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First and Goal: Charles Jay on Pro Football
“And guess what, folks? They get to do it all over again, two weeks from now!”
Wouldn’t you like to have heard that from NBC’s Al Michaels at the conclusion of last Sunday night’s game? Wouldn’t it have felt great if there was some real football “hangover” on Monday morning, because you were thrilled and couldn’t wait for the rematch on December 1?
Well, life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to. The fact is, the showdown in the AFC West between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos proved to be a little anti-climactic. Not that it was a blowout, but it was not necessarily a game where it looked like the Broncos faced much impending danger after getting off to a 10-0 lead.
Are the Chiefs a legitimate threat to win a Super Bowl? To even get there?
Right now the customers at BetOnline can bet on the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl at odds of +1800. Denver is the favorite in NFL futures at +250. In less than two weeks, when these clubs meet up at Arrowhead, you are probably going to see the Broncos as a two or three-point favorite in the pro football lines, depending on what happens during the week in between. The Broncos have to go to New England, where BetOnline has them listed as a 2.5-point favorite, while the Chiefs play host to San Diego and will lay five points in the NFL odds.
There are a lot of interesting things you can come across when you handicap a football game. But for this author, one of the shocking facts when looking at the Chiefs was that even with their 9-0 record, they had been outgained up to that point. That’s right…..OUTGAINED, to the tune of three-tenths of a yard per play and about nine yards per game. How in the world does that happen for a team that is unbeaten through nine games?
Well last week we explained to you that the Chiefs established, on average, the best field position in the league for itself, whether that was on offense or defense, and that they had made a habit of cutting down turnovers. Those are some things that are going to help any team win games.
But that was hardly a satisfactory explanation for us, from a handicapping perspective. To be outgained by the opposition over the course of a streak of nine straight wins is astounding, especially when you consider that the Chiefs had faced four teams that were starting a backup quarterback (Buffalo, Cleveland, Tennessee, Houston), PLUS novice signal-caller Terrelle Pryor of Oakland AND the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have been at high-school level most of the year on offense.
When you examine things on that basis, you had to come to the conclusion that the Chiefs have an inadequate offense, and that whatever opponent they were facing had to make some fatal mistakes on offense, or at least miss connections badly. When the opponent is unlikely to do that, they would have to go on a search for every mirror in the building.
Well, they didn’t get a chance to do it with mirrors. The Broncos were not flawless by any means, but they came into the game with a quarterback (Peyton Manning) who had been productive (33 TD’s) and had been intercepted only six times. He had a 71% completion rate, which means he stood a pretty good chance of keeping the chains moving.
The Kansas City defense had played well enough against teams like Philadelphia and Dallas, who were close to full strength, that it didn’t look like they were going to embarrass themselves on that end. But when you can’t outgain some feeble offensive teams, you are going to face some grave difficulties when you face quality. This game had “under” written all over it, but it also spelled out some fundamental edges on the part of the Broncos.
The way it played out, Denver was not nearly as mediocre as they needed to be for the Chiefs to have a chance at the straight-up win. Kansas City came in with 36 sacks and not only didn’t sack Manning, they didn’t even hit him. Denver had the 427-344 edge in total yards, but 94 of those Kansas City yards came after the outcome was more or less decided. Alex Smith was not his accurate self, hitting just 21 of 45 passes, and his yards-per-pass was below his season average, which was already low.
Kansas City, which was +15 in turnover ratio, got no advantage in that regard (each team had one apiece). The Broncos didn’t have to hold the Chiefs too far below its 4.8 yards per play, or come close to their 49.5% third down conversion (they had 37.5%) in order to seize control. The Broncos scored in the red zone, while the Chiefs didn’t.
Even in front of their home crowd, I’m not so sure the Chiefs can play better. But the Broncos can. That’s why I’m not sure there is going to be much of a different result.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs – as we mentioned a five-point favorite at BetOnline over San Diego – have to deal with Philip Rivers, who, like Manning, goes into a game against Kansas City as a 71% passer, 8.3 yards an attempt, and a 104.4 rating. In other words, he is efficient. And the Chargers have turned the ball over just ten times in ten games, so Kansas City may not get many cheap opportunities.
Manning takes his act to Foxborough, and I guess it is worthwhile knowing that Tom Brady is 9-4 lifetime against him, including playoff games. But the statistical advantages are overwhelmingly in favor of Manning this year. He is now just a shade below 70%, while Brady is at just 58.7%; he has thrown for TWO more yards per attempt, and he has 34 touchdown passes compared to just 14 for Brady. Believe me, New England was hoping for a lot more out of its quarterback.
Let’s see if the Chiefs and Broncos can remain atop the AFC West when they meet up again.
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