Posted in: NFL
Even after suffering their first defeat of the season on Sunday night, the Kansas City Chiefs showed why they won’t be leaving the Super Bowl conversation any time soon.
Sure, Kansas City is known to flop when it matters. Their coach Andy Reid has come up just short time-and-time again too. But does that mean anything this year?
After all, the coach has a quarterback like he’s never had before and an offense that can’t be duplicated by even his best Eagles teams.
Equally impressive is how the Los Angeles Rams have come out swinging this season as the odds-on favorite.
Anyone who said QB Jared Goff was a bust after only one year has eaten crow time and again. The Rams are a perfect 6-0 and are playing San Francisco this Sunday off a short week for the 49ers.
But which one of these teams, Chiefs or Rams, is really the strongest? And who has the best betting value of the two?
Right now, the Rams are at +333 odds to win the Super Bowl, according to Bovada. They’re favorites by a good bit over the Patriots (+600). The Chiefs, on the other hand, are behind both because of past performances and defensive question marks, with Vegas conservatively setting them at +700.
But forget those numbers for a few minutes. Because it’s time to size up these two behemoths.
The first thing I look at is who is manning the ship and pointing it correctly toward shore.
And to go deeper into this comparison, do these teams have the proper leaders to right said ship when the seas get rough?
I’d like to think both squads do. But in the case of each head coach, they’re valuable in these situations for different reasons.
Both Andy Reid and Sean McVay are great player-coaches. They get the most passion out of the guys on the field. They are also both offensive wizards. They know how to bring the best out of their top talent and cover up/scheme around weaknesses.
But McVay clearly brings the fire and vigor to his team while Reid is more of the loveable, reserved, and steady type.
So who would be better to have when things go south?
Reid has been in big games plenty of times before. Whether you want to consider his 11-13 playoff record a good thing is up to you. But there’s no doubt his failures have molded him into a coach with a greater understanding of how to handle tight situations in big games.
Still, going to 13 playoffs, four conference championship games, and a Super Bowl without getting a ring is tough to look past. But his control of this current team can’t be—at least right now—questioned by anyone.
And he’s extended that to QB Patrick Mahomes, who looks like he’s been in the league for four or five years. I would say nine or 10 years if he didn’t look so athletic out of the pocket.
He may have lost some big games. But his grooming of the potential league MVP has been fantastic.
And speaking of coaches who properly equip their QBs, there’s McVay.
He has Jared Goff looking like a top-five quarterback in this league, if not also an MVP candidate. And that’s an entire 180-degree turn from Goff’s rookie year under Jeff Fisher. Not only in how Goff and the passing game is operated, but also from the way the coach motivates and gels with him.
McVay is quite the motivator and brings a youthful (he is the youngest coach in the league after all) energy to the team. That combined with the uniqueness and careful construction of his offense has made his team a threat for years and years to come.
And in terms of the quarterbacking, as I said before, these QBs serve as extensions of the head coaches. Sure, Mahomes is a lot different from Reid in personality. But they still mesh well, a lot of that having to do with the QB’s willingness to learn and not only rely on his immense physical talents.
It’s hard to tell who has an edge here. Both pairs are in their second years now and have developed their own unique cohesiveness. And they’re all great leaders.
When you think of explosive offenses, it seems your mind immediately goes to the Rams, Chiefs, or Saints. Possibly the Steelers with Antonio Brown and company.
As for one player, that’d be Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs.
In fact, in terms of explosive stats, Hill really does top the list. He also has the second-most plays of 20-plus yards by a receiver and the second-most of 40-plus. And he already has a 69 and 75-yard catch, something no one has come close to accomplishing this season.
And that’s paired with Mahomes, who is still looking like one of—if not the best—passer in the game right now. Sure, he threw a pair of picks for the second straight week. The gunslinger mentality is bound to bite you back every now and then.
But he also threw for 352 yards and four touchdowns. He’s become a singular talent in the NFL in a matter of weeks. Even with all the hype on him right now, it’s impossible to look past his assortment of abilities.
