NFL Sunday

peyton-manning-chiefsKANSAS CITY CHIEFS (9-0) at DENVER BRONCOS (8-1) Line & Total: Denver -7.5 (-105) & 49

Opening Line & Total: Broncos -8 & 51.5

The Chiefs look to remain undefeated when they visit Peyton Manning and the 8-1 Broncos on Sunday night.

Kansas City improved to 9-0 before its Week 10 bye while Denver went to San Diego and defeated the Chargers 28-20. So far this season, the Chiefs have gone 6-3 ATS, while the Broncos are 5-3-1 ATS. Last season, Denver swept K.C., but was just 1-1 ATS. The Broncos are 10-2 SU (8-4 ATS) in the past dozen home games in this series, but the Chiefs are a much different team this year than they have been in the past and are well-rested while Denver’s star QB Peyton Manning is dealing with sore ankles. In the past two seasons, the Broncos are 13-4 ATS in games played on a grass field, and 11-3 as a favorite of 3.5 to 9.5 points. However, since 1992, Kansas City is 25-12 ATS in road games after scoring three points or less in the first half of its previous game, and 24-11 ATS on the road versus bad defenses (24+ PPG allowed). Star CB Champ Bailey (foot) and S Duke Ihenacho (knee) are both listed as questionable for the Broncos, while the Chiefs are healthy coming off a bye, and top WR Dwayne Bowe will start despite being arrested on marijuana charges earlier this week.

The Chiefs have not lost a game this season and that is mostly because of their defense and rushing attack. The Kansas City defense has allowed an NFL-low 12.3 PPG this season, while also leading the league in third downs (25.8%), red-zone efficiency (23.1%) and sacks (36). It has held opposing teams to just 208.3 passing YPG (6th in NFL), but the run defense has been poor, allowing 118.6 YPG (24th in NFL) on 5.0 yards per carry (2nd-worst in league). The Chiefs’ gaudy defensive numbers have a lot do with their offense staying on the field for 32:14 (6th in NFL). The Chiefs are rushing for 119.0 yards per game (12th in NFL), led by RB Jamaal Charles, who has rushed for 725 yards and six touchdowns this season. He has also caught 47 passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns. The Chiefs will need Charles to be on his game on Sunday as they will need to keep Peyton Manning and company off the field. QB Alex Smith will be relied on to do what he does best, and that is to manage the football game. Smith has completed 60% of his throws for 1,919 yards (6.1 YPA) with nine touchdowns, but just four interceptions this season. He doesn’t turn the ball over (zero lost fumbles) and he is actually capable of making plays with his legs when the play breaks down. Smith has rushed for 265 yards and a touchdown on the season. The Chiefs will need to execute their game plan perfectly to beat the Broncos, but so far this season they have done just that.

Denver escaped San Diego last week with a 28-20 victory behind 330 yards and four touchdowns through the air from QB Peyton Manning. The veteran signal caller, who injured both ankles in the game, will play against Kansas City despite being banged up. He has thrown for 3,249 yards (8.8 YPA), 33 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season. Over the past three games, WR Demaryius Thomas has really come on strong for the Broncos with at least 75 yards and a touchdown in all three. Against the Chargers, he caught seven passes for 108 yards and three touchdowns. TE Julius Thomas also continued his dominant play for Denver with three catches for 96 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win. Both Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas have nine touchdowns on the year, as does WR Wes Welker. Denver must run the ball better, however, as Knowshown Moreno has rushed for only 190 yards on 3.3 YPC in the past four games. His struggles are a big reason why the Broncos rank 26th in the NFL in yards per carry (3.7). Their defense has a good matchup against the Chiefs, as Kansas City is not likely to beat them through the air. Denver’s defense is allowing just 87.0 yards per game on the ground (4th in NFL) on 3.5 YPC (2nd in league), but has surrendered 287.9 YPG through the air (3rd-worst in NFL). The matchup of Denver’s rushing defense and Kansas City’s ground attack will be interesting to watch. Both of these teams are strongest on offense where the opposing team is strongest on defense.

SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-3) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (7-2) Line & Total: New Orleans -3.5 (-120) & 48.5

Opening Line & Total: Saints -3 (-120) & 48.5

After ending a five-game win streak last week, the 49ers will find it difficult to get back in the win column when they visit the Saints on Sunday.

