We enter Week 7 on the back of a great week as the Sunday column picks went 3/3 while the player props I added on my Twitter page went 7/9. We didn’t have any luck with the touchdown scorers but it was a superb week nonetheless. The Thursday games have been a bit hit or miss as you would expect but I’m confident today so let’s get to it.
The recipe for success?
The overwhelming narrative coming into this one is about how the formula for beating the Chiefs has been put out there and all the offensive coordinators around the league have to do is follow the step-by-step guide – a little man coverage here, a lot of running the ball there – as simple as baking a cake. The thing is its football not a Gino D’Acampo cooking segment on This Morning and this narrative is actually a little inaccurate and not necessarily the recipe for success.
No arguing the Houston Texans kept the ball away from Mahomes very well last week, especially in the fourth quarter as they took almost 14 minutes off the clock and gave the Chiefs no chance of coming back at the end. However, looking at the second-to-last drive the Texans had, probably the two biggest plays of that drive came through the air when quarterback Deshaun Watson found tight end Jordan Akins for a 23-yard gain after what looked like a blown assignment in the zone coverage. Then of course the pass to Fells who got brought down at the 1-yard line, setting up the go ahead touchdown. On the final drive of the game the Chiefs actually forced the Texans into a couple of 2nd-and-long situations but again the pass defense let them down. That said, the run defense is a problem that needs fixing for Kansas City (they are giving up 161.8 rushing yards per game) and one gets the feeling that they are going to just stack the box in this one and make Joe Flacco beat them through the air.
There’s a fair argument for keeping Mahomes out of this game and as a totally unbiased observer I would strongly recommend it (if you didn’t know, I’m a Broncos fan). I get the feeling my plea won’t be heard and Mahomes takes the field on Thursday night though. I’ve analysed Mahomes quite a bit this season already, including last Sunday so I don’t want to get repetitive by regurgitating all the stats that tell us how good he is, you already know how good he is.
In all seriousness I really hope Mahomes doesn’t aggravate that injury to the point where it’s detrimental to his season, everybody loses in that scenario. I thought last week was the worst I’ve seen him play in the NFL and PFF agree, he had four turnover-worthy plays including an interception (although the interception really shouldn’t have counted, he thought he had a free play due to a penalty that later got overturned) and these all came after he went over on the ankle again, he was only 3-for-8 for 36 yards when he got outside the pocket too, that ankle is clearly an issue.
The plight for Mahomes and the Chiefs becomes even more precarious when you look at the injury report and see they are missing their blind side protection in left tackle Eric Fisher and left guard Andrew Wylie whilst they are also without Sammy Watkins, Chris Jones and Kendall Fuller. The Denver pass rush is starting to heat up, coming off a seven sack game against the Titans and if Mahomes hasn’t got the mobility to scramble Von Miller and co can definitely put the Texas Tech man on the ground and keep this one close for a while.
Whether Denver can keep Mahomes and co. down for the full game I have reservations about. The Chiefs are just so explosive on offense, Mahomes has attempted the most deep passes (20-plus yards) in the league with 39 and he just got his biggest deep threat back in Tyreek Hill. Hill made his return from injury last week and didn’t miss a beat as he caught five passes for 80 yards and two TDs including a 46-yard bomb on a free play earning him a team-best PFF grade of 91.7 which is the second-best of his career. Last week also marked the sixth time Hill has had two TDs in a game, that’s the most of anybody in the NFL since 2017. It’s likely he sees a lot of Chris Harris in this one though, who held Keenan Allen to 18 yards just a couple of weeks ago and is one of the best CBs in the league.
I think the other Chiefs receivers are the way forward here, according to NextGen Stats no receiver in the league is averaging more separation than Mecole Hardman (4.5 yards of separation) and despite being labelled as a speed merchant and vertical threat he has actually garnered seven red zone targets, that’s second on the team behind TE Travis Kelce (eight) and top 20 in the league among WRs and TEs. Speaking of Kelce, you get the feeling he is due for a huge game soon; he only has one TD this season and has only caught four passes in each of his last two games. They also have Demarcus Robinson, although he hasn’t been as effective since his 172 yard and two TD game against the Raiders but he leads every receiver bar one in average intended air yards with 17.3 according to NextGen Stats. And that’s without even mentioning the injured Sammy Watkins. Loaded.
Denver has pieces too
The Broncos aren’t as bad as some people seem to think. In fact, the young core of the offense – Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman – all rank in the top seven individually in yards from scrimmage among second-year players. Courtland Sutton is turning into one of the better receivers in the league, he is ninth in receiving yards through the first six weeks with 477 yards and three touchdowns to boot, and he’s third in the league among receivers in red zone targets with nine. PFF have Sutton ranked as one of the top 10 receivers in the league (among those who have played 50% of snaps) according to their receiving grades (81.1).
Phillip Lindsay is picking up where he left off last year with 397 rushing yards (12th in the league) and four scores through the first six weeks whilst sharing the load with Royce Freeman. He’s also added 147 yards through the air. PFF have Lindsay ranked behind only Josh Jacobs in rushing grade among RBs who have played 50% of snaps through the first six weeks whilst he’s eighth in the league in yards per attempt (5.8) by that same criteria. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello seems to like Royce Freeman as he continues to heavily eat into Lindsay’s workload despite the offense looking better with Lindsay in the backfield. Freeman isn’t a bad player, he has 284 yards on 66 carries (4.3 YPA) with a further 145 yards through the air, the offense just seems to have a better flow with Lindsay in the game, to the eye at least.
I worry about the secondary here for Denver. Where the Broncos may have trouble is the other cornerback spot opposite Chris Harris with Bryce Callahan still missing Duke Dawson and De’Vante Bausby have been getting the reps opposite Harris. Dawson missed last week with a foot injury, Bausby went down with a neck injury in the game and has now been ruled out for the season. This leaves Isaac Yiadom who is absolutely awful (he’s been benched twice this season despite all the injuries) and Davontae Harris, who was a fifth-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018. Harris got his first start last week against the Titans and actually performed pretty well. He gave up the odd completion and had a pass interference call against him but it wasn’t bad for his first start. I’m going to reserve any praise until he plays someone that’s not Marcus Mariota though.
So what’s the betting?
I can see why the money has come in for Denver with both teams having contrasting fortunes over the last couple of weeks. I could definitely make a case for them here but I just think everything has to go perfectly. It may be the cynic in me but I’m reluctant to say Denver are back after games against a decimated Chargers team and the Titans who ended up benching Mariota he was that bad. Chiefs -3 could be a gift of a line. Don’t be surprised if the Broncos get to Mahomes a couple of times early but I just don’t think they’ll be able to keep them from eventually finding a rhythm and getting a few scores. And when that inevitably happens, I don’t think the offense for Denver can score enough. Last week, they punted on eight of their 14 possessions and converted just two of 14 third downs that spells disaster against KC.
I touched on the issues in the secondary for the Broncos and for that reason I’ll be all over the Mecole Hardman lines. He has seen at least four targets in every game since week two, catching all four last week for 45 yards and his line this week is set at 32.5 (Bet365) whilst you can get 4/1 on him scoring a TD (Betfair). I’ve got to back Courtland Sutton to score too, this Chiefs secondary without Fuller is a great spot for him.
Mecole Hardman over 32.5 rec yards (1.83 Bet365) & to score a TD (4/1 Betfair)
Courtland Sutton to score a TD (6/4 Bet365)
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