His combination of intangibles and explosive athleticism can’t be duplicated by any QB in the game.
But in terms of being surgical and utilizing his weapons, Goff is right there with him.
He won’t be slinging the ball across his body on the run outside the pocket like Mahomes. But his pre-snap adjustments, his ability to go through his reads, and his poise in the pocket create some dynamic plays.
Just look at WR Brandin Cooks’ 18 yards-per-catch. That’s 7th-best in the league. And while Goff doesn’t have a threat like Travis Kelce at tight end, he does have Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, who might as well be considered primary receivers too.
The Chiefs have their own star at the RB position. And though he may not lead the league in rushing again, Kareem Hunt having five catches for 105 yards and 8 carries for 80 against the Pats shows his breakaway skills. And really, he’s known just as much for his power.
Here’s where things get a little interesting.
I know this is an offense’s league now, and more specifically, a quarterback’s league.
But the winner of the last five Super Bowls has finished in the top half of the league in defensive efficiency and top-13 in total defense, so it’s worth noting.
Right now, the Rams are sitting at 14th in efficiency on that side of the ball and are 11th in total defense. Oakland and Arizona had a lot to do with those stats, but LA is still capable on that side of the ball.
Even with Pro Bowl corner Aqib Talib on the IR, the Rams have hung on to the 13th-ranked passing defense.
Marcus Peters is still the same shutdown corner he’s been throughout his All-Pro career. Lamarcus Joyner may be undersized at free safety, but he and fellow safety John Johnson are making some impact plays.
But the main source of disruption and stability comes from the defensive front. Aaron Donald won’t repeat his Defensive Player of the Year numbers from 2017 this season. But his four sacks and three tackles-for-loss despite extra attention from offensive lines is still impressive.
Between him and Ndamukong Suh (three sacks, three TKFL, seven QB hits), this is still a feared core in the front-seven. But they account for seven of the team’s 12 sacks, which is altogether tied for only 22nd in the NFL. Donald can play all over the line, but he needs help from his defensive ends.
Overall, the playmaking capabilities are scattered along their defensive lineup. Maybe if Michael Brockers has a stronger second-half and they get Talib back, things will set up better for them.
But it’s hard to know this day and age how good they’ll need to be defensively to win a Super Bowl.
Kansas City has had their own injury troubles. Eric Berry was an absolute ball-hawk and now he’s gone for who knows how long with his heel injury.
Eric Murray and 4th-round draft pick Armani Watts haven’t been available in the secondary either, making a struggling unit that much worse. They are now the second-worst passing defense in terms of yards-per-game.
They’re also missing Justin Houston rushing opposing QBs. His lingering hamstring issues kept him out of the Patriots game.
He won’t ever again be the guy who exploded for 22 sacks in 2014. He hasn’t reached double-digits since then, much of it due to his health. But if he gets off the mend, there will be much more stability for an already capable pass-rush.
Still, KC is last in total defense and 28th in defensive efficiency. I’ve been talking about their bend-don’t-break philosophy, but they’ve been snapping as of late. Case and point: giving up 43 points to the Patriots. Even if it is the Patriots.
Though this files into stability as much as anything else, both the Chiefs and Rams have had success up front with their offensive lines.
Their stats are aided by high-caliber running backs. So is the fact that Goff has one of quickest releases ever seen and Mahomes breaks away from defenders so often with ease.
But the Rams have currently given up the 10th-least sacks in the league and rank 4th in limiting hits on their QB. The Chiefs have given up the least amount of sacks even though they’ve given up the 11th-most QB hits.
Both Kansas City figures can be attributed to Mahomes’s scrambling ability.
But the Chiefs are also in the top half of the league in YPA rushing (14th), though they did rank much lower in terms of 10-yard-plus runs. They’re currently tied for 7th in rushing touchdowns.
