Congratulations, everybody! You’ve found the one game this week that seems to mean absolutely nothing. That’s not entirely true, but the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos means nothing. There are no playoff implications. There are no division scenarios. There is nothing in play. But, we could catch a glimpse of the future. Patrick Mahomes II should play a lot for the Chiefs and Paxton Lynch is expected to start for the Broncos. We’ll see what that means for the line. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Broncos are favored by 3.5 points at MyBookieand across most of the market.
It hasn’t been pretty for the Kansas City Chiefs, but they are going to the playoffs. After a 5-0 start, the Chiefs lost six of their next seven to wind up at 6-6. A modest three-game winning streak, including wins over division challengers Oakland and Los Angeles, was enough to punch a ticket to the playoffs. Kansas City will host the Wild Card Weekend #4 vs. #5 game, irrespective of what happens in this one. Denver sits at 5-10 in what has been a thoroughly disappointing season. The Broncos are also just 4-10-1 ATS, since most pushed that opening game against the Chargers. Denver only has two wins since October 1.
Andy Reid will probably play this like a preseason game. Alex Smith and the starters should get some first quarter reps in and then pack it away to look ahead to next week. That means that most of the stats for the Chiefs are irrelevant because we’ll see a completely different cast of players. That means we’ll see a lot of Patrick Mahomes II. Smith is the only quarterback to throw a pass this season for the Chiefs. Mahomes, a rookie out of Texas Tech, has basically redshirted this season under Smith and while working with Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy. He showed off some arm talent in the preseason, but hasn’t been able to unload during the season yet. That means we have a big unknown here. This will be a good test against a Denver defense that is back on track. Kareem Hunt has 271 of the Chiefs’ 378 rushing attempts and Smith has another 60, so we’re going to see some guys that haven’t gotten a ton of reps. Charcandrick West and Akeem Hunt will see a lot of work, as will Jehu Chesson and De’Anthony Thomas. Those players certainly don’t move the needle much against this Denver defense.
The Kansas City defensive reserves are a little more intriguing. Kansas City is aging quickly, especially at linebacker. We’ll probably see the starters for a quarter or a half before the game goes in the hands of the backups. This is a good audition for next season for a lot of these guys. There will be reps available. This is not a great defense. Marcus Peters is a star and other aging ex-stars can still make plays, but this group has allowed 5.6 yards per play. Among playoff teams, only New England is worse and no other playoff team has allowed more than 5.4 yards per play going into Week 17. The Chiefs are pedestrian against the pass and below average against the run. These reps are important for guys like Tanoh Kpassagnon, the defensive end out of Villanova that was a second-round pick, and Ukeme Eligwe, the inside linebacker out of Georgia Southern that was a fifth-round pick. By association, they are also important reps for the franchise as a whole.
Speaking of important reps, the Broncos have a lot to figure out this winter. Can they sit and wait on Paxton Lynch? Lynch, the former first-round pick, has spent most of the season injured. He will lead an offense that only has 4.8 yards per play this season. Lynch was 9-of-14 for 41 yards in his only action of the season. This lost year for his development is a big hindrance going forward for the Broncos. This final game won’t showcase much, but John Elway and the front office has to figure out if a quarterback is coming in the draft, if a free agent is getting a Brinks truck, or if Lynch will be the gamble in 2018. CJ Anderson needs 54 yards for 1,000, and he should get it against the Chiefs front. Beyond that, the Broncos don’t have much to get excited about, as Lynch tries to impress heading into the long offseason.
Lost in the awful season is that the Denver defense is still a force. The Broncos have allowed just 4.8 yards per play this season and are one of four teams allowing less than five yards per play. Denver has benefited from facing the second-fewest number of plays against by playing at such a slow tempo on offense and by being the second-best defense on third down in the NFL. The Denver defense only has 15 takeaways, though, so that has made life tough on a bad offense and has kept the defense on the field more often than it should. The Broncos will see a lot of backups in this game, which could be a blessing or a curse. Will a team with nothing to play for stay engaged in that situation?
Free NFL Pick: Kansas City Chiefs +3.5
I honestly don’t believe so. While it appears that Kansas City has nothing to play for, backups on teams like this have some extra motivation to get out there and play. They can get future reps. They can keep up the standards of the franchise. Denver going with Paxton Lynch is interesting and it makes sense going forward, but it may not be the best thing for their hopes of covering a number here. The Denver defense will probably be fine, but the Chiefs can have some fun this week and be a dangerous team.