Saints vs. Chiefs Odds & Picks: Kansas City Is Undervalued, Even As The Road Favorite
Rob Carr/Getty Images. Pictured: Patrick Mahomes (15) of the Kansas City Chiefs at Super Bowl 54.
Saints vs. Chiefs Odds
In a possible Super Bowl preview, the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) travel to take on the New Orleans Saints (10-3) with both teams currently in the hunt for the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in their respective conferences.
The Chiefs have been rolling, winning eight straight while the Saints hope to recover from last week’s 24-21 loss to Jalen Hurts and the Eagles.
Timing couldn’t be better for the Saints as Drew Brees returns to action for the first time since suffering 11 broken ribs and a punctured lung in Week 10. The move to start Brees comes as a surprise, since he was just activated from injured reserve on Wednesday and head coach Sean Payton didn’t sound optimistic about his return this week.
Nonetheless, Brees is back and oddsmakers opened the Chiefs as 3.5-point favorites with a total of 52 under the assumption that Taysom Hill would start at quarterback. Even before the news of Brees’ return, the side was quickly bet down to where it currently sits at Chiefs -3 and, surprisingly, the news hasn’t altered the line at all.
Can Brees hand Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs their first loss since Oct. 11, or will the Saints see their chances of attaining a first-round bye go down the drain?
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs come into Sunday winners of eight straight, but have failed to cover their last five games. They’ve won their last five games by a margin of just 21 points, a shade more than four points per game.
The Chiefs have put teams away without playing a perfect 60 minutes of football, often letting teams back into games well after the game has been decided.
They held a 27-10 first-half lead against the Ravens, a 23-10 fourth-quarter lead against the Bills, and a 27-10 third quarter lead against the Buccaneers. And last week against the Dolphins, the Chiefs had four turnovers with Mahomes throwing three interceptions, more than he’s thrown all season. The Chiefs still held a 30-10 fourth-quarter lead before the Dolphins scored two touchdowns to get the backdoor cover.
So the question is: Are the Chiefs just bored? Are they not as good as their record indicates? Are they unlucky?
Kansas City is second in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA while scoring 31.0 points per game with a league-leading 429.2 yards of offense per game. The Chiefs are also first in explosive play rate, with 12% of their plays going for 20 or more yards.
Mahomes is the odds-on favorite to win MVP. He’s thrown for 4,208 yards and 33 touchdowns with just five interceptions. He’s at the top of the list of all the advanced metrics, ranking first in DVOA (38.6%) and second in ESPN’s Total QBR (84.7), success rate (55.9%) and expected points added per play.
With Mahomes at the helm, it’s no surprise the Chiefs are top-10 in pass/run rate, which is ideal for attacking a Saints defense that’s better against the run than the pass. The Chiefs are also top-10 in pass/run ratio on first down, which also is important considering the Saints are first in defensive rushing success rate on first down.
When the Chiefs run the ball, they’re likely to run the ball from 11 personnel with one tight end, one running back and three wide receivers. From 11 personnel, the Chiefs are averaging 5.1 yards per carry on a 55% success rate.
The Chiefs play 11 personnel on 72% of their offensive snaps.
Where do the Saints struggle stopping the run? You guessed it, 11 personnel.
From three-wide receiver sets, the Saints are giving up 4.8 yards with a 46% success rushing rate, while the next-highest rushing output comes from 12 personnel in which the Saints are allowing 3.2 yards per carry with a 42% rushing success rate.
With all the weapons the Chiefs have and the speed on the outside with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce could be in line for a big day, as we’ve seen the Saints give up 12 receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown to Darren Waller in their Week 2 matchup against the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Saints also allowed five catches for 50 yards and a touchdown to Robert Tonyan in their Week 3 game against the Packers, which was his fourth-highest output of the season.
Although the metrics have the Saints second in success rate (44%) and yards per play (5.6) against opposing tight ends, Kelce would be the best tight end they’ve faced this season, and their metrics could be a product of facing teams that don’t target their tight ends as much.
If there’s anything that will bring you pause for the Chiefs, it’s that their offensive line is banged up coming into this matchup. Right tackle Mike Remmers didn’t practice all week, however he’s listed as doubtful and hasn’t been ruled out yet.
They did receive some good news Friday, as left tackle Eric Fisher returned to practice and should be good to go for Sunday.
Although the Chiefs are just giving up 21.6 points per game, their biggest problems have come on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve played just the 23rd-ranked schedule of opposing offenses, but are last in red-zone touchdown percentage, allowing 73% of trips inside their 20-yard line to be converted for touchdowns.
