The marquee game of Week 11 will take place at Arrowhead Stadium when the Dallas Cowboys square off with the Kansas City Chiefs.
About a month ago, many might have looked at this matchup as a potential Super Bowl preview. While the Cowboys have held up their end of the bargain, there are still some serious questions about the Chiefs on both sides of the ball.
Which team has the edge in what could be the most thrilling game of the 2021 season? Let’s break it down.
- Opening line: Kansas City -2.5
- Current line: Kansas City -2.5
- Total: 56.5
Two public darlings set for battle
Let’s talk first about the line and what it’s done over the course of the week. While breaking down the matchup is critical, we might be able to glean more information based on line movement than we could otherwise.
Why does line movement matter more in this matchup? Because it’s a battle between two of the public’s favorite teams to back.
The Cowboys are (inappropriately) still deemed as “America’s Team,” with a large fan base spanning the country. They are one of the most popular public picks each week because most fans don’t want to bet against their own team. As a New York Jets fan, I’m the complete opposite. Then there’s the Chiefs, who since Patrick Mahomes has arrived have become another public darling that’s constantly getting bet on.
The Cowboys are still the more widely popular team. According to The Action Network, 57% of the bets on this game are on Dallas. However, this number hasn’t moved in their favor much. In fact, the spread popped up to Kansas City -3 before getting hammered back down to -2.5.
What does that mean? Clearly, there are smarter bettors playing the Chiefs. Unsurprisingly, The Action Network reports 57% of the actual money is on the Chiefs, which backs up that theory.
Of course, getting a sense of who the sharps and squares are betting on isn’t all we consider when handicapping. But given how popular both of these teams are, it’s noteworthy.
Are the Chiefs back?
Sunday night’s performance was what anyone who was starting to doubt Kansas City needed to see. The Chiefs finally adjusted to how opposing defenses were scheming against them. Patrick Mahomes put up big numbers but displayed more patience and a willingness to check the ball down. Clearly, they’ve been reading my articles here and at FantasyPros.
Kansas City staged scoring drives of 11, nine, 10, 13, eight, seven, and seven. They held the ball for more than 35 minutes. They took what the defense was giving them. Granted, the stubborn Raiders didn’t show a ton of the two-high safety looks that had given the Chiefs fits for much of the season. But the adjustment on Kansas City’s end was encouraging.
Defensively, this unit might be actually getting better too! No, seriously! The unit is getting healthier. The addition of Melvin Ingram has given this team a greater presence on the edge. And moving Chris Jones back inside has paid big dividends.
There’s still a ton of improvement on the table, as Kansas City still ranks 30th in defensive DVOA. But we’ve seen before that all K.C. needs is a below-average defense to make a long playoff run. Sunday’s game against Dallas will go a long way in telling us whether this Chiefs defense is truly making strides.
Will turnover luck flip against Dallas?
The Cowboys are a legitimate threat to win the NFC. But we have to acknowledge that their defense is benefitting from some insane turnover fortune. Dallas has 17 takeaways on the year, including 14 interceptions. Meanwhile, Kansas City has 20 giveaways, the second-most in the league.
Taking the ball away often is the mark of a good, opportunistic defense. But turnovers can also be fluky, and I’d expect things to even out for both teams in the turnover department.
That being said, I’m not taking any credit away from what Dallas’ defense has done this year. The Cowboys rank fourth in defensive DVOA after ranking 23rd a year ago. It’s an impressive turnaround sparked by youngsters Trevon Diggs and Micah Parsons.
However, Dallas will be without its best two pass rushers in this game. DeMarcus Lawrence has been on injured reserve for weeks. But most recently, Randy Gregory landed on IR with a calf injury. That’s an enormous blow for a unit that ranks 11th in adjusted sack rate but blitzes less than 25% of the time.
Without Gregory and Lawrence, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn may be compelled to blitz more often, which can spell disaster against Mahomes. If Dallas decides to just rush four, then Mahomes should have all day to throw against an aggressive Cowboys secondary that occasionally gets out of position.
Dak Prescott and this Cowboys offense should be able to move the ball with ease. But this game will likely come down to how well Dallas executes on third down and in the red zone. Kansas City’s defense has gotten off the field on 40.5% of their third-down attempts but has given up 22 touchdowns on 32 red zone trips this season.
This game has the makings of becoming a classic. And while some may still be skeptical of Kansas City, I’m willing to jump back on board the bandwagon.
Mahomes and the Chiefs have been terrible covering the spread as big favorites. But Mahomes is actually 10-2-1 as an underdog or favorite of three points or less. The Chiefs are usually overrated in the betting market, but that isn’t the case in this matchup.
With no Lawrence or Gregory, Mahomes should have all day to throw against a Dallas defense that is good, but not always dominant. The Chiefs defense is a concern, but could take on a bend don’t break mentality.
Two other factors working in Kansas City’s favor is special teams and coaching. The Chiefs rank first in special teams DVOA, while Dallas ranks 22nd. And I’d much rather trust Andy Reid than Mike McCarthy.
Lay the short number with the Chiefs, and maybe get a Super Bowl future on them this week. If they win this game, the betting market will fall right back in love with them.
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