Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5, 37.5 o/u)
For the second time in the last month, the Denver Broncos (8-6 SU, 8-6 ATS) and Kansas City Chiefs (10-4 SU, 7-7 ATS) will do battle. But this time it will be at Arrowhead (Dec. 25th, 8:30 PM ET), and the consequences will be even steeper for the loser.
The Broncos enter this game having lost two in a row, a direct result of scoring just 13 points over the previous two weeks. Their defense carried them to a Super Bowl title last season, as their offense was underwhelming. And that struggle continues this year. It’s hard to fault Trevor Siemian for all the team’s 50 three-and-outs (league-high), as his offensive line has been one of the worst in the league.
In his first season as a starter, Siemian has performed beyond expectations. His 88.1 passer rating ranks 19th in the league, and he has shown a ton of poise under pressure. Unfortunately, Siemian has made the costly mistakes you’d expect from a second-year pro, especially one drafted in the seventh round, but has always bounced back.
Denver would love to afford their quarterback the assistance of a running game, but have rushed for a combined 76 yards over the past two weeks. On the season, they are averaging a pitiful 3.6 yards per carry (28th), and rookie Devontae Booker is below that at 3.4 yards per carry.
Again, all of the issues derive from the Broncos horrid offensive line. Between Donald Stephenson and Ty Sambrailo, the right tackle position has been a mess all season, and Russell Okung has not been the book-end left tackle they were hoping for.
In spite of all the negatives on that side of the ball, the Broncos’ defense is playing at an extremely high level. Early in the season they struggled against the run, but have stiffened-up over the last five games, allowing just 3.8 yards per carry in that time. Pair that with the league’s best pass defense, and it’ll explain why the Broncos have only surrendered 39 points in the last three weeks. The unit ranks second in total defense and fourth in scoring, but may have to start putting more points on the board in order for Denver to work their way back into the win column.
Flipping to the Chiefs, and Andy Reid’s team suffers from many of the same issues as the Broncos. Kansas City struggles to run the ball without any deception, and their defensive line has been pushed around all season.
Looking to the offense, Reid has done a phenomenal job, up until last week, of masking these flaws in the trenches. We have seen very resourceful plays utilizing Tyreek Hill’s explosiveness, and risky play-calling throughout. Unfortunately, Spencer Ware appears to be wearing down, as he is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry over his last five games and hasn’t rushed for more than 70 yards since Week 7. His regression has led to the Chiefs ranking 23rd in rushing.
As a whole, KC’s offense hasn’t moved the ball very well, ranking 23rd in total offense, and they certainly haven’t scored all of those 319 points (15th) on their own. It has been the Chiefs defense and special teams who have bailed them out on multiple occasions.
The Chiefs defense has bled yards all season (28th in total defense), but they have been extremely opportunistic. Marcus Peters has accounted for eight of the team’s league-high 28 takeaways, five of which they’ve returned for a TD. Thanks to all the timely turnovers, the Chiefs rank eighth in scoring defense.
The last time these two played, it was Justin Houston and Tyreek Hill who made the biggest differences for the Chiefs. In order to sweep the season series with Denver for the first time since 2000, not only will those two have to show up in a big way, but they’ll need to ensure Denver doesn’t gain any traction on the ground. The Broncos managed 124 yards rushing when they played four weeks ago, which is their highest total since Week 7.
Expect Gary Kubiak to get a little more creative with his play-calling and find a way to help out his young quarterback. The best way to do so would be finding more ways to get the ball in the hands of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. The two are very explosive receivers and incredibly gifted after the catch.
The Chiefs will again make the Broncos offense look better than it is, and Kubiak will ensure his right tackle has help with Houston this time. Alex Smith won’t be able to orchestrate a 75-yard touchdown drive with the two-point convert yet again. Even if KC is to win this one, laying any more than three points is too much against a very tough Broncos defense.
Pick: Broncos (+3.5)
Photo Credit: Brood_wich (flickr) [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]