Adam Chernoff dives straight in this week with three Divisional Weekend bets
My handicap for the Kansas City Chiefs has a fundamental element and a market perception element.
Indianapolis plays an absurdly high rate of zone defense.
When a team plays zone defense, they are suspect to two main things; speed that stretches the zone vertically and tight ends athletic enough to take advantage of mismatches against slower defenders.
Not only does Kansas City have the most athletic tight end (Travis Kelce), they also have the quickest receiver (Tyreek Hill). These two players are built to pick apart zone coverage. Kansas City has played six other teams this year that typically line up in a zone scheme, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Seattle, Oakland and Pittsburgh. In those games, Kansas City scored, 37, 38, 28, 31, 40, 35 and 42 points. Travis Kelce averaged 11.65 yards per catch, and Tyreek Hill averaged 17.55. Those are both massive numbers, and easily replicable for both players against this Colts defense which is getting grossly over respected. When it comes to covering tight ends, Indianapolis is 29th in the NFL. Against the #1 WR, they rank 17th and against RB’s they rank 25th.
I acknowledge that the early start of the season in which Indianapolis went 1-5 they were riddled with injuries. For illustration sake, let’s remove those weeks from the scope. Indianapolis is still the 30th ranked defense regarding success rate and 11th against the rush. What makes these numbers even worse is the fact that Indianapolis played the easiest schedule of opposing offenses in that stretch. The argument is always that teams can not control whom they play – and that is true. However, as I always say, teams can control the effort they put in.
The Colts held the easiest schedule of opposing offenses to 96% of their average gain per rush (decent) but gave up a whopping 113% of opponents average gain per pass in the segmented window of the season – horrendous.
From a pure predictive standpoint, if you take the fact that Kansas City has gained 131% of their opponents average allowance per pass (best in the NFL) and multiplied that against the Colts average allowance of 113%, the Chiefs have a passing expectation entering this game of 1.31 * 1.13 = 1.48, or 148% of the Colts average allowance, which is 7.00 * 1.48 = 10.36 yards per pass. A number I think is attainable, and would certainly get a win and cover. Two other things that zone defense is weak against is play action passing and screen passes.
Andy Reid – who is excellent off an extra week of prep – has a thick playbook of unique screen passes and misdirection which he can use to stretch the Colts defense horizontally. Mahomes passes from play action 27 % of the time averages nearly 9 yards per attempt (both top 5 in the NFL. This offense is set up correctly to take advantage of the Colts defense.
Drowning Out The Noise On The Colts
The market side of this wager relates to the compounding perception of the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts have covered four of their last five and rewarded bettors in back to back stand-alone primetime games. During the Houston game, the narrative from commentators was all about how Kansas City does not want to face Indianapolis. The game state also fuels the perception too. The Week 17 SNF game was against Blane Gabbert and an outrageously poor Titans team. The market moved a full 5 points because of the money that poured in on the Colts. The Texans game was against a Houston team without their #2 and #3 receivers, a hurt #1 receiver and the worst offensive line in football.
The Colts ground game behind their #4 ranked offensive line going against the worst rush defense of Kansas City. This indeed is a mismatch in favour of the visitors. The best defense for this is the game state. If the Colts are consistently playing catch up, running the ball will become less of an option. The matchup for me to watch is the Chiefs pass rush vs the Indianapolis pass protection. Believe it or not, Kansas City has the highest graded pass rush in the league via ProFootballFocus.
I do not think the market is anywhere close to pricing this element of the team accurately.
In terms of pass rush efficiency, the Colts have played the following rank during their run:
- Tennessee (21st graded, 22nd adjusted sack)
- New York (20th and 31st)
- Dallas (11th and 27th)
- @Houston (4th and 13th)
- @Jacksonville (5th and 15th)
- Miami (23rd and 28th)
- Jacksonville (5th and 15th)
- @Tennessee (21st and 22nd)
Other road games post Week 5 for the Colts include Oakland (32nd and 32nd), Jets (16th and 21st) and New England (26th and 30th).
It is pretty remarkable to think that Kansas City (1st and 7th) is going to be – by far – the most challenging pass rush unit the Colts have played the entire season, and the first time they will face a unit that grades and ranks inside the top 10. What makes this stand out even more to me is the home/away split drop-offs that exist for Indianapolis despite the easy, and familiar schedule – no out of division road games the final ten weeks of the season. The Colts passing success rate drops off 7% on the road from 60% to 53%, yards per attempt drops a full yard from 8.3 to 7.3 (league average), passer rating drops from 113.3 to 93.3 (league average) and explosive pass plays drop from 12% to 9% (league average).
The market is willing to pay for the Colts, but I do not buy it in this spot. I will take the Chiefs who get out to a lead early, force the Colts to play catch up and do enough with their pass rush to flip the game and get the cover.
At -5, this number is too short.
Saints Ticking A Lot Of Boxes This Weekend
For the sake of not settling for the easiest breakdown of the game, I am going to throw out the Saints 48-7 victory in New Orleans over the Eagles in November.
