In a league that prioritizes quarterback play, Patrick Mahomes has been the leader of the elite class for several years. He’s why the Chiefs remained the Super Bowl favorites even after two early losses this season.
While several signs have pointed to a Kansas City decline, Mahomes’ magic was enough to make many bettors still believe. But the third loss, a Sunday night blowout dished out by the Bills, is a game-changer for oddsmakers.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the new Super Bowl favorites at 11-2 odds (+ 550) at BetMGM, followed by Buffalo (6-1) and Kansas City (+ 750). The Bills are the AFC favorites at + 240, ahead of the Chiefs at 3-1.
“I think there has been a changing of the guard, and right now the Bills look like the best team,” said Michael Lombardi, a VSiN analyst and former NFL general manager. “I didn’t think the Chiefs would lose five games all year.”
Considering the Chiefs finished 14-2 last season, their 2-3 record at this point is stunning. Mahomes has not been the same magician who can pull a rabbit out of his helmet and wave a wand to make a bad defense disappear. His magic has been waning.
Kansas City has lost twice at home, falling 38-20 to the Bills in Week 5 and 30-24 to the Chargers in Week 3. Mahomes threw two interceptions in each of those losses, and his six interceptions this season match his total for all of the 2020 season.
“Mahomes is not playing great,” Lombardi said. “When you can’t stop anybody and then you turn the ball over on offense, your margin for victory is really, really small. I think there is clearly a separation between good and bad in the NFL, with the Bills obviously on the good side. I’m not saying the Chiefs are bad.”
The Chiefs have been a bad bet for a long time, however, posting a 2-13-1 record against the spread since the midpoint of last season. So what’s the problem? The problems are many.
Mahomes’ play has slipped slightly behind a weak offensive line that was exposed and rebuilt after the Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay in February. The biggest deterioration is on defense. Kansas City ranks last in scoring defense (32.6 points per game) and 31st in yards allowed (437.4).
Josh Allen played the Chiefs for clowns, completing 15 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns. Allen, who was not sacked or intercepted, also ran for 59 yards and a touchdown. The Buffalo defense rarely blitzed and handled Mahomes by forcing short throws, preventing big plays and essentially eliminating his improvisational ability.
While the line on the Chiefs looked cheap to some at -2.5 to -3, it was not a winning result for bookmakers because the Bills drew plenty of betting action.
“We have adjusted the numbers based on the Chiefs’ performances,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director. “I think some bettors are starting to realize that teams have figured out the Chiefs and how to defend Mahomes. The recipe to beat the Chiefs is out there.
“You can’t just win games by scoring a ton of points. You have to be able to play defense, and the Chiefs have not been able to do that. Now, the Chiefs are still going to be a team to contend with and still a topic in the playoff conversation. I’m not writing the Chiefs off.”
The betting public is buying tickets to ride the Buffalo bandwagon until further notice. The Bills are 4-0 ATS, winning by margins of 35, 22, 40 and 18 points, since their inexplicable season-opening loss to the Steelers.
The Chiefs are 6.5-point favorites at Washington, whose defense has allowed 33.8 points in the last four games. Mahomes will probably get back on track, but I could recommend Kansas City only as a teaser play.
BetMGM lists the Chargers (+ 115) as the new AFC West favorites, ahead of the Chiefs (+ 125), Broncos (+ 850) and Raiders (11-1).
Denver is a 3.5-point home favorite against Las Vegas, which has lost two in a row and suddenly must deal with a major controversy in the wake of coach Jon Gruden’s resignation. It’s difficult to envision the Raiders, who just turned in a pathetic performance against the Bears, rallying amid a storm of distractions this week. It’s time for quarterback Derek Carr to lead and make the best of a bad situation.
Raiders owner Mark Davis’ next move is his most important one since moving to Las Vegas. He can eventually take offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy away from Kansas City and make him a head coach or follow what the Chargers did by hiring Brandon Staley, who was a young coordinator. Aside from Bieniemy, three other offensive coordinators — Carolina’s Joe Brady, Dallas’ Kellen Moore and Tampa Bay’s Byron Leftwich — are appealing coaching candidates.
Staley walked into a dream scenario with the Chargers by inheriting Justin Herbert, an emerging superstar quarterback who can rival Mahomes. The Browns, Chargers and Ravens are rising contenders in the AFC. Baltimore, off an improbable comeback victory over the Colts on Monday, is a 3-point home favorite against the Chargers in Week 6.
The Browns’ only losses came in road shootouts to the Chargers and Chiefs. I have a bet on Cleveland as a 2.5-point home favorite against Arizona.
The Cardinals (5-0) are the NFL’s lone undefeated team, but this will be their toughest test. The Browns boast the league’s No. 1 rushing offense (187.6 yards per game), and Arizona’s weakness happens to be its run defense. Cleveland’s athletic defensive front is equipped to contain quarterback Kyler Murray, who resembles a mini-Mahomes with his scrambling ability and strong arm.
“Is Buffalo the new team to beat?” Magliulo said. “It is certainly transitioning, and there’s more balance for sure in the AFC.
“In the past couple years, you asked who could beat the Chiefs in the AFC. Now the AFC is wide open, and the NFC is wide open, and that’s good for our business.”