• Bet the over 52.5: I was happy to bet over 54 before the Travis Kelce injury, and the market has moved relatively in line with my valuation of him in this offense, so I am happy to continue to bet the over at 52.5.
• Bet Skyy Moore over 45.5 receiving yards: I expect Moore to take a big step forward this year, with a greater opportunity presenting itself due to departures.
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Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
NFL football finally returns tonight, and it returns with the most intriguing matchup of the Week 1 slate.
The 2022 season was Patrick Mahomes’ first without star wide receiver Tyreek Hill, and it had people asking questions about their offensive potential. They entered the campaign as the third-favorite to win the Super Bowl, and their regular-season win total in a 17-game season was 10.5 (closer to 11 when accounting for the vig), down from 12.5 the year before. They had just blown a three-score lead against the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC championship, and JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling were down as their starting wide receivers.
But then Patrick Mahomes is Patrick Mahomes, and Travis Kelce is the biggest matchup advantage in the NFL. The Chiefs ended up leading the league in expected points added (EPA) per play on offense, offensive success rate and PFF grade throughout the season en route to a Super Bowl victory.
Detroit, on the other hand, has drawn significant hype for the last year or so and comes into this season as the favorite to win the NFC North. Head coach Dan Campbell transformed this once three-win team into a 9-8 outfit last year, with the squad winning eight of their last 10 games while leading the league in EPA per play over that stretch.
The Lions have elite slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and picked up tight end Sam LaPorta and dynamic running back Jahmyr Gibbs in the draft. However, they lose deep specialist D.J. Chark, and Jameson Williams’ suspension causes more issues because the team will have to start the season with the rapidly declining Marvin Jones Jr. and Josh Reynolds, who could muster only 1.27 yards per route run on the outside last season.
Detroit was abysmal on defense last year, but they did as much as possible to improve in the secondary this offseason.
Cameron Sutton put in strong performances against a relatively weak passing schedule for the Steelers and is set to be Detroit's No. 1 corner, replacing the struggling Jeff Okudah. On the other side, Emmanuel Moseley joins from the 49ers and will likely take over the starting role once he returns from injury. Until then, Jerry Jacobs will start and look to improve on his 54.5 coverage grade from a year ago.
Rookie Brian Branch and new acquisition C.J. Gardner-Johnson will strengthen the secondary in their strong safety/slot corner roles, and ballhawk Kerby Joseph will be the free safety in a predominantly single-high safety defense. Jack Campbell (Defensive Rookie of the Year Jack Campbell, to you) strengthens them on the inside.
The big news from the week is the injury to Travis Kelce, and it is unclear whether he can go. The market moved from Chiefs -6.5 with a total of 54 down to -4 and 52.5, speaking to the strength of Kelce and the value he brings to this Chiefs offense.
It does not seem likely that he will go right now — although he does have a workout due for the morning of the game — so there is a strong possibility that the Lions' new-look defense will meet the Chiefs in the most vulnerable state they have been in with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback.
Over 52.5 (-112 FanDuel)
I was happy to bet over 54 before the Travis Kelce injury, and the market has moved relatively in line with my valuation of him in this offense, so I am happy to continue to bet the over at 52.5.
Despite potentially losing Travis Kelce to injury, there are still plenty of positives surrounding this Chiefs offense. And they are not without other weapons (Patrick Mahomes) who can take advantage of good matchups, while the Lions defense needs to prove that it has improved, given the questions that still need to be answered in the secondary.
On top of this, Detroit returns the same defensive front that ranked 30th league-wide in schedule-adjusted yards allowed per carry last season, so there is more than one avenue to success for the Chiefs offense, even if it is without its star tight end.
As far as the Chiefs defense is concerned, the secondary performed superbly last year and returns all of the starters with the exception of Juan Thornhill.
Chris Jones holding out creates a significant gap in the Chiefs' ability to rush the passer, and against a team that is fragile on the interior offensive line but strong on the outside, Jones’ absence holds greater weight.
The Kansas City edge rushers have generated pressure on less than 10% of their rushes, and Jared Goff will likely have significant time to assess the situation in front of him. And with an elite route runner in Amon-Ra St. Brown, there is only so long the secondary of the Chiefs can keep them contained.
Goff’s resurgence has been largely due to his improved ability to make the right decision, and that decision-making becomes much easier when you don’t have 300-pound men running after you.
The best quarterback (ever?) against a secondary playing together in their first meaningful game and a well-coached team with a big advantage in the trenches when they have the ball. This game should have points.
Skyy Moore Over 45.5 Receiving Yards (-113 FanDuel, -115 DraftKings)
I want to be mindful of not over-betting Chiefs receiving props with the expectation that Travis Kelce will be out, but Skyy Moore has a valuable matchup on the outside on around half of his snaps (versus Jerry Jacobs).
I expect him to take a big step forward this year with a greater opportunity presenting itself due to departures. He was an incredibly good receiver with elite ball skills at Western Michigan, posting ridiculous yards per route run numbers over his final two years, even adjusting for personnel and opportunity (2.15 personnel adjusted yards per route run in 2020, 3.04 in 2021), and he was getting open for the Chiefs on limited snaps last year.
He generated a target at a higher rate than all receivers not named Travis Kelce or Kadarius Toney, getting targeted every 5.07 snaps, and his opportunity is significantly higher this year, even if Kelce is a go.