While San Francisco managed a pitiful 151 yards in a 10-9 home loss to Carolina last week, New Orleans piled up 625 yards in a 49-17 home thrashing of the Cowboys. The Niners have 36.0 PPG and 198 rushing YPG in their past three non-home games, but the Saints are 5-0 (SU and ATS) at the Superdome with 35.2 PPG and 464 total YPG. Although San Francisco is 2-6 SU (4-4 ATS) in this series since 2002, both of those wins came in 2012 — a 36-32 playoff victory, and a 31-21 win in New Orleans. The Niners have thrived against elite teams since the start of 2011, going 8-0 ATS versus opponents with at least a 75% win percentage. They are also 31-14 ATS (69%) off an upset loss as a favorite since 1992. However, the Saints are an impressive 17-3 ATS (85%) as a home favorite over the past three seasons, including 12-1 ATS (92%) when they are giving seven points or less. Both teams could be missing starting safeties with San Francisco’s Eric Reid (concussion) and New Orleans’ Malcolm Jenkins (knee) and Kenny Vaccaro (concussion) all listed as questionable.

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick was awful last week, completing just 11-of-22 passes for 91 yards (4.1 YPA), 0 TD and 1 INT, while taking six sacks. He was also hurt by his star TE Vernon Davis leaving in the second quarter with a concussion. Davis has been practicing on a limited basis this week, but appears to be on track to play Sunday. Kaepernick had a strong game in last year’s trip to New Orleans, completing 16-of-25 passes for 231 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, while rushing for 27 yards and another score. WR Mario Manningham was his top receiver that day with 69 yards on five catches. Manningham missed the first eight games of the season with a knee injury, and had 30 yards on three grabs in his season debut last week. But the 49ers know that to be successful on Sunday, they have to run the ball effectively, like they have all season with 148 rushing YPG (4th in NFL) on 4.5 YPC (7th in league). Top RB Frank Gore (700 rush yards, 7 TD) has run for at least 70 yards in seven straight games, and totaled 101 yards with a touchdown in last year’s win over the Saints. Defensively, the Niners rank sixth in the NFL in total defense (317 YPG), placing among the top-10 teams in the league in yards per carry allowed (3.9 YPC) and yards per pass attempt allowed (6.4 YPA). They have been outstanding on third downs (34%, 6th in NFL), but have been horrible in the red zone (64%, 4th-worst in league). However, this unit has created 15 turnovers in the past six games and gave Saints QB Drew Brees some trouble in last year’s meeting.

In that 31-21 loss to the Niners, Brees completed 26-of-41 passes for 267 yards, 3 TD and 2 INT. But since that game, Brees has been outstanding at the Superdome, going 6-1 with 2,539 passing yards (363 YPG), 9.2 YPA, 26 TD and 3 INT. This includes last week when he completed 83% of his passes for 392 yards, 4 TD, and 0 INT, giving him 13 TD and 0 INT in his past three home contests. The Saints entered last week ranked 26th in rushing yards (79.8 YPG) and 29th in yards per carry (3.3 YPC), but steamrolled the Cowboys for 242 yards on 38 carries (6.4 YPC) and three touchdowns. RB Mark Ingram had been struggling all year (2.4 YPC), but he busted out with 145 yards on just 14 carries. However, it will be tough to gain yards on the ground versus a strong Niners run defense that limited New Orleans to just 96 yards on 35 carries (2.7 YPC) in the two meetings in the 2012 calendar year. The Saints defense has improved greatly from last year, especially through the air, where it ranks third in the NFL with 199.9 passing YPG allowed. New Orleans gives up just 18.1 PPG (5th in league) due in large part to a 26:21 time of possession (2nd-best in NFL) as a result of a stellar 31.8% third-down conversion rate (3rd in league). The run defense has been shredded at times this year though, allowing a league-worst 5.0 YPC and a subpar 117.7 rushing YPG (23rd in NFL). The Saints also need to force more mistakes with 0-to-1 takeaways in four of their past five games.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (4-5) at CHICAGO BEARS (5-4) Line & Total: Chicago -3 & 44

Opening Line & Total: Bears -3 & 46

The Ravens try to get their offense in gear Sunday when they face an injury-riddled Bears team.

