The Spread and Total
Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs (-9, 44 O/U), courtesy of SportsBetting.ag.
In most places the line opened at Chiefs -7.5, but clearly there is little faith in the Titans, as the line is quickly climbing towards double digits.
Tennessee Titans: 9-7 SU (8-7-1 ATS); 2nd AFC South
Kansas City Chiefs: 10-6 SU (10-6 ATS); 1st AFC West
RB DeMarco Murray (knee), doubtful; CB Brice McCain (hamstring), questionable.
Kansas City Chiefs
LB Tamba Hali (knee), questionable; DE Jarvis Jenkins (knee), questionable; WR Albert Wilson (hamstring), questionable; DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches (ankle), questionable; CB Philip Gaines (elbow), questionable.
Dec. 18, 2016 (Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City): Tennessee 19, Kansas City 17
Sept. 7, 2014 (Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City): Tennessee 26, Kansas City 10
Oct. 6, 2013 (LP Field, Nashville): Kansas City 26, Tennessee 17
Significant ATS Trends
Kansas City has covered in four straight games.
Tennessee has covered in five of their last six games.
The Chiefs are 1-3 ATS in the playoffs under Andy Reid.
The early Saturday window of Wild Card Weekend hasn’t been all that wild lately: favorites are 7-3 ATS in the last 10.
Despite rediscovering their offense, the total has gone UNDER in six of the last eight Chiefs games.
The NFL has a long-standing tradition of putting a (potential) dud in the early-Saturday slot during the Wild Card round, and this game certainly follows suit. As you can tell from the spread, the expectation is for the home side Chiefs to roll over the Titans, which goes to show how much momentum matters heading into the postseason. If you played this game back in Week 13, when Tennessee was 8-4 and Kansas City was struggling at 6-6, you’re looking at a very different line.
Since then, the Chiefs have dominated, winning four straight and averaging 28.6 points per game in the month of December. The Titans haven’t scored more than 28 points since Oct. 16, and lost three of their final four games, barely making the playoffs by beating an unmotivated Jacksonville team in the final week of the regular season.
It’s clear why Kansas City has the edge on offense: they’re rife with playmakers. Rookie Kareem Hunt finished the year as the NFL’s leading rusher with 1,327 yards, and added another 455 yards through the air. Tyreek Hill finished the year seventh in receiving yards with 1,183, while leading the league in catches of 40-plus yards (9). Tight end Travis Kelce was no slouch either, ranking 13th in the NFL with 1,038 receiving yards, while underrated quarterback Alex Smith recorded another outstanding TD-to-INT ratio (26 to 5) and made plays with his legs. He finished the year with 355 rushing yards, more than his scrambling cross-field counterpart Marcus Mariota (though Mariota was slowed by a hamstring injury).
The Chiefs finished the year fourth in offensive DVOA, and perhaps could’ve finished even higher if not for undisciplined play around midseason. Injuries along the interior offensive line, as well as ranking near the top of the league in penalties, sent them to a four-game losing streak in November. But since then, they’ve resembled the offense that opened the year with a shocking defeat of the New England Patriots in Foxborough.
Their defense remains shaky: they never recovered from the loss of Eric Berry, and finished the year ranked 30th in defensive DVOA. But while they’re bleeding yards, Marcus Peters and company are at least generating takeaways. Kansas City’s +15 turnover differential ranks best of any team in the playoff field. A few impact plays like that could be more than enough to beat a stagnant Titans offense.
Where Kansas City boasts a trio of players who broke 1,000 yards from scrimmage, the Titans don’t have any. The only one to get close, DeMarco Murray, may not even play this weekend. Despite some major offseason additions, the passing game was carried by holdovers Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker. Eric Decker never really found a rhythm, and rookie Corey Davis was constantly hurt. This meant, instead of taking a massive leap forward in year three, Mariota struggled, finishing with a TD-to-INT ratio of 13 to 15. His 79.5 passer rating left him behind talents like Jacoby Brissett, Jay Cutler, and Joe Flacco.
Even though their run game is far less explosive than last season, Tennessee’s success remains tied to its backfield of Murray and Derrick Henry, while mixing in a few Mariota scrambles. Last week, the Titans ran their record to 6-0 this season when they have 30 or more rushing attempts. They cannot afford to fall behind early in this one, because they are not designed to claw their way back.
Defensively, the Titans also resemble last year’s team, in that their front seven can cause a lot of mayhem. Between Avery Williamson, Wesley Woodyard, Brian Orakpo, and Derrick Morgan, the linebacking corps is loaded with guys capable of making a game-changing play. However, their secondary still gets torched on a regular basis. If stud safety Kevin Byard isn’t picking the ball off, which he did a league-leading eight times this season, odds are pretty good the Titans are allowing a big play in the passing game. Against a cautious Smith at QB, it could be difficult for Byard to make a noticeable difference on Saturday afternoon.
Perhaps the biggest nugget of hope for Titans fans is their team’s past performance at Arrowhead. Since the franchise moved from Houston, the Titans are 4-1 straight up in Kansas City. But how much stock do you want to put in the past performances of Vince Young? At least kicker Ryan Succop has lots of experience in this environment, kicking a career 83.75-percent in this stadium for his career, which includes playing in KC for five seasons.
I don’t see this weekend being quite as chalky as last year’s Wild Card round, when favorites went 4-0 ATS. But right out of the gate, I am going to lay the points with the hot team. Tennessee hasn’t notched an impressive win since Week 3 over Seattle. Since then, they’ve taken advantage of a weak AFC. But the Chiefs are one of the few teams to truly separate themselves from that mediocrity. They’re not the cream, but they’re whatever layer is right below, and still well above the crop.
Beyond taking the Chiefs as a great first half of a weekend teaser, also consider taking the UNDER here. While KC’s offense is poised for fireworks, too often their opponent is a no-show, especially at Arrowhead, where they’ve fallen short of the total in five of the last six.
Pick: Chiefs (-9) and UNDER (44).