CHIEFS // BRONCOS OVERVIEW
As artificial intelligence takes over more and more of the world, I’d say my job remains fairly secure, as there is so much nuance and unique craft to each individual week of a football season — with innumerable human elements that only a human brain can truly project and account for. But at this point, I probably could replace my writeup of the Chiefs’ offense with a robot.
Copy. Paste. Roster. Repeat.
CHIEFS PASS OFFENSE
We haven’t seen anything like this before. That sounds like hyperbole, but it is backed up by Patrick Mahomes having thrown, literally, the most touchdown passes any quarterback in the history of this sport has thrown through the first three games of a season.
We haven’t seen anything like this before.
With so many unique elements capable of straining a defense in so many unique ways — and with a brilliant offensive mind in Andy Reid putting these pieces together — it’s honestly a shame that this team’s defense is so bad. Not a shame from a DFS perspective, of course, as this is an extremely fun element to account for on each slate (similar to the “jam ’em in” problem that arose in 2016 with DJ and Le’Veon), but a shame from a historical perspective, as the Chiefs deserve a better shot at a championship than this offense will have as they try to drag this defense to the finish line.
I can’t even guess the last time we saw a team projected by Vegas for over 30 points at Denver, but here we are.
The Broncos enter this game ranking 19th in DVOA against the pass and fifth against the run, which sets up nicely for this team through the air.
While Tyreek Hill has played the role of the track star so far for this offense — being targeted almost exclusively downfield — Sammy Watkins has seen variable usage, working the short areas of the field two weeks ago against the Steelers, and working deep last week vs San Francisco. The sample size is too small, with only two games — and Andy Reid’s complexity of strategic thinking is too layered — for us to safely draw conclusions just yet on how we can project Watkins’ usage to shake out from one week to the next; but we do know the Chiefs are wanting to keep him involved. He has ascending target counts of five, seven, and eight to begin the year, and he is regularly being featured as the first read. The Chiefs will find a way this week to work Watkins into favorable matchups throughout the game.
Hill showed his prophesied floor last week, but let’s not forget the ceiling he showed us the first two weeks of the season. Analysis grows thin here, as this is a guy who posted a 7-169-2 line on only eight targets in Week 1, and who face-planted for a 2-51-0 line on five targets last week. We are going to see five to eight targets almost every week for Hill, making him dangerous at his elevated price tag; but five catches can be enough for Hill to post the highest score on the slate. He enters every week right now with the broadest range of outcomes of any player on the slate — all the way from week-winning to crush-your-roster. By Football Outsiders’ metrics, no team has been worse over the deep middle than the Broncos to begin the year, so this elevates Hill’s chances of landing a haymaker — but the low-targets remain an issue.
Chris Conley is involved each week with two or three underneath, lower-upside targets of his own, but this pass attack truly wraps up with Travis Kelce, who has put his 1-6-0 Week 1 dud behind him with back-to-back 10-target games. Even in that Week 1 game, Kelce saw six targets, and he should be considered the highest floor/ceiling combo player in this passing attack at the moment.
CHIEFS RUN OFFENSE
Kareem Hunt posted a fine line last weekend with his two-touchdown game, but he once again saw only one target — bringing his total on the year to three. It should go without saying that this is extremely concerning usage for a player who works best in space. With carry counts to begin the year of 16 // 18 // 18, we need to view Hunt right now in the way we would view a secure-usage two-down back. As noted last week: there is a chance one of these weeks that Hunt is proactively schemed some targets — either because of something Reid sees in a matchup or because of a “squeaky wheel” treatment — but we need to consider those to be outlier weeks at the moment.
As a yardage- and touchdown-dependent back, it’s noteworthy that Denver ranks fifth in DVOA against the run and second in yards allowed per carry. Hunt will need a spike in passing work or another couple touchdowns from close to the end zone in order to make a big dent this week.
BRONCOS PASS OFFENSE
Case Keenum has failed to throw a touchdown in back-to-back games, and he now has three touchdown passes to five interceptions on the year. This is a good reminder that Keenum was a career backup and journeyman before being transformed last year on a Vikings team that had a lot going for it. Keenum will have some blowup games, but he’ll also have some rough patches this year for John Elway’s Broncos.
