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October 31, 2014

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Week 1 NFL picks and game of the week for the Sun’s handicapping contest

Chiefs go from one extreme to the other in preseason betting market

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Donnie Avery (17) stretches but cannot reach a pass during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Kansas City, Mo., Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014.

The Kansas City Chiefs went from Las Vegas’ biggest sleeper at this time last year to just plain asleep in the minds of bettors going into the 2014 NFL season.

Week 1: Titans at Chiefs

Which side would you bet in the Sun's game of the week?
Chiefs minus-3.5 — 61.9%
Titans plus-3.5 — 38.1%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

The Chiefs rewarded the tribe of smart bettors who gambled on them before last season by smashing their win total, recording 11 victories when the preseason over/under was 7, and covering more often that not along the way.

All the cash apparently failed to instill long-term faith on Kansas City from the betting market. The Chiefs are suddenly experiencing the opposite perception.

Going into a week 1 matchup hosting the Tennessee Titans, line movements identify Kansas City as a bet-against team.

The consensus of the third annual Las Vegas Sun picks contest, which requires six picks against the spread or over/under point totals from the South Point per week, appears to be among the minority believing in the Chiefs. Two of three prognosticators took Kansas City minus-3.5 against Tennessee.

With the third going the other way with the Titans, Tennessee vs. Kansas City falls as the contest’s most popular game of a particularly competitive week 1.

For the first time in three years, the opening week of the NFL contains only one double-digit spread — the Philadelphia Eagles giving the Jacksonville Jaguars 11 points — and the average line is less than five points.

The pessimism surrounding the Chiefs contributed to driving down the average, as they opened as high as minus-6 when week 1 lines began spreading in sports books four months ago.

Bettors didn’t limit their anti-Chiefs sentiment to the first game line. The price on Kansas City’s win total of 8 also crashed.

Westgate Las Vegas Superbook opened the odds on the over at minus-120 (risking $1.20 to win $1) until adjusting all the way to plus-160 (risking $1 to win $1.60) over the summer. The Chiefs’ plus-275 line to make it back to the playoffs translates, after adjusting for the house’s hold, to a 24 percent chance.

The Titans’ plus-300 to make the playoffs, by comparison, is close behind at 22 percent.

The campaign against Kansas City includes both evident and veiled reasons. Most obvious is an offseason that even an ardent Chiefs fan would confess went far from smoothly.

Kansas City allowed Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert to leave for Miami with plans to slide underwhelming 2013 NFL Draft first overall pick Eric Fisher into the all-important position. No. 1 receiver Dwayne Bowe came down with a one-game suspension after a marijuana arrest.

Three other wide receivers are hurt. That means quarterback Alex Smith, whose recent four-year contract extension some would also argue as a negative, will need the likes of Donnie Avery, Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano to act as top targets against the Titans.

Concerns weren’t eased in the preseason when opponents held the starting offense without a touchdown en route to the Chiefs not covering in a single game.

A less apparent issue for the Chiefs’ season outlook is the schedule. Kansas City faced the easiest slate in the NFL last season, according to Football Outsiders. This year, the Chiefs encounter the second-most-difficult.

Their 11-6 straight-up, 9-8 against-the-spread record from last year — including a 9-0 straight-up, 6-3 against-the-spread start — looks less impressive when slightly filtered. Kansas City went 1-6 straight up and 2-5 against the spread versus other playoff teams.

Tennessee was no titan either. Its 7-9 straight-up, 6-7-3 against-the-spread marks degrade to 1-6 straight up, 1-5-1 against the spread versus playoff teams.

One of the losses was a 26-17 defeat as 2.5-point underdogs to Kansas City at home in week 5. But that was one of 10 games missed by quarterback Jake Locker, who nabbed the Titans’ only win against a playoff team.

Locker showed promise in his third year before breaking his foot, going 4-2 straight up and 4-1-1 against the spread when he took the majority of the snaps.

The influence of new coach Ken Whisenhunt, who took the Chargers’ offense from 24th to second in Football Outsiders’ DVOA in one year as offensive coordinator, could help Locker further mature. Whisenhunt is also transitioning a mediocre defense from a base 4-3 to a 3-4.

Growing pains often accompany the switch, which could work as an indicator towards the Chiefs. Kansas City has the best player on the field by a wide margin in running back Jamaal Charles, who’s the plus-750 third choice by the odds to win the NFL rushing title.

With the spread as low as minus-3 around town, it would be easy to argue the value is on the Chiefs after they opened as two-times bigger favorite. Shrewd gamblers who took the Titans plus-6 early in the summer could position themselves with a lucrative 3-point middle by getting the Chiefs at minus-3 before kickoff.

Kansas City isn’t lifeless heading into the season. It’s just no longer a sleeping giant.

Find all the contest's picks, which are listed in order of sports books' rotation numbers, below.

 

Case Keefer (2012 champion, 2013 co-champion)

Lifetime record: 105-96-3 (51-49-2 last year)

Falcons plus-3 vs. Saints

Ravens minus-1.5 vs. Bengals

Bills plus-7 at Bears

Titans plus-3.5 at Chiefs

Broncos minus-7.5 vs. Colts

Giants plus-6 at Lions

 

Ray Brewer (2013 co-champion)

Lifetime record: 97-101-6 (50-48-4 last year)

Vikings plus-4 at Rams

Browns at Steelers over 41.5 (Note: Incorrectly typed as 'under' in original publication after submitted as 'over'.)

Chiefs minus-3.5 vs. Titans

Panthers plus-2.5 at Buccaneers

Cowboys plus-5 vs. 49ers

Giants plus-6 at Lions

 

Taylor Bern

Lifetime record: 92-105-7 (44-55-3 last year)

Saints at Falcons over 52

Vikings plus-4 at Rams

Jets minus-5.5 vs. Raiders

Chiefs minus-3.5 vs. Titans

Patriots at Dolphins under 47

Panthers plus-2.5 at Buccaneers

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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