The Chiefs particularly struggle against the run, and are 30th in defensive run efficiency. They’re also 27th in rushing success rate (54%) while allowing 4.7 yards per carry, 29th in the NFL.
Kansas City’s pass defense has improved from recent years — it ranks 11th in passing success rate and is giving up 230.5 yards per game despite having a high-powered offense that requires teams to throw their way back into games.
In some ways, the Chiefs may actually be catching a break by not facing Taysom Hill for a full game, as their run defense is the clear weak link.
New Orleans Saints
There’s a number of different trends that support the Saints in this matchup.
The Saints have historically done well after a loss in the Sean Payton era, going 9-1 straight up (SU) and 7-3 against the spread (ATS). They’ve also gone 8-1 SU and ATS the last nine times they’ve been an underdog — a role they find themselves in this Sunday.
Trends aside, the Saints have barely skipped a beat in the absence of Brees, with Hill leading them to 4-1 record in Brees’ absence. But now that Brees is back, there’s a ton of question marks surrounding this offense: Is he actually healthy? How will he look?
We’ve already seen a decline in his arm strength — he was the 33rd-ranked quarterback in intended air yards (per Pro Football Reference) before getting sidelined. But what the Saints offense lacked in explosiveness they made up for in accuracy and timing — Brees leads the NFL in completion percentage (73.5%).
He’s also third in QBR (80.1) and fourth in DVOA while throwing 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions.
Unfortunately for Brees, he’ll be missing Michael Thomas, who has been ruled out with an ankle injury. Without Thomas, Alvin Kamara should be a huge part of the game plan. He’s certainly done his part to carry this offense this season, logging 723 yards on the ground to pair with 77 receptions for 699 yards and 14 total touchdowns.
In some ways, the move back to Brees is perplexing, as Hill would likely add another element to the run game that would attack Kansas City’s biggest defensive weakness and keep Mahomes off the field. Although we’re likely to see Hill on the field for special packages, it still doesn’t match the element of surprise when accounting for a running quarterback on every snap.
Outside of last week’s abysmal performance against the Eagles in which the Saints gave up 302 total yards and 17 points in the first half, the defense has played lights-out. They’ve held opponents to just 20.4 points per game while ranking second in defensive efficiency, fourth against the pass and first against the run.
Opposing offenses are averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and 5.0 yards per play with just a 41.9% success rate, fourth-best among NFL teams.
Bookmakers seem to be taking a position on the Saints.
In some ways, it’s understandable — their path to victory involves running the ball and keeping it away from Mahomes, which matches their strengths and the Chiefs’ weaknesses in this matchup.
New Orleans is second in rushing efficiency and fourth in rushing success rate against a Kansas City team that ranks 30th in defensive run efficiency and 29th in rushing success rate.
With Brees returning to the lineup, you could talk yourself into believing that this is a trap game for Kansas City. However, I’m not buying it.
Brees returns to action for the first time since Nov. 10, but he’ll be doing so without his star wide receiver. And with a decline in arm strength and his current game being built on timing and accuracy as opposed to explosiveness and down-field throws, how can we trust that he’ll be the same quarterback he was pre-injury?
Although the Saints have appeared to be a top-tier team defensively, you have to question the level of competition, as they’ve played just the 16th-ranked schedule of opposing offenses this season.
The Saints have played the 49ers, Falcons (twice), Broncos and Eagles over the past five weeks, who rank 14th, 19th, 28th and 25th in DVOA, respectively. Those teams also have a combined record of 18-33 with a point differential of -158.
The Saints were also gifted a win by playing a Broncos team that literally didn’t have a quarterback, but instead practice squad wide receiver Kendall Hinton running the offense.
Outside of the Buccaneers, when the’ve played top-tier offenses in DVOA in the Raiders and Panthers, the Saints have given up 34 and 24 points, respectively.
The Chiefs have scored fewer than 23 points just once this season — a game against the Broncos in which the Chiefs were 0-4 in the red zone. With a total of 52, we know that the Chiefs will score in this matchup, so we’re essentially asking Brees to come in cold and outscore a Chiefs offense that averages 31 points per game.
The Chiefs have won eight straight and haven’t covered any of the last five, but that should change here. I’ll lay -3 with the Chiefs as they look to cover the spread for the first time since the start of November, though I would only bet this to -3.
Pick: Chiefs -3