NFL Futures Friday: Time to Short the Kansas City Chiefs?

If you’ve been watching football over the past few years, you know that the Chiefs have been an unstoppable juggernaut in recent years. However, Kansas City looked vulnerable in the early part of last season and lost Tyreek Hill this offseason. In addition, the AFC West has rapidly improved around them, and the Chiefs face one of the toughest schedules in the NFL. Is it finally time to short the Chiefs with future bets? Let’s take a look at the relevant factors.

Signs of Weakness in 2021

The Chiefs showed signs of regression last year when they started with a 3-4 record before winning nine of their final ten games. However, that stretch included some incredibly easy matchups. The Chiefs ripped off wins against the Giants and Broncos (twice), both of whom finished with losing records. They also beat a struggling Steelers team and a Raiders team dealing with off-field controversy twice.

Aside from the winning and losing results, the Chiefs showed signs of weakness last season. Patrick Mahomes ranked outside the top ten in passer rating as he threw a career-high 13 interceptions. Defenses played an increased amount of 2-high shell defenses to contain their offense and limit big plays, resulting in reduced potency. The Chiefs’ defense also ranked just 24th in DVOA despite allowing the eighth-fewest points.

Brutal Schedule in 2022

The AFC West is the most improved division in football, and every divisional game will be a dogfight this season. The Chargers will have a much-improved defense after adding J.C. Jackson and Khalil Mack along with the rapidly ascending Justin Herbert. The Broncos finally have their quarterback Russell Wilson to go with a Super Bowl-ready roster. The Raiders added Davante Adams and new coaching staff.

The schedule for the Chiefs was always going to be brutal in 2022 with the improved division and first-place slate, but the schedule-makers weren’t too kind to Kansas City. Their first eight games are against playoff teams from last year the Cardinals, Chargers, Colts, Buccaneers, Raiders, Bills, 49ers, and Titans. That’s an unprecedented stretch of their eight opening games against winning teams from last year.

Somehow, that’s not even their most brutal stretch of the year as they play last season’s two Super Bowl competitors, the Rams and Bengals, sandwiched by the Chargers and Broncos late in the year. The Chiefs have the fifth-most difficult schedule by opponents’ combined 2021 win percentage, and that’s before even considering the improvements in their division.

Loss of Tyreek Hill

Of course, the shadow looming over the Chiefs right now is the loss of three-time First-Team All-Pro wide receiver Tyreek Hill. The team recouped plenty of trade assets and should be fine in the long run, but Hill fundamentally changed the way defenses approached Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense. Hill has over 1,200 yards in three last four years, and 43 touchdowns since Mahomes became the starter in 2018.

The Chiefs replaced Hill with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and rookie Skyy Moore, none of whom should be expected to produce at the same level. Travis Kelce is also now 32 years old, and it wouldn’t be crazy to see him lose a half step this year. The offensive line remains one of the best in the NFL, but this offense might be closer to league average than we’ve grown used to seeing in recent years.

Taking Advantage of the Futures Markets

Despite the odds seemingly working against Kansas City, they are still the favorites to win their division. Depending on your sportsbook, you can find the Chiefs somewhere between +150 to +175 to win the AFC West. The Chargers are currently +250 on BetMGM, their best price, while the Broncos’ best price is +260 at a few books.

The Chiefs are also currently in plus money to win under 10.5 wins. Last year, the first year with a 17-game schedule, no division had three teams win 11+ games. If you’re bullish on the Broncos and Chargers like I am, you should be betting on the Chiefs to win under 10.5 games, given their challenging schedule. I wouldn’t advocate betting on the Chiefs to miss the playoffs outright, but you can argue there is some value at the current number of about 2-1 odds.