Kansas City @ Jacksonville
Recommendation: KC -3.5
Cover Probability: 54.69%
Cover Edge: 4.41%
When Kansas City Has the Ball:
New and improved model, same results. The model relentlessly picked the Chiefs last year as if it were built and raised in Kansas City by a pack of die-hard football fans. We start week 1 with KC yet again being the model’s top choice.
So what happens when Kansas City has the ball? Fucking fire works. Advanced pyrotechnics. The sky lights up in colors you’ve never seen before, and I swear for a brief moment you have a total understanding of life. Last year, the Chiefs had a 32.9% offensive DVOA, the 5th highest in Football Outsider’s database. Pat Mahomes, in his first year as a starter and 2nd year in the league, threw for 5,670 yards, 50 TDs, and just 12 picks. He’s getting paid a little over 4 million a year, but cap experts Sporcle think he’s worth about 35 million (why are the running backs holding out?). That said, his numbers were so absurd that we have to expect some regression — there’s a real chance that we look back on Mahomes’s career and 2018 ends up being his best statistical season. Mahomes also had some INT luck last year — per SIS, he had 10 should-have-been INTs that were dropped, which was most in the league. SIS put Mahomes at 21 “adjusted picks,” tied for most in the league. The hope is Mahomes worked on his decision making in the off-season to help combat regression.
One word of caution, don’t be confused by regression. Yes, it’s unlikely Mahomes will match his statistical output of last year, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to forget how to play football and start doing weird things like throwing left handed.
The Chiefs return Mahomes’s favorite weapons — speedster Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce. Hill is a match made in heaven for Mahomes, his all-world speed is perfect for Mahomes’s monster arm. While panic and chaos is going on deep down the field, the always open Kelce provides a nice security blanket in the middle of the field. They’ll also bring back #2 wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who did have some outstanding games last year, but the 4th overall pick from 2014 still hasn’t lived up to the hype. The Chiefs did lose #3 WR Chris Conley (to Jacksonville, hello revenge narrative). Though Conley isn’t a massive loss, he did play 880 snaps last year. Look for rookie Mecole Hardman to replace him as the third wide out.
On the ground, the Chiefs naturally won’t have Kareem Hunt back. Damien Williams stepped in last year and the Chiefs offense didn’t miss a beat. They also picked up recently cut LeSean McCoy, and the realistic projection is the two will split carries to start the year.
The Chiefs offensive line is mostly the same — though they did lose C Mitch Morse to the Bills. While Morse battled concussion issues last year, Austin Reiter filled in and performed well. Reiter will return as the starting center. RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif is back from injury — he allowed fewer 20 total quarterback pressures in both 2016 and 2017 despite blocking 400-plus pass-blocking snaps in each (per PFF). RT Mitchell Schwartz and LT Eric Fisher will man the tackle spots again. Schwartz is one of the better tackles in all of football, while Fisher performed well down the stretch last year. All in all, it’s a solid unit.
Though we expect the Chiefs to have success in virtually any game they play this year, they will have their work cut out for them against Jacksonville. The Jacksonville defensive line is filled with monsters, even after losing Malik Jackson. Yannick Ngakoue (29.5 sacks in his first 3 seasons) and Josh Allen (7th overall pick in this years draft) will man the edge. Inside will be Calais Cambpell who has 24 sacks, 73 hurries, 27 QB hits in his first 2 seasons with the Jaguars (though he’s now 33). Next to Campbell will be run-stuffer Marcel Dareus, and 1st round pick Taven Bryan will get his share of work on the inside. If the Jaguars do have a weakness, it’s at linebacker. They lost Telvin Smith to… well, I have no idea? The 28 year old pro bowl linebacker announced on Instagram that he will not be playing this year to “get his world in order.” Filling in will be Miles Jack, who famously slid to the 2nd round in 2016 due to injury concerns, but he’s been insanely reliable in his first 3 years in the league. Behind Jack is a bunch of problems.
