The 2014 season for the Kansas City Chiefs has a lot of perplexing statistics. The offense was 16th in points scored, even though they only turned the ball over 17 times. The defense allowed the second-fewest points in the league, but they were 30th in turnovers with just 14 and had one of the league’s worst yards allowed per carry marks in the NFL. The Chiefs had a terrible passing offense, but a tremendous pass defense. It was a strange season for Kansas City en route to a 9-7 record.
The Chiefs started 0-2 with losses to the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos. They were 9-5 after that point, even though no wide receivers caught a touchdown pass. Travis Kelce, Anthony Fasano, and a collection of running backs caught touchdown passes, but it was a bad year to be a wide receiver for the Chiefs. Between Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, the Chiefs had a very formidable backfield and they used it extensively.
Alex Smith defined the term “game manager” with his performance last season. Smith completed 65 percent of his tosses with an 18/6 TD/INT ratio. The Chiefs were 28th in attempts, 29th in yardage, 27th in passing touchdowns, and threw the fewest interceptions in the league. It’s very interesting to see a team that was +72 in point differential outgained by 188 yards because opponents ran 62 more plays.
It also makes the Chiefs a hard team to gauge for the upcoming season. Is the defensive performance sustainable given some of the stats? Will the offense improve? Is a team built like this good enough to win enough games to go over the total? There are a lot of tough questions with the Chiefs for this season. It was also a quiet offseason that shed very little light on what to expect. The Chiefs picked up three pieces to fill needs with safety Tyvon Branch, guard Paul Fanaika, and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Maclin will replace Dwayne Bowe and the Chiefs needed to fill a hole on the offensive line with Rodney Hudson inking a deal with division rival Oakland.
Andy Reid is definitely a good coach, as everybody knows. If he can continue to maximize the talent that he has, the Chiefs can record their third straight winning season. If he can’t, the Chiefs have the potential to be a 7-9 type of team. It’s a hard position to be in and a hard team to handicap.
The Chiefs were actually a 7-3 team after beating the Seattle Seahawks. Their loss at Oakland that gave the Raiders their first win sent the team into a downward spiral with four losses over their final six games and they missed the postseason as a result. They scored more than 20 points just once in that span. Was that a sign of things to come?
Oddsmakers at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas opened the Kansas City Chiefs win total at 8.5.
|3||@ Green Bay (Mon)||+5.5|
|11||@ San Diego||+2.5|
Unlike last season, where the Chiefs started 7-3 and then fell apart, the schedule sets up the opposite way. In the eight games before the bye, the Chiefs are an underdog in six of them. It is certainly a tough start to the season with three road games in four weeks against quality opponents. Also, the Chiefs lose a home date by going to London, which is a big deal because Arrowhead Stadium has one of the few true home field advantages left in the NFL.
The back end of the schedule lightens up a bit with Oakland twice, Cleveland at home, and a decent chance at beating Buffalo and San Diego at home. If the Chiefs can navigate the first part of their schedule, they’ll be in good shape. If they can’t, they will need some help from the other teams in the playoff race to get back into the hunt. That adds another wrinkle to this win total because the Chiefs could fold the tent with a 2-6 or 3-5 start.
Why bet the over?
If there’s one thing that can be said about Alex Smith, it’s that he doesn’t turn the ball over. Over his last 1,635 pass attempts, Smith has thrown 23 interceptions. That is a tremendous ratio. He completed 65.3 percent of his passes after completing 60.6 percent in 2013. He also posted a slightly higher yards per attempt ratio than the previous season. Ultimately, Smith is your prototypical game manager and that can win games with a good running attack and a quality defense. The Chiefs have both of those things.
The good running attack is what separates the Chiefs from a lot of other teams. We may start to see a shift to more rushing as guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady wind down their careers. So many college offenses are tuned towards running the spread offense and that requires tempo and a running game. Jamaal Charles ripped off five yards per carry and added nine touchdowns. Knile Davis only ran for 3.5 yards per carry, but he had six rushing touchdowns. De’Anthony Thomas didn’t get a lot of reps in his rookie season, but he did average 7.2 yards per touch, including 8.1 yards per carry on his 14 carries. He could see an increased role in the offense in the role that Dexter McCluster used to play for the Chiefs.
A Chiefs wide receiver will catch a touchdown pass this season. The most likely candidate is Jeremy Maclin. Dwayne Bowe is gone, taking 60 receptions with him to the Cleveland Browns, but Travis Kelce, the team’s leading receiver in 2014, remains. Alex Smith doesn’t have a big arm, so stretching the field is not a major concern for the Chiefs. What they are doing is working. It could be argued that a deep threat might enhance the offense, but the whole scheme from Andy Reid is risk-averse and there’s not a lot of risk in how the offense moves the ball.
