(Travis Kelce photo courtesy Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)
This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.
Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.
When and Where: Sunday, Oct. 6, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo., 8:20 p.m. EDT.
The NFL is down to just three unbeaten teams at the quarter-pole of the season, and one of them is the Kansas City Chiefs. After rallying to defeat the Detroit Lions, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs look to have an easier time of it Sunday night when they host the Indianapolis Colts.
When the NFL schedule was first released, this game offered a high level of intrigue as a potential shootout between Mahomes and the Chiefs and Andrew Luck and the Colts as arguably the top two challengers to the AFC empire built by Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Those plans, however, were scuttled with the stunning retirement of Luck during the preseason, while Mahomes has shown no let up in his second full season as starting quarterback for Kansas City (4-0). Jacoby Brissett, originally acquired by the Colts late in the 2017 preseason when Luck was unable to play back then, has shown enough with a full camp of reps to keep them afloat in the competitively balanced AFC South, where all four teams are 2-2.
The Colts finally had their first clunker of the season, getting sucker-punched by the Oakland Raiders in the first half of their 31-24 loss last Sunday. Usually, it’s the West Coast team that has troubles adjusting to an early kickoff time in the eastern time zone, but it was Indianapolis who had those issues.
The Raiders marched down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive, and after forcing Brissett into a three-and-out, scored on the first play after the punt to grab a 14-0 lead inside the first seven minutes.
That started an uphill chase for the Colts that lasted all game, eventually closing within 24-17 on Brissett’s 4-yard scoring toss to Chester Rogers with 5:27 to play. Indianapolis’ defense gave Brissett a chance to direct a game-tying touchdown drive, but Raiders safety Erik Harris quashed any chance of a comeback with a pick-six.
Brissett finished with 265 yards and three TD passes, continuing a strong start in which he has thrown for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns in the first four games. He had only 13 all of 2017 when he stepped into the starting role following his arrival from New England.
While Brissett has played above expectations, the defense continues to be a work in progress. The Colts have given up 132.5 rushing yards per game after being gashed for 188 at 5.9 yards per carry by Oakland. Five different running backs have gained at least 57 yards in the first four games, which means there could be a systemic problem defensively as opposed to offenses finding mismatches.
The Chiefs (4-0) are seeking their third consecutive 5-0 start, and they have been tested in winning three of their first four games on the road.
Mahomes, as expected, has been the linchpin of Kansas City’s success. The 2018 NFL MVP has thrown for over 300 yards in all four games and already has 1,510 yards and 10 TDs without an interception through his first four games.
The 24-year-old rallied the Chiefs from a pair of fourth-quarter deficits in last Sunday’s 34-30 win over the Detroit Lions, twice bailing out his defense. Mahomes engineered a 13-play, 79-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown, completing passes to five different receivers before Darrel Williams bulled his way in from one yard out with 20 seconds to play.
Mahomes finished with a season-low 315 yards while completing just 24 of 42 passes. It was just the second time he was held without a touchdown pass since taking over the starter’s job last season, but it also was Mahomes’ 14th game of 300 or more passing yards in 21 career starts.
Like Indianapolis, Kansas City’s defense leaves much to be desired. The Chiefs have been overrun for 399 rushing yards in the last two games and are giving up 408.5 overall per game. They did force turnovers, which helped offset the three giveaways by the offense and special teams, and Kansas City has six takeaways on the season.
Colts run offense vs Chiefs run defense
After grabbing the starting job last year, Marlon Mack is currently on pace for nearly 1,400 yards through the first four games. He was held out of most of the second half due to ankle injury and finished with 11 carries for 39 yards but is expected to be available for this contest.
“The coaches felt like it wasn’t good for me to go out there when we’ve got other guys in my position that could go out there and play well,” Mack told the Indianapolis Star after the game.
Mack is an integral part of the Colts offense because he keeps the chains moving. He leads the NFL with 24 first downs and all but two of them came in the first three games. There was a noticeable fall-off in the second half when coach Frank Reich needed to use Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins as they combined for just 23 yards on seven carries.
Leonard Fournette, Josh Jacobs, Mark Ingram, and Kerryon Johnson all have something in common besides being NFL starting running backs. All four have averaged at least 4.8 yards per carry against the Chiefs run defense thus far.
Jacobs missed 100 yards by one, Ingram needed just 16 carries to get there, and if it wasn’t for Johnson fumbling at the Chiefs’ 1-yard line and having that returned 100 yards by Bashaud Breeland for a touchdown, there would be more talk about he racked up 125 yards.
This, of course, is not new to the Chiefs. They ranked 27th against the run last year with 132.1 yards allowed per game and 31st in yards allowed per carry (4.97). It is far worse this year at 149.8 yards per game and 5.87 yards per carry, with the Chiefs sorely missing departed ends Dee Ford and Justin Houston. In some respects, Kansas City got lucky because Detroit was careless and committed two turnovers that turned into seven points.
