The good news for Broncos fans: Denver will have an actual quarterback available this week as Drew Lock returns from the COVID-19 reserve list. Behind practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton last week, the Broncos were the first team in 15 years (2005 49ers) to complete one pass in an NFL game.
The bad news? Kansas City has a quarterback named Patrick Mahomes and he does not know how to have a bad game in this league.
Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday, December 6, 2020 – 08:20 PM EDT at Arrowhead Stadium
The Chiefs are a heavy favorite (14 points) as expected on most NFL betting sites, but can Denver score enough on Sunday night to bring the game over the total of 51 points?
Drew Lock: No Snow Day
Regardless of the spectacle that took place last week with Denver’s quarterbacks against the Saints, the Broncos are still not in good shape at the position. Drew Lock has been a disappointment this season as he ranks next to last in ESPN’s QBR (41.1). The only quarterback below him, Sam Darnold (36.5), is reportedly already not in the team’s plans for 2021.
Worse, the Broncos have the worst quarterback situation in the AFC West. They not only have to contend with Mahomes, but Justin Herbert looks incredible as a rookie for the Chargers, and Derek Carr is having his best season for Las Vegas.
Lock has been especially bad against the rival Chiefs, throwing no touchdowns and three interceptions in those two games while getting outscored 66-19. He threw a pick-six in the 43-16 loss in Week 7. Both of Lock’s games against Kansas City were played in the snow, but the Chiefs handled it well while Lock did not. The weather should be in the thirties on Sunday night, but no snow is expected this time.
Denver is 31st in the league at scoring (19 points per game), but the implied total here is around 17 points for the Broncos. That is a mark they have hit in six out of 11 games this year, and you really do have to discard last week against the Saints as meaningless. The Chiefs have allowed at least 24 points in three straight games and at least 17 points in all but three games this season. It is more than reasonable that Denver can score at least in the upper teens in this matchup, hoping to show that completing a pass is no longer impossible when your offense gets to practice and put a real quarterback on the field.
Even if Lock is one of the worst starters in the league right now.
Chiefs: What More Can We Say?
There is no better sign of the weird times we live in when the Chiefs could go 15-1, but have to host a wild card game because of the new playoff format and what the Steelers (11-0) are doing this season.
Whether or not the Chiefs are the best team in the NFL, they are undeniably the best offense. The Chiefs lead the league with 45.3 yards per drive (highest mark since 1993 according to Football Outsiders) and 3.11 points per drive.
Patrick Mahomes knows how to score weekly in a way we have not seen in this league. He is coming off one of his best games yet with 462 passing yards in Tampa Bay, but some struggles in the red zone only led to 27 points scored in that win. Still, the Chiefs have scored at least 23 points in 46 of his 47 career starts, leading to the two longest streaks in NFL history of games with at least 23 points scored. Only the 2019 Colts (19-13 final) held the Chiefs with Mahomes under 23 points.
To give some hope for drama in this mismatch on Sunday night, it can be argued that Denver has made things harder on Mahomes than most defenses have so far in the NFL.
Mahomes’ first NFL start (Week 17, 2017), was against Denver and he did not throw a touchdown pass, one of only three games in the regular season where that has happened. In 2018 against the Broncos in Denver, Mahomes had to lead the first fourth-quarter comeback of his career in a 27-23 win after trailing by 10. On his 2019 trip to Denver, he dislocated his kneecap in the second quarter, leading to an early exit and a career-low 76 yards passing.
Even in this season’s 43-16 win in Denver, Mahomes passed for a season-low 200 yards and it is the only game where he did not throw multiple touchdown passes. The 43 points hides a pick-six thrown by Lock and a late touchdown drive led by backup quarterback Chad Henne. Mahomes has technically never led the Chiefs to more than 30 offensive points in six games against Denver.
The Broncos are having a rough 2020, but the pass defense does rank fifth in DVOA and in net yards per pass allowed (5.7). Great pass defense is a necessity in slowing down Mahomes.
It would be the upset of the year for Denver to win this game on Sunday night. That outcome is not in doubt, but how should you bet the spread and total when you make your NFL picks this week?
We know Mahomes will get his points, but given Denver’s history of playing him tougher, he may only get 30 by the end of the night. That is still a fine number, but for the game to go over 51, we need Denver to step up its scoring output. That just seems unlikely with Lock playing against a competent defense.
Denver’s offensive ineptitude is why I like the Chiefs to cover, but for the game to still go under in the range of a 30-14 Kansas City victory.