Defensively, Justin Houston had an enormous season for the Chiefs with 22 sacks. Kansas City had 46 sacks total on the season, which was good, because they didn’t generate many negative plays otherwise. They only grabbed six interceptions and gave up 4.7 yards per carry. There could be some positive regression in their rush defense numbers. It’s fair to assume that the Chiefs will force more turnovers as well, just because 14 is such a low number for a defense with some talent. The addition of first-rounder Marcus Peters, described by some as the best corner in the draft, should help.
Why bet the under?
The Chiefs, as mentioned, are a perplexing team. They finished 16th in points scored and 25th in yardage gained even though they had the eighth-best starting field position. Jamaal Charles is the heartbeat of this offense, so the Chiefs are definitely reliant on his health. If Alex Smith has to go out and win games, it’s probably not going to happen. In fairness, Smith did have three fourth quarter comeback wins, so maybe that’s a little bit disingenuous, but it’s hard to see a guy like Smith making that a regular thing. He did it in 2011 as an anomaly. He had one fourth quarter comeback during his 11-4 regular season in 2013.
Along with a good running game, the Chiefs need their offensive line to stay in tact. They found a gem in sixth-rounder Zach Fulton, who started all 16 games at right guard. Three of the Chiefs’ starters on the offensive line started all 16 games. The others started 15 games and 13 games. The offensive line did allow 49 sacks, so it’s clear that they are a better run-blocking group. That’s another reason why it’s so important for the Chiefs to not turn the ball over or fall too far behind.
Good health was on Kansas City’s side defensively as well. Their top seven tackles started 15 or more games and Dontari Poe, who was second in sacks, also started all 16 games. There’s a good bit of youth and experience here, but it’s fair to wonder about the depth for the Chiefs. The Chiefs defense was, however, on the field for an average of six plays per drive. With a lack of turnovers and a shaky run defense, can the Chiefs actually finish second in points allowed or seventh in yards allowed?
The Chiefs took a big chance on Marcus Peters. They could have gone a safer route and have gotten more help for the team at another area of need, but Bob Sutton has a new toy to play with in Peters. Peters has a history of behavioral problems, including fighting with coaches. Andy Reid won’t put up with it. It’d be a shame to waste a talented player taken at that spot, but that’s up to Peters.
Pick: Over 8.5
The Chiefs find ways to win games. Whether it’s because of Andy Reid, Alex Smith, or Jamaal Charles, they just find ways to win. The defense is solid once again and Arrowhead Stadium has one of the best remaining home field advantages in the NFL. Kansas City has a pretty friendly schedule, especially at the back end of the season. They won’t compete with Denver for the AFC West Division title, but they should be firmly entrenched in the AFC Wild Card race once again this season.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
An epic collapse in the Wild Card Round of the 2013 playoffs should lead to a highly motivated team when the Kansas City Chiefs open up their season at Arrowhead Stadium against the Titans. The legitimacy and stability brought to the organization with the hiring of Andy Reid paid immediate dividends. Reid, coupled with the acquisition of former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, orchestrated one of the most dramatic offensive turnarounds in NFL history. The Chiefs went from dead last in points scored (211) to sixth in points scored (430).
The Chiefs were rolling along through the season at 9-0 prior to their bye week. Everything was going right as the Chiefs had the offense going in the right direction and one of the league’s top defenses. Injuries dealt a big blow to the Chiefs right around the bye week and after allowing just 111 points in their first nine games, the Chiefs allowed 103 points in losses to Denver, San Diego, and Denver again. The two losses to Denver ended any hopes of winning the AFC West and the Chiefs wound up the top wild card.
One of the hallmarks of Alex Smith’s career has been taking care of the football and he did that as the Chiefs were second in turnover margin at +18. Their bend but don’t break defense was fifth in points allowed but 24th in yards allowed. Jamaal Charles became Kansas City’s LeSean McCoy under Andy Reid, racking up 1,980 yards from scrimmage. That was just 39 yards away from being three times more than any other Chiefs player. Dwayne Bowe was second with 673.
