Sunday Night Football Preview: Can the Chiefs Upset the Packers With Matt Moore Under Center?
In what could have been the marquee matchup of the week, the red-hot Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs without Patrick Mahomes on Sunday Night Football. With Matt Moore under center, this game loses some of its luster, but there are plenty of intriguing betting angles to examine.
As a result of the Mahomes injury, the betting public is heavily backing the Packers, with 82% of the bets and 85% of the money coming in on the Packers' side of the spread (-4), per oddsFire. The moneyline is a bit closer, with 56% of the bets and 58% of the money supporting the Packers to win (-200). As usual, the betting is pretty even on the over/under of 47.5, with 52% of the bets and 53% of the money going with the over.
The obvious stance here is to side with the public and back the superior quarterback in Rodgers, but Kansas City is a tough place to play, and the Chiefs' offense surrounding Moore is stacked with talent. Let's see if our projections see value in going against the grain and siding with the home underdog in Kansas City.
Passing Game Preview
Aaron Rodgers comes into Week 8 fresh off a MVP-worthy performance against the Oakland Raiders in which he threw for 429 yards and five touchdowns on only 31 passing attempts. With 1.05 Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back, Rodgers' Week 7 performance ranks as the third best of 2019 among quarterbacks with 10 or more passing attempts in a game, trailing only Lamar Jackson's dismantling of the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 and Deshaun Watson's five-touchdown game against the Atlanta Falcons in Week 5. Rodgers' performance was even more impressive considering that he was without his best receiving option in Davante Adams, who is doubtful to play this week, as well.
Marquez Valdes-Scantling is holding his own while filling in as the number one receiving option, as his 0.87 Reception NEP per target ranks 23rd in the league among pass catchers with more than 20 targets, and compares favorably to Adams' mark of 0.90 Reception NEP per target in 2019. Valdes-Scantling is a different type of receiver from Adams, with much lower Catch Rates and Target Success Rates, but MVS makes up for it with his big play ability. Valdes-Scantling recorded two catches for 133 yards and a touchdown on just 20 snaps last week while playing through injury, and wasn't listed on the final Week 8 injury report, so expect his snaps to increase this week. Rodgers has made efficient players of Jake Kumerow and Allen Lazard in their limited usage, and the Packers have been effectively involving the running backs in the passing game as well. Wide receiver Geronimo Allison has actually been the least efficient option with 0.42 Reception NEP per target, as he's had similarly low Catch Rates to Valdes-Scantling without the big-play ability. Overall, this passing game ranks as the ninth-best passing offense in the league with 0.22 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back through seven weeks.
Defensively, the Chiefs enter Week 8 allowing -0.02 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back, making them the fifth best passing defense in the league according to our metrics. They have recorded three or more sacks in four of seven games this year, culminating in a Week 7 dismantling of Joe Flacco, where they sacked him 8 times and held him to -0.44 Passing NEP per drop back on 34 attempts. While Rodgers will undoubtedly have more success against the Chiefs than Flacco, the best way to beat this Chiefs defense remains through the running game, though the absence of Kendall Fuller downgrades the Chiefs secondary as a whole.
Matt Moore filled in for the injured Mahomes last week and threw for 117 yards while completing 10 passes on 19 attempts against the Denver Broncos. Moore's performance looks less impressive when examined through NEP, however, with -0.01 Passing NEP per drop back last week and a 40 % Success Rate, both lower than Mahomes' worst game of the season. With a week to prepare, Andy Reid should be able to get a better performance from Moore, as Reid previously made Alex Smith look like an MVP candidate after a career of game-manager numbers. Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle, and Mecole Hardman have all shown big-play ability with Mahomes, and while Moore won't be able to stretch the field with his arm, the Chiefs will try to find creative ways to get their receivers the ball in space. Travis Kelce and his 92% Reception Success Rate on 38 receptions should be a major part of the game plan, as he is the most dependable option for Moore to lean on. Sammy Watkins is set to return from injury this week, though he and Demarcus Robinson have been a step below the rest of the pass-catchers in this offense, with 0.69 and 0.62 Reception NEP per target, respectively.
The Packers' defense has been excellent against the pass, allowing -0.05 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back, just ahead of the Chiefs' defense for the fourth best rate in the league. Safety Darnell Savage Jr. is questionable for Week 8, but otherwise this defense will be a real challenge for the Chiefs to attack through the air. However, opposing offenses have had more success against the Packers lately, as Derek Carr put up 0.67 Passing NEP per drop back last week. After holding opposing passing offenses to negative Passing NEP per drop back in back each of the first three weeks, the last four weeks have seen opposing offenses post rates over 0.18 Passing NEP per drop back.
Rushing Game Preview
The Packers have the league's ninth-best rushing attack this season, producing 0.05 Adjusted Rushing NEP per play. Aaron Jones remains an efficient option on the ground with 0.06 Rushing NEP per carry, good for 12th best among all running backs with more than 50 carries. And while Jamaal Williams has been less productive on the ground, he remains an asset in the passing game, with 0.64 Reception NEP per target and an 81% Reception Success Rate. Both players will likely be featured heavily against a weak Chiefs run defense.
Kansas City ranks as the ninth-worst run defense in the league, allowing 0.06 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per rush. The Chiefs will be without Frank Clark and Chris Jones on the defensive line, further downgrading this unit. This is an exploitable matchup for the excellent Packers running game, and coupled with the Chiefs above average passing defense, the Packers may look to lean on the running game in a hostile environment.
The Chiefs' rushing attack has been very disappointing this year, ranking 20th in the league with -0.02 Adjusted Rushing NEP per rush. LeSean McCoy has been the best option on the ground by far with 0.11 Rushing NEP per carry, and the rest of the backfield has been strongly in the negative. However, Darrel Williams and Damien Williams have been the superior options in the passing game, likely tipping off opposing defenses as to the intent of the offense depending on which running back is in the game. With Moore under center and an exploitable Packers run defense, this matchup looks to favor McCoy among the Chiefs' running back options.
The Packers' run defense is the second worst unit in the league, ahead of only the Miami Dolphins, allowing 0.09 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per rush. The defense has tightened up a bit the last two weeks against the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions, but this is still an issue that has yet to be resolved. It will be interesting to see if the Chiefs can exploit this weakness, as running the ball has been a struggle this season for Kansas City. With Moore filling in for Mahomes, getting the running game on track may have been a point of emphasis in practice this week.
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