Baltimore has averaged a paltry 17.8 PPG and 279 total YPG (67 rush YPG) in the past four contests, including 189 total yards in a 20-17 overtime win versus the Bengals last week to end a three-game losing skid. Chicago, which is 2-4 SU (1-5 ATS) in the past six games, will play this contest without QB Jay Cutler (ankle) and top CB Charles “Peanut” Tillman (triceps) who were both injured in last week’s 21-19 home loss, which dropped the club to 0-4-1 ATS at Soldier Field. But the good news for QB Josh McCown and the Bears is that the home team is 8-0 SU in this series since 1980, and the Ravens are 1-4 (SU and ATS) on the road this year. However, Baltimore doesn’t usually have two horrible offensive games in a row, going 17-6 ATS (74%) after being held to 200 or less yards in its last game since 1992, and going 13-4 ATS (77%) after being outgained by 100+ total yards in its last game under John Harbaugh. But Chicago has two big trends in its favor as underdogs coming off a division game against an opponent off two straight division games are just 11-33 ATS (25%) in the past five seasons, and favorites allowing 370+ total YPG against an opponent giving up 335 to 370 total YPG are 39-13 ATS (75%) in the second half of the season over the past 10 years.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco is having his worst season as a pro, toting a career-low 77.3 passer rating with 6.7 YPA, 12 TD and 11 INT. Last season, Flacco had 33 TD and just 10 INT including playoffs. He’s already been sacked 30 times, hitting the deck five times in three of his past four contests. But the team’s offensive woes (4.5 yards per play, 2nd-worst in NFL), can’t be put all on Flacco and the passing game, which has thrown for a serviceable 234.4 YPG (17th in league). The rushing offense has been abysmal, gaining a league-low 2.8 yards per carry and 73.1 rushing YPG (3rd-worst in NFL). Top RB Ray Rice has been slowed by a hip injury all season, gaining just 289 yards on 115 carries (2.5 YPC), while reaching 50 rushing yards just once this year. The Ravens have also been poor on third downs (35.6%, 24th in NFL), but have been strong in red-zone efficiency (57.1%, T-12th in league). Turnovers have also been a big problem lately with the team’s 13 giveaways over the past six games. On defense, Baltimore has been excellent in stopping the run, allowing only 3.7 YPC (5th in NFL) and 102.6 rushing YPG (10th in league). The Ravens have also done a fantastic job when it has mattered most, ranking second in the NFL in red-zone efficiency defense (33.3%) and 4th on third downs (32.4%). But the Bears have some skill players that will give this unit a major challenge on Sunday.

Chicago QB Josh McCown has plenty of talented receivers to work with, including RB Matt Forte, WR Brandon Marshall, WR Alshon Jeffery and TE Martellus Bennett. This talent is a big reason why McCown has completed 62% of his passes for 952 yards (7.6 YPA), 6 TD and 4 INT in his six career games since joining the Bears in 2011. Forte’s 4.4 YPC is why his team ranks 8th in the NFL in this category, but Chicago has also been a great passing team with 261.7 YPG (8th in league). Forte has compiled 1,023 total yards and 7 TD this year, while Marshall (786 rec. yards, 8 TD), Jeffery (735 rec. yards, 3 TD) and Bennett (421 rec. yards, 4 TD) have been the main targets through the air. Chicago has also done a great job of protecting its quarterback, allowing just 14 sacks all year (3rd-fewest in NFL), which has resulted in the team committing just three turnovers in the past five games combined. On defense, the Bears continue to give up too many yards with so many major injuries such as CB Charles Tillman (triceps), LB Lance Briggs (shoulder), LB D.J. Williams (pectoral) and DT Jay Ratliff (hernia), who are all out indefinitely. Chicago has allowed 6.1 yards per play (3rd-worst in NFL), 129 rushing YPG (2nd-worst in league) and 27.4 points per game (6th-worst in NFL). The red-zone efficiency defense has been decent (51.7%, 11th in league), but the Bears have been subpar on third downs, allowing a 41.3% conversion rate (7th-worst in NFL). And although its 20 takeaways have certainly helped this year, the team has forced only three turnovers in the past three games.