The Chiefs may need to force Mack to cough up the ball, something that will be a challenge considering he has just two fumbles in 360 carries in his career and none on 72 rushes this season.
Colts pass offense vs Chiefs pass defense
Something that bears repeating when breaking down Brissett at quarterback compared to when he was essentially thrown into the fire after being acquired in 2017: There is a night-and-day difference in his performance and efficiency with a whole training camp of first-team reps under his belt in addition to spending last season backing up Luck and digesting Reich’s system.
Brissett is the only quarterback with multiple TD passes in all four games this season and is tied for the NFL lead with 10. The biggest difference from 2017 to 2019 is his accuracy — Brissett is connecting at a 65.2 percent clip this year compared to 58.8 percent in 2017 — and his completion percentage could be noticeably better considering the Colts are tied for second in the league with seven drops and had five versus the Raiders.
“I didn’t even deserve that, not by my performance today,” tight end Eric Ebron told The Athletic regarding his touchdown catch considering he had three of the five drops. “I didn’t deserve the right to score a touchdown. I’ve just got to be better. Yeah, I was disgusted.”
Yet as good as Brissett has been, he and the Colts need a healthy T.Y. Hilton to be effective. Hilton missed last Sunday’s loss with a quad injury, and Indianapolis fell to 0-5 in games the top wideout has missed over his eight-year career. Depth at wide receiver took a further hit with No. 2 wide receiver Devin Funchess also sidelined indefinitely, and there are only so many times Reich can dial up Ebron’s number.
What is surprising is that even with the loss of Houston and Ford, the Chiefs’ pass rush is still getting home consistently. After sharing the league lead with Pittsburgh last season with 52 sacks, Kansas City is tied for 10th through four games with 11.
Emmanuel Ogbah has made an instant impact following his move from Cleveland, registering a team-high 2.5 sacks, and Chris Jones is getting penetration through the middle and added two of his own.
One area where Kansas City appears to be having issues in the secondary is tackling receivers after the catch. The Chiefs have given up 514 yards after the catch, which is tied for the 10th-worst total in the league, but because they are giving up 276.5 yards per game overall, the 46.5 percent it represents is in the middle of the pack league-wise.
Just over 37 percent of Hilton’s 195 yards have come after the catch, though it remains to be seen how much his quad injury could affect his ability to add to that total.
Chiefs run offense vs Colts run defense
Reunited and it feels so good.
With all apologies to Peaches and Herb, having McCoy and Chiefs coach Andy Reid together again is a guilty pleasure to watch. The 31-year-old McCoy is clearly reinvigorated, and also loves the fact he is not the focal point of the offense, which allows him to do more damage.
“So much space, so much room, so much opportunity,” he told the Kansas City Star before last week’s game. “You don’t need a million carries to get something accomplished because there’s so much space to making something happen. Then you got less (yards) to the house.”
The starter designation does not mean much with McCoy or Darrel Williams since McCoy has gotten between eight and 11 carries in all four games and has occasionally popped up in the passing game. It can be argued he’s a poor man’s Kareem Hunt given his shiftiness, but if Reid continues to manage him this well, the veteran could have an outside shot at 1,000 yards given the proficiency of this offense.
Williams, though, showed he still has plenty of value to Reid by helping the Chiefs on their game-winning drive versus Detroit. Reid noted to ChiefsWire that “Darrel is a little more familiar with the protections, just having done them all for the time that he has, and they’re different from what LeSean had done in Philly.”
So there is room for both McCoy and Williams, and both are quite fine with it.
Much like the Chiefs, the Colts are having issues stopping the run. The Raiders took their 129 rushing yards versus Kansas City on 19 carries and took a similar hammer to Indianapolis last weekend, racking up 188 on 5.88 yards per carry.
The 60-yard dash to paydirt by Trevor Davis was a knockdown the Colts never truly recovered from last weekend as they played uphill the entire game, much to Reich’s chagrin.
“That’s the most disappointing thing to me,” Reich told The Athletic. “That’s the most disappointing thing because I’ve always felt – last year and going into this year – that teams can’t run the ball on them. We don’t let teams run the ball. We’ve got to look at that and see what we can do better as coaches and players to have better run defense.”
And last week was not a one-time thing. Indianapolis has yielded at least 124 yards in three of its four games. Even the one game it held an opponent under 100 yards — Atlanta had 93 in Week 3 — was largely due to the Falcons having to abandon the run game because they were down 20-3 at halftime.
