Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs: Matchups, prediction in prime-time AFC West showdown

The Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs game is one of the best on the Week 13 slate from a playoff-implication perspective. Can Denver win?

The Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs divisional matchup on Sunday is one of the more confusing games on the Week 13 slate. Denver has rattled off three wins in their last four, beating three current playoff teams along the way. The Chiefs have improved drastically on defense, and they still have Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce on offense.

This should be fun!

Denver Broncos Offense vs. Kansas City Chiefs defense

Advanced analytics like expected points added per play (EPA) and Football Outsiders’ DVOA look kindly upon the Broncos offense, but they rank 21st in overall success rate. They’re 18th in yards per play overall, ranking 11th in rushing yards per play and 17th in passing yards per play. Also, Denver’s 20.7 points per game rank 21st in the NFL.

That is probably where the perception is on this offense. They’ve performed terribly in the red zone and in goal-to-go situations, ranking 26th and 29th, respectively. So, they’re an offense that moves the ball decently but can struggle to score when it counts.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs defense has spun 180 degrees. In Weeks 1-6, they ranked 31st in EPA/play. They were horrid. But since Week 7, they rank 11th in EPA/play against and ninth in success rate.

Teddy Bridgewater vs. Chiefs defense

Teddy Bridgewater has produced well as a Bronco thus far, but his skill set overall will not necessarily terrify the Chiefs defense. He’s not particularly creative out of structure, nor does he have a particularly plus arm or the athleticism to scramble.

Bridgewater should be the first name we discuss when the term “system quarterback” is brought up. That’s not an inherent knock on him as a player. He can be successful if put into a decent situation. The Broncos have great weapons, and he’s delivering.

Given the recent performance of Kansas City’s defense, they probably don’t feel much pressure facing Bridgewater as an individual. Steve Spagnuolo has these young men flying around right now.

Advantage: Chiefs

Broncos skill-position players vs. Chiefs secondary

The Broncos made some surprising moves over the past few weeks, extending both Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton to long-term deals, ensuring they have a foursome of formidable receivers for the foreseeable future. They also have one of the more athletic tight ends in the league in Noah Fant and a great second option in Albert Okwuegbunam.

The Chiefs have Tyrann Mathieu, Juan Thornhill, L’Jarius Sneed, and Charvarius Ward. Making the switch from Daniel Sorensen to Thornhill occurred right around the time of their defensive resurgence.

Ward and Sneed are playing better than they did to start the season, but Kansas City’s linebackers do not necessarily cover well, which could be where the significant advantage is for Denver.

Advantage: Broncos

Broncos offensive line vs. Chiefs defensive front

The trenches are where things get tricky. Garett Bolles came off the reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday, but he was already dealing with an injury before that, making things more difficult to project. He’s also not playing at the same level he did a year ago.

Additionally, the rest of Denver’s line is suffering from some sort of ailment, and they’ve already been down a right tackle from the get-go.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs remain healthy on the defensive side of the ball. Chris Jones has returned to greatness, and they’re receiving contributions from Frank Clark and Melvin Ingram.

Advantage: Chiefs

Kansas City Chiefs offense vs. Denver Broncos defense

Even though we may look at 2021 as being a down season for the Chiefs offensively, they’re still so good that they rank third in the league in EPA/play and second in success rate. Kansas City is lower in DVOA (ninth), but this is still one of the best offenses in football.

Meanwhile, the Broncos currently sit as the ninth-best defense in the league from an EPA/play perspective, but only 24th in DVOA. When the advanced efficiency metrics tell us different stories, we must dive deeper to find the truth. No singular stat alone tells a story. It’s why things like EPA and DVOA, metrics that bring together a plethora of data, are such strong benchmarks.

Denver ranks 16th in yards allowed per play. They are 21st in rushing yards allowed per play and 13th in passing yards allowed per play. The Broncos intercept passes at the 12th-highest rate in the league, and they sack the quarterback at the eighth-highest rate. They rank 28th on third down but are stingy in the red zone (10th). Denver gives up 17.9 points per game, which ranks third in the NFL. But more importantly, they rank fourth in points allowed per drive.

So, my final assumption (because 2021 has taught us that nobody knows anything about the NFL) is that the Denver defense is, in fact, pretty good.

Patrick Mahomes vs. Broncos defense

I’ve talked about this ad nauseam, but there are a few quarterbacks whose mere presence gives them an advantage over defenses. Mahomes’ ability to create paired with his freakishly effortless arm allows him to stress defenses in a way no other NFL quarterback can.

Nonetheless, it’s the way he sees things within the confines of structure (and when things break down) that makes him such a cheat code. Denver has a stable of good defensive backs on the roster, they get to quarterbacks at a decent rate, and they don’t allow many points.

But they’re also not Kryptonite.

Advantage: Chiefs

Chiefs skill-position players vs. Broncos secondary

Hill and Kelce are superstars. But outside of those two, Mecole Hardman hasn’t found consistent success at the NFL level to this point, Byron Pringle is more of a depth piece, and Josh Gordon just sort of exists on the field.

Kyle Fuller hasn’t been good for Denver in 2021, but he’s one in a group of many. Ronald Darby has contributed when healthy. Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons form one of the better safety tandems in the league. Add in Caden Sterns (who’s contributed nicely as a rookie) and Patrick Surtain II (who is one of the better cornerbacks already in the NFL as a rookie), and we’re working with a squad.

The only issue is, the Broncos really can’t put multiple guys on both Kelce and Hill on most plays, and I expect the Chiefs stars to win individual matchups against any defensive players in the league.

Advantage: Chiefs

Chiefs offensive line vs. Broncos defensive front

The playmakers are probably the marquee matchup for most, but I’m more interested in the trenches here. Orlando Brown Jr. hasn’t had the most consistent season, but he’s been playing better as of late.

The interior of Kansas City’s offensive line is incredible. Joe Thuney was a perfect free-agent signing, and the draft additions of Creed Humphrey (lol NFL, you idiots) and Trey Smith couldn’t have ended up any better. Andrew Wylie… is the starting right tackle.

Dre’Mont Jones was one of my first favorites as an NFL Draft enthusiast. It’s a whole lot of fun to watch him be a menace on the interior. Bradley Chubb came back in Week 12 for the first time since Week 2, and Jonathan Cooper has flashed as a pass rusher since getting more snaps.

Still, I’ll take that strong 80% and believe the Chiefs can give enough help to Wylie to survive.

Advantage: Chiefs

Betting odds and game prediction

  • Spread: Chiefs -8.5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Chiefs -410, Broncos +310
  • Total: 47

So, the implied score for this game is around 28-19 favoring the Chiefs. Only the Eagles have scored more than 28 points against Denver all season. The Chiefs have only done it once since Week 6.

I think the best bet (please don’t lose money because of me) is if you believe the Chiefs will cover, I would also bet that the over hits. If not, I’d take the Broncos to cover.

Broncos vs. Chiefs Prediction: Chiefs 31, Broncos 21

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