The 3-3 Kansas City Chiefs go on the road to face a potential playoff opponent in a game that could decide the playoff home team. To say this game has more meaning than your typical Week 7 matchup is an understatement. In their first game without second-year starting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire, the Chiefs passed the ball at a 64% situation-neutral clip, right in line with their 62% marks over the course of the first six weeks. Darel Williams filled in as the primary ball-carrier and saw a massive 25 running back opportunities en route to almost 24 fantasy points. BUT (yup, here’s the “but”) he did so on the backs of two short touchdown plunges (three and one-yard scores) and a putrid 3.0 yards per carry. Don’t be fooled into thinking he will somehow evolve into the primary focus of this offense. That honor rests squarely on the shoulders of Patrick Mahomes. Since the rush-to-pass ratios have remained fairly consistent for the Chiefs this season, the biggest influence on expected volume for each lands on the total number of offensive plays the Chiefs run from scrimmage. And since they boast the most efficient offense in the league, capable of scoring fast and sustaining drives, the most impactful metric to their total offensive plays run from scrimmage in games has been how quickly their opponents can score. This is an important idea when considering the various ways this game can play out (which we will get into more below!).
As alluded to earlier, we should expect Darel Williams to act as the primary ball-carrier, with Jerick McKinnon spelling him in a change of pace and third-down role. McKinnon has seen snap rates of 31% and 28% the previous two weeks (the week CEH got hurt and the week after he was placed on IR), which is a solid projection for Week 7. In those two games, he saw opportunity totals of three and seven. There is nothing in the metrics that hint at an expanded role here, leaving him out of consideration for fantasy purposes. Darel Williams’ volume should then be considered a direct result of the number of offensive plays run from scrimmage by the Chiefs as their week-to-week rush-pass rates have remained fairly sticky.
Similar to the expected volume of the running backs, Patrick Mahomes’ pass volume is highly reliant on the total number of offensive plays the Chiefs are able to run (more so than game environment). Since that volume relies so heavily on how quickly opponents are able to score on the Chiefs (because the Chiefs rank dead last in the NFL in defensive drive metrics like yards allowed per drive and drive success rate allowed), paired with the fact that the Titans offense is so heavily built around the run, and their running back is capable of breaking off chunk gains on every touch, and we start to see a clearer picture regarding how the optimal way to approach this game. Tyreek Hill has seen 12 or more targets in three consecutive weeks, while Travis Kelce has seen double-digit looks in three of the last four contests. These two represent 50.5% of the team’s target market share to date, highlighting just how involved they are on a weekly basis. Behind Hill and Kelce, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman each typically play between 60% and 80% of the offensive snaps and should be considered high ceiling, low floor plays. Byron Pringle has not seen a substantial boost to snap rate this season as many thought he might and should be reserved for deep MME play.
5.2. That’s the yards allowed per rush from the Kansas City defense this season. Browns, Ravens, Chargers, Eagles, Bills, and the Football Team. Those have been their opponents. Those teams rank second, 24th, 15th, 21st, eighth, and 18th in adjusted line yards on offense this year, indicating that the poor yards allowed per rush from the Kansas City defense are not simply a factor of teams they have played to this point. Tennessee holds the league’s sixth highest situation-neutral rush rate through six weeks, a year after finishing third highest. The Titans have a running back named Derrick Henry who leads the league in rushing, after leading the league each of the last two years. It is no secret how the Titans will attempt to win this game, the only question becomes how deep into it they’ll be able to stick to that plan of attack considering their own shortcomings on defense (27th in DVOA against the pass does not bode well against the Cheifs).
The matchup on the ground yields an elite 4.66 net-adjusted line yards metric but the Titans are likely to be without perennial All-Pro Tackle Taylor Lewan after he was carted off the field in Week 6 with a scary-looking head injury that was ultimately deemed a concussion. We all know the drill by now – Derrick Henry, by the numbers, gets better as the game progresses. This should primarily be attributed to the beating he inflicts on opposing defenses over four grueling quarters of play. I would say the injury to Anthony Hitchens is a big deal for the Chiefs, but that simply isn’t the case. Hitchens is one of PFF’s worst-graded linebackers in the league this season.
Although not typically thought of as the main cog of the offense, the pass game could see a boost to volume depending on game script. Furthering the intrigue are the multitude of injuries to the primary pass-catchers. AJ Brown has yet to practice this week (as of Thursday) with the stomach troubles associated with food poisoning while Julio Jones returned to a limited practice on Thursday following a missed practice on Wednesday with a hamstring injury. Keep an eye on the statuses of both heading into the weekend, as an absence from either would both narrow down the expected target distribution as well as vault Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and Marcus Johnson into prominent roles. Behind those four, expect Chester Rogers to operate as wide receiver depth assuming Josh Reynolds, who was inactive via coaching decision on Monday Night Football this past week, is once again held out. Rogers has also yet to practice this week but his absence would be nearly inconsequential with Marcus Johnson now healthy. The 18% tight end target rate falls just below league average but has led to a season-high of only five targets to any one of Anthony Firkser, Geoff Swaim, and MyCole Pruitt.
There is a wide range of potential outcomes with respect to likeliest game flow here, leading to a situation that is best attacked by singling out various game scenarios on different rosters. For the primary fantasy players, those potential game environments don’t alter the low end of their respective range of outcomes (floor), instead extending or contracting the theoretical ceiling. As in, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce can each be counted on for a couple of the highest floors on the week, but their ceiling greatly depends on the potential for expanded volume (a shootout or playing from behind). Similarly, Derrick Henry and his heavy volume are nearly locked in but his ceiling depends greatly on touchdowns, which would have a large effect on the expected game environment. Secondary members of each team should be reserved for game stacks as each typically does not see the requisite volume in order to provide solid price-considered returns.