The first thing to note in this spot — with the Broncos traveling to Arrowhead to take on the Chiefs — is that the Broncos have a solid all-around defense, ranking 12th in yards allowed, 10th in points allowed, and eighth in opponent drive success rate. Denver has allowed the ninth fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks and the sixth fewest receptions to wide receivers while holding running backs to middle-of-the-pack production. Put simply, this is not a matchup that boosts expectations.
The second thing to note in this spot, of course, is that the Chiefs often don’t require “a matchup that boosts expectations” in order to produce at their typical, elite level. Patrick Mahomes has started 11 games this season, and the Chiefs have scored 23 or more in 10 of those games, while scoring 28+ in seven. One of those higher-scoring games (30 points) took place at Denver with Mahomes getting hurt (after starting 10 of 11 for 76 yards and a touchdown) before Matt Moore kept the train running on schedule the rest of the way. In a spot like this one — where the Chiefs don’t have a matchup boost, but also don’t have a matchup that is likely to send them to the poorhouse — we should expect this offense to put up points; and we should also expect the only “have to have it” scores to come from a volume tilt and/or from big plays.
There is nothing in this matchup that points to an expected “volume tilt” toward an individual weapon, so while it’s possible that one player sees a volume spike against his season-long usage, we’re left guessing there. There will, however, be opportunity for strong to elite production to emerge through big plays — making Tyreek Hill // Travis Kelce // Mecole Hardman your best bets for breakthrough production.
Unsurprisingly, Denver has allowed the sixth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards on the year, and they are shaving over 11% off the league-average aDOT while doing a good job checking pass catchers after the catch — though all of this should be viewed as “more data points that remind us this isn’t a soft matchup,” rather than being viewed as “a reason to avoid Hill,” who has recent healthy target counts of 9 // 9 // 19 // 8 // 8. Hill’s chances of hitting in this spot are lower, but he still has the ability to get there as one of the only players in the NFL who has enough speed to regularly run comeback routes 20+ yards downfield, making him a perfect “big play” candidate any time a play breaks down. On Kelce :: personnel and coaching has come and gone between these two teams, but it’s at least worth noting that his 6-44-0 game against Denver earlier this year (his worst yardage total of the season) snapped a streak of four consecutive games against the Broncos with 75+ yards and a touchdown. He has fallen shy of eight targets only twice this year and is a role-secure player with upside. Hardman is a complete dart throw, but if trying to capture a big game away from Kelce or Hill, his speed is your best bet for getting there. The Kansas City rushing attack, of course, is a messy timeshare (especially with Damien Williams appearing on track to return) on a team that throws the ball at the sixth highest rate in the league. You’re simply guessing here.
On offense, the Broncos try to control their games on the ground, and the matchup in this spot obviously tilts in that direction, with the Chiefs ranked sixth in DVOA against the pass but 30th against the run, and with teams attacking Kansas City on the ground at an above-average rate in spite of frequently playing from behind in this matchup. The Chiefs have allowed seven different running backs to go for 99+ yards on the ground against them, and have allowed more running backs (two) to go for 100 yards through the air than wide receivers (one) — which is just a really impressive feat (both in terms of how strong the Chiefs have been against wideouts…and how weak they have been against backs). As noted last week, it’s fair to completely ignore the actual split in snap share between Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, as the Broncos are making a point of getting the ball into Lindsay’s hands — with Lindsay boasting recent touch counts of 18 // 14 // 20 // 18, compared to 9 // 4 // 9 // 10 for Freeman. Consider Lindsay to be capped at around 20 touches, but also consider him a solid bet to approach 17 or 18 looks in this plus spot.
This passing attack flows through Courtland Sutton, with low volume available on this group as a whole (Drew Lock has thrown the ball 28 and 27 times in his first two starts), and with that low volume spread across a broad range of players. Sutton (with seven or more targets in all but two games this year) is a “bet on alpha in a tough spot” play (with a trip to Arrowhead adding to the difficulty already presented by the matchup), while Noah Fant stands out the most behind Sutton as a “bet on matchup and big play” option. Fant has topped five targets only once in his last five games, but the Chiefs’ struggles against tight ends have been well documented in this space, and Fant’s catch-and-run ability has led to three big plays (two monster plays) in his last five games.
JM’s Interpretation ::
It is perfectly fine to go to the Chiefs this week — with Mahomes // Kelce // Hill the most attractive to me, in that order, followed by other explosive bets on this group — though I may be a bit light here myself, as the likeliest scenario here has us betting on “good to strong” scores instead of elite scores (barring an unpredictable volume tilt or big plays clicking into place in a tight matchup). As always: it’s very viable to bet on the Chiefs, though I’ll probably look for more certainty with my higher-salary pieces. If going here, the most interesting bet would be building for a game environment in which the Broncos show up in a manner similar to last week.
The chances of the Broncos “showing up similar to last week” are lowered by the matchup and the tough road environment. It’s also been impossible to ignore the fact that Drew Lock wants to hit home runs too often — which is leading to him holding onto the ball too long even as pressure is closing in, and is leading to him trying to squeeze in tight-window throws while failing to notice lurking defenders. Steve Spagnuolo should be able to bait Lock into some mistakes here — and while Lindsay is almost always on my list for his explosive upside and affordable price, I’m likelier to lean on the Chiefs D than I am to spread around additional ownership behind that play.
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