The Jaguars secondary should make for a hell of a matchup. Jalen Ramsay is still one of the top corners in football, and he should shadow Tyreek Hill on Sunday. A. J. Bouye took a step back last year from his typical high end play, but was still solid and is entering his age 28 season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can get back to how we played the two years prior. DJ Hayden was injured last year, but will return to play slot corner when called upon. The Jags did lose their two starting safeties from this time last year — Barry Church was cut in December and Tashaun Gipson now plays for the Texans. Ronnie Harrison took over for Church after he was released, PFF gave him solid grades in coverage but poor in run support. Jarrod Wilson will be manning the deep part of the field — the 2016 UDFA has mostly played special teams thus far, so it’ll be interesting to see how he fares. Teams typically use that free safety to double Tyreek Hill when he runs deep.
When Jacksonville has the ball:
Now we get to the sucky side of the ball. In the off-season, Jacksonville decided to let Blake Bortles go. In comes Super Bowl hero Nick Foles, which should be a welcome site for Jaguars fans as anything would be an improvement over last year’s disaster that was their QB room. They also brought in John DeFilippo as their new OC — DeFillippo was fired by the Vikings last year, but has experience working with Foles from their time together in Philadelphia. Marquise Lee returns to start at wideout after missing all of 2018, and Dede Westbrook returns for slot duties. The third wide will be — if you’ve been paying attention you already know — former Chief Chris Conley. Leonarde Fournette is still manning the backfield, and Jags fans hope he’s finally healthy enough to unlock his true potential as both a runner and a pass catcher.
The Jaguars offensive line is filled with problems and question marks. They drafted Jawaan Taylor in the 2nd round, and he’ll start right away at right tackle. Cam Robinson will play LT, he tore his ACL in week 2 of last year and remains a question mark. The middle isn’t pretty either — at LG is Andrew Norwell, who hit the famous sophomore slump. RG is AJ Cann, who just isn’t good. At center is Brandon Linder, who battled injury last year.
The good news for Jaguars fans is Kansas City’s defense was a god damn disaster last year, ranking 26th in DVOA. They fired DC Bob Sutton and brought in Steve Spagnuolo to replace him. Spagnuolo runs a 4-3, where Sutton ran a 3-4. Spagnuolo also tends to call more exotic blitzes with defensive backs and play more zone than Sutton did. With these schematic changes and just the general fact that the defense sucked last year, you’d probably expect personnel changes, and would you ever be correct.
The lone bright spot for the Chiefs last year was the pass rush, where Chris Jones, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford were arguably the best pass rushing trio in football down the stretch. Houston and Ford are now out, and will be replaced by former Seahawk Frank Clark, Alex Okafor, Emmanuel Ogbah. Clark had more sacks last year than Ford (14 to 13), but Ford out-pressured Clark considerably (48.5 to 33.5). Okafor and Ogbah are more depth pieces than difference makers. At least they did keep Chris Jones, who was the best interior pass rusher not named Aaron Donald last year.
The linebacker position will be tricky, as it was a massive weakness for the Chiefs last year, and now they’ll need to play 3 of these guys in base. Those three guys are Reggie Ragland, Anthony Hitchens, and Damien Wilson. None are good at football.
The secondary will see some new faces as well, as the Chiefs won’t return either S Eric Berry or CB Steve Nelson. They did return Kendall Fuller, who played well at slot corner last year. They brought in Bashaud Breeland from Green Bay, he primarily played the slot last year (poorly) and will be asked to play outside this year. The other corner position will be Charvarius Ward, who also just… isn’t good. At safety, the Chiefs signed do-it-all safety Tyrann Mathieu, who in his prime is one of the best safeties in the league. Injuries have at times held him back, but he’s healthy to start the season and is still only 27.
And there you have it, a crash course on both teams that will hopefully make you sound less dumb when you tell your buddies you bet the Chiefs.
That’s it for now, bitches.