Chiefs pass offense vs Colts pass defense
Mahomes has been dissected every which way and twice on Sunday, but what has been interesting is the seamless transitions all of the wide receivers have made in adjusting to playing without Hill. From Sammy Watkins to Demarcus Robinson to Mecole Hardman, all three have found success at varying levels.
Some of that is obviously due to Mahomes’ elite-level talent, but these receivers still have to get open, and they — along with tight end Travis Kelce — are doing that on a consistent basis.
“The whole message I had that whole second half to my teammates and in the huddle was, ‘Just be who we are,’” Mahomes told The Athletic. “It’s not about someone having to do something spectacular. It’s about believing in each other.”
As the game continues to slow down for Mahomes, the better he is becoming, which is a frightening proposition for opposing defenses. The Lions were the first team to realistically contain Mahomes this season and still didn’t record a sack or an interception while giving up 315 yards — a Pyrrhic victory at its finest form considering the Chiefs won the game.
Indianapolis used a soft zone defense in last year’s divisional playoffs and could be hoping for the same outcome Detroit got to a degree — give Mahomes yards, but make them tough yards. He averaged only 6.78 yards per attempt while finishing 27 of 41 for 278 yards, but everything else involving Indianapolis’ defense broke down as 14 of those 27 completions went for first downs and more than half of Mahomes’ passing yards came after the catch.
The Raiders did not do anything special through the air because they were busy gashing the Colts on the ground. Oakland was efficient enough to keep a proper run-pass balance that kept Indianapolis off stride for nearly the entire contest.
Houston, who will be facing his former team for the first time after signing with the Colts in free agency, has yet to truly get going and has one sack in the first four games after totaling nine in 12 games with Kansas City last season.
That sack, though, came in Week 1, and the Colts pass rush has gone cold with one sack for no yards in the last two games. That cannot happen for a third straight game otherwise Mahomes will find creases throughout Indianapolis’ zone defense regardless of where it stiffens up.
Special Teams and Other Things
Crossroads feels like too strong a word for the Colts heading into this game because everyone in the AFC South is 2-2 — Reich and Indianapolis have a margin of error, and frankly, a win in this contest would be a potential kick-starter for the team. But the Colts have to show improvement in plenty of areas for that to happen, and they know it.
Forty-six year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri appears to have moved on from his early season crisis, though he did miss a 57-yard field goal late in the first half versus Oakland. He also has made all six of his PATs in the last two games after missing 3 of 5 in the first two.
Rigoberto Sanchez has been solid handling punting and kickoff duties, though the latter has shown Indianapolis to be spotty in kickoff coverage. The Colts have allowed an average of 24.5 yards on six runbacks.
Harrison Butker has yet to be challenged on field goals, all nine of his attempts have been inside 50 yards, and he has made all but one of them. He also has made all but one of his 16 PAT tries.
Hardman is an intriguing addition to the return game and good things have happened in his limited touches. His lone punt return went for 20 yards and he has averaged 23.0 yards on four kickoff returns.
Reid remains one of the most creative minds in the game, and there is always a new wrinkle that seems to be unveiled every week. How he attacks Indianapolis’ zone defense will be pivotal to Mahomes’ success, and with the quarterback showing plenty of patience, coach and quarterback are on the same wavelength.
ONTO THE PICKS!!
The pick remains with the Colts, picking up steam with top linebacker Darius Leonard and starting safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker all ruled out with injuries. That is simply too much to overcome given Kansas City’s offensive weaponry and versatility in use.
Add in both Mack and Hilton dealing with injuries, and even the hook with the Chiefs favored by 10.5 points does not offer much in the way of resistance.
Three prop plays to consider:
Travis Kelce OVER 85.5 receiving yards (-114)
LeSean McCoy OVER 48.5 rushing yards (-114)
DeMarcus Robinson OVER 54.5 receiving yards (-114)
Despite Kelce having a large number to reach, that is arguably the best play given the Colts will be without their starting safeties. That means Reid will probably be running multiple seam routes and letting Mahomes throw medium-range passes against an Indianapolis defense that likely will offer a vanilla look and try to prevent the big play.
The feeling is McCoy will be able to get his rushing yards before the game gets out of hand with his 10-12 carries, while Robinson is a better play than Hardman since he will be targeted more than the rookie. Additionally, Watkins was on the injury report.
The first-half spread of the Chiefs as 7-point favorites is worth a play, but the better play is the Chiefs -4 in the second quarter. Kansas City has outscored opponents 70-9 in that period thus far while Indianapolis has been outscored 27-25.
Provided you can avoid a high-side hook, playing the over of 28 in the first half is a solid play. Though the expectation is the Chiefs will clear their first-half total of 17.5 points, that high-end hook on a TD+FG combo is just off-putting enough to not make an aggressive play. In the end, it should be a comfortable Chiefs win, with the over a late winner.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Kansas City 41, Indianapolis 20