN has him 20th in QBR.
The Denver offense is only 21st in points per drive, 26th in red zone touchdown percentage, and 23rd in third-down conversion rate, so I tend to side with where ESPN has him. The good news is the offense has gotten better on third down. Through Week 6, Denver was dead last on third down at 29.9%. But since Week 7, Denver is fourth on third down at 47.5%.
Denver should have a good chance to cover as long as Bridgewater is avoiding turnovers and converting third downs. The Chiefs have come up with multiple takeaways in three straight games.
The Chiefs tend to light it up after a bye week under Andy Reid, but this is the first time in four years where they are not coming off a bye to play a poor Raiders defense. The last time was in 2017 against the Giants and they lost 12-9 in overtime. There was no Mahomes that day, but this 2021 Mahomes is not quite what we are used to seeing either.
Kansas City has won four of its last 22 games by more than 10 points. The over is also 2-9 in Denver games this season, so this is an opponent that can draw you into an ugly game. This game’s projected total is 47 points, so it would not surprise me to see the Chiefs get a 24-17 type of win. Good enough for the win, but not good enough for the cover. I’ll take the Broncos with the points for your NFL pick to close this Sunday.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.