I wagered on the Eagles in the Wildcard Round and it would be natural to take much of my handicap and roll it over but not all games are created equal. My bet on Philadelphia +6.5 was as much a fade of an overpriced Chicago team as it was confidence in the Eagles. The Eagles aspect of my handicap was that they are athletic at the line of scrimmage and Nick Foles can extend the play just long enough to make throws against zone coverage. Both occurred in the game, but there was more downside than I expected. The run game with Sproles and Smallwood was non-existent. Foles made as many poor turnover worthy throws as he did game changing passes – and got away with another handful. The secondary looked, well, worse than I anticipated…and my expectation was very low.
This game in New Orleans sets up for another blow-out.
The first problem is that New Orleans greatly outmatches Philadelphia in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. The Saints offensive line ranks 2nd in adjusted line yards, 3rd in adjusted sack rate and allows the fewest runs for 0 or a loss of yards in the league. The one way to disrupt the Saints defense is to get pressure in the face of Drew Brees. The Eagles defensive line is good at containing the rush, but they rank just 26th in adjusted sack rate. Any team who slows down Fletcher Cox negates the Eagles pass rush, and I suspect the Saints will have no trouble in doing so.
The matchup problems do not stop there.
A huge weakness for the Eagles defense is stopping passes to running backs. This season, Philadelphia gives up 55 receiving yards to opposing running backs (28th in the NFL) and 8.8 pass attempts per game (most in the NFL). The Saints have thrown the ball 105 times to Alvin Kamara this season who ranks tops in the NFL in running back receiving efficiency.
The matchup problems do not stop there.
The Eagles secondary has been disguised to some extent over the past six weeks. Since giving up 48 points to the Saints in Week 11, the Cowboys have played just two teams that rate higher than 20th in passing success rate. They gave up 23 points to the Rams in one of the most outrageous game plans gambles you will ever see and 30 points to the Texans without half of their starting receivers.
The Eagles cannot replicate the Rams game plan because Drew Brees is as good of a passer in the NFL as there is against soft zone coverage.
The Eagles completely sold out to defend the deep ball against the Rams and played multiple safeties extremely far off the line of scrimmage almost exclusively down by down. Todd Gurley was far less than 100% and Jared Goff is a mid-tier QB. If the Eagles were to try the same scheme, as illustrated above, Kamara will eat them alive. Bottom line, the Eagles secondary has to step up and play true coverage, if they cheat, Brees will take what he can get and pick them apart a few yards at a time. This game will turn into the #1 passing success rate offense against the #30 passing success rate defense.
The matchup problems do not stop there.
The offensive game plan for the Saints sets up perfect for success, but so do the surroundings. New Orleans has as dynamic of home/road splits as any team in the NFL. On the fast playing surface at home in the dome, New Orleans has a 66% success rate on passes – a full 6% better than the 2nd team and 15% better than league average. Their 9.1 yards per attempt is tops in the league by 0.3 yards and 1.6 yards above league average.
Brees passer rating explodes from 98.9 on the road to 125.6 at home, again, league best and a full 8 points better than next best. Add on 22 TD’s to just 11 away from home and a league-leading 13% explosive play rate – all of which could arguably be accelerated by the playoff atmosphere – everything mentioned above could result in big output.
The matchup problems do not stop there.
A full handicap would be remiss without mentioning both sides of the equation. The Eagles offense has come alive with Nick Foles. The reigning Super Bowl MVP took this Eagles team from bottom third to top five in passing success rate. Unfortunately, it came at the sacrifice of the running game which dipped from league average to bottom three. The run game will become an afterthought in this game as the Saints rank 2nd in the league in adjusted line yards. They are also extremely good at containing large plays ranking top in the league at preventing rushes for 5 yards or more.
What the market is not correctly accounting for, though, is the step-up of the Saints secondary. For the first two-thirds of the season, New Orleans sat in the bottom third of the league in passing success rate defense. The final five weeks of the season, they have ballooned up to 8th in the league, while maintaining their elite rush defense against three top ten offensive efficiency opponents.
Philadelphia with Nick Foles under centre has a lot of success out of two tight end sets. This is a specific formation that New Orleans defends exceptionally well. At 46% success rate against, New Orleans is 6% above league average and behind only elite defenses, Baltimore, Chicago, Minnesota, and LAC in yards allowed from two tight end sets. In terms of yards allowed to tight ends overall, the Saints give up just 39.4 yards against, which is fourth fewest in the league.
Doug Peterson is going to have to put together a very unique game plan for the Eagles offense to remain competitive in this game – and I just don’t believe they have the personnel.
From a market perspective, this price exists because of the compounding perception.
Philadelphia has rattled off four straight wins, and four straight covers. In that time they have had two huge primetime victories and bettors have been rewarded in a big way. The Saints finished the season with three straight non-covers (despite winning 2 of 3 outright) and were embarrassed by Dallas their last primetime spot. Recency bias is always a factor in the NFL, but in the playoffs where market lifespans are 6 days instead of a president existing for 6 months and handle is exponentially higher in standalone games, what bettors saw last plays a big part in where numbers open, and where numbers move.
The true price in this game is 10.5 and up, getting the chance to lock it in at 8 is well worth the wager and a dead set teaser option through the 7 and the 3 with the Rams.
- Kansas City Chiefs -5 (1.86) Risking 1.50x.
- New Orleans Saints -8 (1.95) Risking 1.05x.
- New Orleans -2.5 with Los Angeles Rams PK (Matchbook Market Price) Risking 2.30x.