BRONCOS // CHIEFS OVERVIEW
The 3-4 Broncos will travel to take on the mighty, 6-1 Chiefs at Arrowhead on Sunday afternoon in what should be a fun game for DFS — between two teams that rank in the top half of the league in pace of play (Denver quietly ranks fifth), and featuring (on the Main Slate for the first time in a while) a Kansas City team that ranks third in the NFL in yards per game and 32nd in yards allowed per game. This game has been given an early-week Over/Under of 55.0, with the Chiefs installed as 10 point favorites and carrying a massive Vegas-implied team total of 32.5. Each team ranks middle of the pack in pass play rate, and each team also allows an above-average number of opponent plays per game. Kansas City is second in drive success rate on offense and 31st in drive success rate allowed. The last time these teams met — in Denver — the Chiefs won 27-23.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
It is a difficult thing to try to quantify home field advantage, but we do know that Arrowhead is one of the most difficult places to play — and we know that the Chiefs’ defense traditionally plays better at home. This has been an attackable unit since the beginning of last year, and on the road in 12 games across 2017 and 2018, KC has allowed an incredible 27.9 points per game, essentially turning the average opponent they have faced into this year’s Chargers. It has been a completely different story at home, however, with the Chiefs allowing only one team to top 20 points at Arrowhead across 11 games — holding opponents to an overall average of 16.9 points per game, essentially turning the average opponent they have faced into this year’s Jaguars. The Chiefs have stepped up their pass rush lately, ranking a middling 15th in adjusted sack rate, while Denver has been merely average at protecting Case Keenum. Keenum has thrown at least one interception in every game this year.
While the Chiefs generally have an easier time generating sacks and turnovers at home and are better at keeping opponents off the board, yardage does still pile up against them — creating opportunities for solid games from receivers who find themselves in “attack mode” for much of the game. The Chiefs have gifted an increase of 11% above the league-average in aDOT this season, while increasing opponent YAC per reception by 7% above the league average. Only two teams have allowed more receptions to wide receivers, and only seven teams have allowed more yards. Returning to the theme of “Kansas City potentially limiting upside in this spot”: only four teams in the NFL have allowed fewer touchdowns to wide receivers than the Chiefs have allowed. This is a spot to target volume and yardage, and to hope for a bonus touchdown.
In the “volume” department, Courtland Sutton is sadly being left behind, with recent target counts of four and three, after three six-target games in a four week stretch. Keenum has managed to hit Sutton on only 14 of 33 passes so far (and that’s even with Sutton hauling in a couple spectacular grabs), making him a thin option this week.
Demaryius Thomas has seen recent target counts (starting in Week 3) of 5 // 7 // 6 // 4 // 6, and he has topped 63 yards only once in that stretch. As a declining route runner, he matches up poorly against the man-heavy coverage scheme of the Chiefs, and when these teams met a few weeks ago he went 4-24-0 on seven looks. He’ll need a broken play or an unlikely touchdown to provide strong value.
Emmanuel Sanders continues to produce every time he is given an opportunity — with only the Broncos’ desire to lean on the run when they grab a lead standing between him and consistent production. Sanders has hauled in 75.4% of his 61 targets on the year, with 603 yards and three touchdowns on the season — putting him on pace for roughly 100 yards and half a touchdown in any given 10-target game. Sanders matches up best against the Chiefs’ secondary, and nine to 11 targets seems likely in this spot.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
The Chiefs have been awful against the run, ranking 30th in yards allowed per rush attempt and allowing the third most rushing touchdowns in spite of facing the 12th fewest rush attempts. Three of these rushing touchdowns have come from quarterbacks (a small boost to Keenum), but running backs have pasted the Chiefs for nine total touchdowns — tied with the Falcons, Bills, Bucs, Dolphins, Giants, and Bengals for the third most in the league. Right now, it appears that Royce Freeman (ankle) will miss this game — which will open the door for Phillip Lindsay Week. Lindsay has averaged 5.8 yards per carry and 7.9 yards per reception, while Lindsay and Freeman have combined for recent carry counts of 20 // 17 // 13 // 27, and for recent catch counts of 2 // 6 // 6 // 1 (only three of those receptions belonged to Freeman). Devontae Booker will continue to waste the Broncos’ time on passing downs, but Lindsay should soak up most of the 20+ touches this role projects for, putting him in a premier spot this week.
Naturally, if Freeman plays, each guy goes back to his low-floor space, with Lindsay still carrying the moderate ceiling he has carried all year.
CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE
On a per-play basis, the Denver pass defense has been slightly above-average — and with their pass rush coming on lately (third in adjusted sack rate), they have managed to hold the Chiefs (27 points) and the Rams (23 points) well below their season averages across the last four weeks. Both of those games were at home, however — and 27 points from the Chiefs would still be a solid day. It’s safe to add an extra touchdown to projections for Kansas City with this game moving to Arrowhead, creating opportunity for yet another four touchdown spot for this offense.
While the Broncos have actually been “borderline good” against the pass for the most part, it is the long play that has crushed them this season. In the last meeting between these teams (with Sammy Watkins leaving early in the game), Denver sold out to slow down Tyreek Hill, but this started a new trend in this offense — in which Hill gets targeted more when things fail to hit early. Hill tied a career high with 13 targets in Denver, and he has since followed up that game with 12 targets against the Patriots and 10 targets against the Bengals. Hill is getting short looks and deep looks, and his volume is higher than it has ever been — so while he still carries a lower floor than any other wide receiver priced in his range, this floor is no longer back-breaking, and his ceiling remains as high as any player on the slate.
Watkins continues to see reliable usage in this offense, with target counts of 7 // 8 // 8 // 4 // 7 in his last five healthy games, backed by an all-over-the-place route tree that changes from matchup to matchup. Sometimes he is featured on short stuff; sometimes he is used downfield. It is worth noting that when Watkins left in the first half the last time these teams met, Hill assumed a much heavier short-area role than normal — suggesting this was how Andy Reid planned to use Watkins in that spot.
Chris Conley will primarily contend with Chris Harris in the slot, creating a lower-than-normal floor. Conley’s red zone role impacts DFS more for the way he vultures scores from the superstars on this team than for the way he becomes a usable piece himself.
With so many mouths to feed in this offense, Travis Kelce has seen unpredictable workloads, with bounce-around target counts on the year of 6 // 10 // 10 // 12 // 8 // 9 // 5. When these teams last met, the Chiefs forced the issue with Kelce, feeding him 12 targets — though with Watkins on the field this week, nine to 10 looks is a more comfortable projection. The Broncos are a middling tight end matchup, with the 11th most yards allowed to the position. This spot neither raises nor lowers expectations on Kelce.
CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE
The Broncos have been most attackable on the ground, ranking 27th in adjusted line yards and 31st in yards allowed per carry, while facing the fifth most rush attempts in the league. Only the Cardinals have allowed more rushing yards (one more rushing yard allowed, on 42 more carries), and only the Browns and Cardinals have allowed more rushing yards to running backs. On average, the Broncos have faced 24.9 running back rush attempts per game (top five in the league), while Kareem Hunt has 84.9% of the Chiefs’ rush attempts on the year — putting him in line for a 20-carry game against a team allowing over five yards per carry. Hunt has also seen a rise in schemed usage in the pass game of late, with recent target counts of 4 // 2 // 6 // 6. He ranks third in the NFL in touches in the red zone, and he ranks third in the NFL in touches inside the 10.
The running backs in particular stand out to me in this game, with Lindsay and Hunt both looking like top plays on this slate. Each guy should see plenty of work on the ground with a small number of reliable targets mixed in — and each guy will also be a premium piece in scoring position. (Royce Freeman will be leaving behind three carries inside the five-yard-line — one more than Lindsay has on the year.)
Sanders is my favorite wide receiver in this game — with strong floor and solid ceiling — and I also like all of Hill, Watkins, and Kelce for their upside. I see all three of these pieces on the Chiefs as properly priced on all three sites, with the only potential “underpriced” case belonging to Hill on FanDuel, where five guys are priced above him. As noted above: Hill still has a lower floor than the other guys in his range; but given that he can post the highest score on the slate on any given week, he’s interesting in tourneys at a discount. Hill is likelier to hit in a true shootout, but he is capable of hitting in literally any spot.
I also see Patrick Mahomes as appropriately priced, against a Broncos team that has allowed the sixth fewest fantasy points per game to the position. No matchup scares me for Mahomes, but the Broncos are so easy to run on (especially close to the end zone), it becomes more difficult for quarterbacks to post monster games against them. Mahomes is not a guy I’ll pay up for in cash (again: I always expect a strong game from him — but the likeliest scenario this week is that we can match or even exceed his score for a lower price), but he does carry tourney-winning upside every time he steps onto the field.
Finally: I’m not on Sutton this week. So…yeah. Maybe this is the week he smashes.
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