The Rams have the 2nd-most rushing touchdowns, the 2nd-most 10-yard-plus runs outside the tackles, and the 3rd-best YPA average. They even have 15 more carries of 10 yards or more than they do negative runs. Only the Patriots and Chargers surpass those numbers.
That goes back to the explosiveness Gurley has. But it also shines a light on a disciplined O-line that rarely misses assignments and hardly gives ground.
When it comes to penalties though, there’s a bit of sloppiness. The Rams still come in 16th in offensive penalty yards and 23rd on defense. The Chiefs rank 18th defensively and an abysmal 30th in offensive penalties. That last figure will have to be cleaned up before the playoffs start.
There’s a lot of factors to consider when making up what teams you would consider clutch. It’d probably start with Tom Brady and the Patriots, but there’s plenty of other factors besides a great two-minute drill.
Third-down conversions on offense and stops by third-down defenses are huge. So is flipping the field with timely punts, kicking long field goals in tight games, and executing in the red zone.
As far as the game-winning drives go, it’s safe to say these teams are set. Goff has ice water running through those veins and Mahomes showed in New England that he backs down from no one.
As for the rest of the numbers, it’s a mixed bag. Kansas City has improved their red zone offense from 27th to 6th this year, a fantastic year-to-year jump. The Rams rank 12th in the category, but 18th in red zone defense. The Chiefs trail them in 23rd.
But it’s fair to say both teams are clutch with play-calling and execution on offensive 3rd downs, going 4th (Chiefs) and 6th (Rams). The Chiefs are also 6th defensively, but the Rams often crumble in these situations (27th).
Neither of the teams really punt enough to even notice how good they are at it. The Rams are average at pinning teams deep, getting distance, and flipping the field.
The Chiefs haven’t hit many inside the 20, but then again, they’ve had far fewer chances. Knowing their average punt is 2nd in the league with the lowest average return yardage is a big deal though. You know, for however big a deal punting can actually be.
The Rams have shuffled through a few, but when healthy, Greg Zuerlein is the guy. He’s already hit from 55 this year, but he doesn’t have much playoff experience.
Neither does Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker. He’s 11 for 11 so far in 2018, but he hasn’t tried anything longer than 46 yards.
The Chiefs will eventually come back around to the Patriots in the playoffs if they get that far. After Sunday night, that almost seems predestined. And it would be an awesome rematch to have.
But they’re probably going to have to win at least 13 games to avoid a tie-breaker with them and grab home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That’s a tough task, but besides the Rams (road game) and Ravens (home), their schedule sets up just fine.
The rest of their opponents are a combined 17-24-1, with the only two over .500 teams, the Bengals and Chargers, coming to Arrowhead.
The Rams, meanwhile, will probably need 13 wins or 12 and a win over New Orleans to get home-field advantage. They still have the Packers, Saints, Chiefs, and Eagles, but only second game is on the road.
Right now, they’re in the driver’s seat in their conference. Every other team besides the Saints have at least two losses and no more than three wins. And their division is a combined 5-13.
So with all this compiled into one massive storm of data, it does seem that the Rams have the easier path and the better all-around team right now.
They’re also a lock of all locks in the NFC West.
But they also haven’t been tested in the way the Chiefs have. Kansas City has gone into New England and Pittsburgh and had impressive outings. If Houston and Berry get healthy and the team improves their red zone defense while cutting down on offensive penalties, they’re the AFC front-runner.
Still, that’s a lot of “if’s”. So it depends on what the bettor is looking for. The Rams (+333) might be the safest bet coming out of the NFC, but the Patriots at +600 are no riskier in the AFC given their resurgence and history with Brady and Belichick.
The Chiefs are right with them though. Everyone saw that Sunday night.
There is no situation too big for Mahomes. The only thing that would be holding this pick back is a spotty secondary and the Chiefs’ history of failure when games count the most. That’s not that much in the way for them in comparisons to other teams.
So wager with the Rams if you want a team that’s almost a certainty to make at least the NFC Championship. But if you want to pick based on upside and value, the Chiefs at +700 odds is an excellent value bet.