The Broncos will almost certainly open this game with a run-heavy approach against the Chiefs’ 30th-ranked run defense (DVOA), in an effort to keep the dynamite KC offense on the sidelines. Once the Chiefs leap out to a lead, however, the Broncos will be forced to open up their offense, which should lead to a comfortable 35 to 38 pass attempts. The Chiefs have been scoring so quickly this year, they have ended up allowing the third-most opponent plays per game, so there is also upside for Keenum to creep above 40 pass attempts for the first time this year.
Emmanuel Sanders has backtracked a bit after his stratospheric opening weekend, hauling in nine of 12 targets for 134 scoreless yards across Weeks 2 and 3. Targets are really the big thing here, however, as his 10-135-1 line on 11 Week 1 targets compares nicely with the combined line he put up in Weeks 2 and 3. If Manny sees 10+ targets again in this spot, he should post one of the stronger stat lines on the weekend. Double-digit targets appear to be a safe bet in this game, with the Chiefs likely to put up points when they have the ball.
While Sanders has seen 12 targets the last two weeks, Demaryius Thomas has seen 16 looks — posting a disappointing 10-81-0 line across those targets. He is now sitting at only 144 yards on 26 targets — for an ugly 5.5 yards per target on the year.
Waving at offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave in the background is Courtland Sutton, who continues to show monster upside on his catches — with an average yards per catch of 18.2, ranking 13th in the NFL. At this point, it needs to be acknowledged that Keenum cannot be relied on to consistently involve a downfield threat — but if there were a spot for Sutton to burst into the public consciousness, this would be it. No team has allowed more pass plays of 20+ yards than the Chiefs, and Sutton’s aDOT of 13.1 is providing the work that can take advantage in this spot. Sutton quietly has over 20% of the Broncos’ air yards on the year, and he’s an obvious upside piece on the Showdown slate.
Behind these three, the Broncos are involving spare parts Jake Butt and Jeff Heuerman at tight end. Neither guy is seeing consistent or high-upside usage. Each would need a broken play or a touchdown to be worth a roster spot.
BRONCOS RUN OFFENSE
High-octane rookie Phillip Lindsay was ejected last week for throwing a punch, and in his absence Royce Freeman posted a respectable 4.1 yards per carry against a tough Ravens defense, though his pass role remained almost nonexistent, with only one target — bringing his total on the year to two. Freeman has maxed out at 15 carries and is in the Kareem Hunt class of “guys who need a touchdown in order to pay off,” with such a limited pass role. Hunt, of course, has the advantage of locked-in work, whereas Freeman will go back to splitting snaps with Lindsay.
Lindsay has also seen limited pass game work with only six targets, but he’s the likelier back to take on heavy snaps if the Broncos fall behind, as he is more versatile than his counterpart. Something like 10 to 12 carries and two to four catches is a reasonable projection here.
If you wanted to dig into deep long-shot plays: Devontae Booker saw seven targets last week in Lindsay’s absence, and he would be the likeliest guy to see added snaps if the Broncos shake things up in catch-up mode. Obviously, this backfield is a mess on the main slate, but you could possibly make a case for going here on the Showdown.
Mahomes // Kelce // Watkins // Hill // Hunt for safety on the Chiefs.
Mahomes // Hill // Kelce // Watkins // Hunt for upside on the Chiefs.
That’s about the way things are going to shake out most weeks for now on this offense. It is worth noting that all five of these guys have clear 20-point potential on any given week — so don’t assume that a position at the end of that “upside” list means “no upside.” There is upside across this entire offense each week. On the main slate, Mahomes and Kelce would leap to the top tier at their respective positions, while Hill and Watkins would be tourney plays for me. All five guys can be considered on the Showdown.
Last week, I had 100% of my money on a single roster — without any additional large-field shots taken. On a week like that, I probably wouldn’t play anyone from this Broncos team, though Sanders would obviously deserve strong consideration. On the Showdown slate, I slot Sanders in between Kelce and Watkins for safety, and I probably position Sanders right next to Kelce for ceiling. Keenum is holding this offense back, but Sanders’ upside is evident if the targets are there.
Obviously, Sutton would be my other guy on the Showdown slate. I don’t typically play the one-game “slates,” as that’s not my play style; but perhaps I’ll play this week, simply in order to have a roster that bets on the Sutton explosion.
Elsewhere on this team, it’s tough to have a ton of interest. The split backfield is unappealing on the large slates that include this game, and while each of Royce and Lindsay (and possibly even Booker) need to be considered for tourneys on the Showdown, none of them are “best plays.” The same goes for Demaryius Thomas, who looks washed. He can obviously hit in this cake matchup; but his chances are lower right now than Sanders and even Sutton.