Some regression has to be coming for the Chiefs. A +18 turnover margin is unlikely to be repeated and the team benefitted from a rather weak schedule. Oddsmakers believe that regression to be coming as the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas posted a win total of 8 for the Chiefs. Bettors immediately pounced to push it up to 8.5. Sportsbook.ag opened the Chiefs win total at 8.5 with the over at even money.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|4||New England (Mon)||-1|
|5||@ San Francisco||+7|
|7||@ San Diego||+2|
|9||New York Jets||-6|
|12||@ Oakland (Thu)||-4|
The Chiefs played only four of the 10 playoff teams last season and two of them shared the same division. This season, the Chiefs play just five of the 10; however, they draw the NFC West and AFC East as non-divisional opponents. Tennessee and Pittsburgh are the other two games. Cole Ryan rates the Chiefs schedule as the seventh-toughest among the 32 teams.
Based on the spreads, it’s a very balanced schedule for the Chiefs. In the five weeks prior to the bye, the Chiefs are favored twice, an underdog twice, and a pick ‘em once. Following the bye, over the last 10 lined games, the Chiefs are favored five times and an underdog five times. In looking ahead to Week 17, depending on the situation, the Chiefs should be favored there as well.
There are a couple difficult schedule spots with a short week to prepare for the 49ers and a short week to travel to Oakland in a Thursday night game sandwiched between Seattle and Denver. There’s only one set of back-to-back games and the bye week, though early, comes at a decent time.
Why bet the over?
We saw a glimpse of what a healthy Kansas City Chiefs team can do under Andy Reid. They ran out to a 9-0 record before injuries and a step up in class derailed the season. Over the final seven games, the Chiefs faced the Broncos twice, San Diego twice, and Indianapolis. With Alex Smith managing the game and stability on the coaching staff, the Chiefs went from 211 points (13 per game) to 430 points (27 per game). That was a jump from 32nd to sixth in the rankings.
Just like he did with LeSean McCoy, Andy Reid used Jamaal Charles as a focal point of the offense. The reward was 19 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 rushing/receiving yards. Without many deep threats, the Chiefs used Charles and short throws as an extension of the running game and it worked extremely well. All in all, it was a balanced offensive attack for the Chiefs and the inclusion of DeAnthony Thomas in the fourth round could create for a very interesting offense and fill the void created by the loss of Dexter McCluster.
The defense was a strength until about midseason. Tamba Hali missed a game and was hurt. Justin Houston started 11 games before being lost to injury. Hali and Houston tied for the team lead in sacks with 11, even though Hali played four more games. The secondary, which returns in tact minus the loss of Quentin Demps, was third in opponents’ completion percentage at just below 57 percent. The defense also forced 36 turnovers. Age is also on Kansas City’s side defensively as all of last season’s defensive players were 31 years old or younger.
This was a great situation for Reid to fall into. He has the ideal quarterback for his system and has the skill players to make it work. All the Chiefs needed was stability on the sidelines and we saw what happened.
Why bet the under?
The Chiefs were +18 in turnover margin. That number will go down in all likelihood, especially because the Chiefs led the league in fumbles recovered. The most likely number for regression, however, is the team’s point differential. The Chiefs were outgained by nearly 500 yards, but were +105 in point differential. The Chiefs gave up over 20 points seven times. They lost six of those games.
Offseason losses included Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah, and Geoff Schwartz. Each of those three offensive linemen started at least seven games. Dexter McCluster was the team’s punt returner and third-leading receiver. He’s also gone. The defense lost starting safety Quintin Demps, defensive end Tyson Jackson, and starting linebacker Akeem Jordan. That’s a lot of roster turnover for an NFL offseason.
Another offseason has gone by the wayside and the Chiefs have failed to give Dwayne Bowe any help. There is no vertical threat on the Chiefs. Teams will certainly adjust to this, especially if DeAnthony Thomas can’t fill the McCluster role that keeps defenses honest.
The Chiefs step up in class this season with games against five playoff teams and the NFC West. The tricky AFC East is also included in their schedule. There are some tricky scheduling spots like a short week to prepare for San Francisco, a game at Oakland crammed between home games against Seattle and Denver, and a trip to Arizona after playing Denver.
Pick: Under 8.5 (-130)
Even though the initial move on the Chiefs was strong enough to push this line up half a win, the schedule is a bear and the threat of regression is very, very real. The Chiefs have a lot of personnel losses to endure and losses on the offensive line are always a threat. The Chiefs were 0-4 against the Broncos and Chargers last season and have eight tough games outside of the division with the NFC West and AFC East.
A lot of things went right for the Chiefs during their nine-game win streak and the tent folded quickly when things went wrong. There still have to be questions about the offense that was so centered on Jamaal Charles. Charles was responsible for nearly three times more yardage than any other skill player. It’s hard to back a team that’s so dependent on one player.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.