The Kansas City Chiefs open defense of their Super Bowl title tonight at Arrowhead Stadium against the Detroit Lions. Since 2004, the National Football League has had a practice of the defending champion opening the season at home.
Twice it didn’t happen. In 2013, the Baltimore Ravens were defending champions but were forced to open on the road because of a conflict with the parking lot which both the Ravens and Major League Baseball’s Baltimore Orioles use for their home stadiums. The Ravens opened that season on the road and got crushed by the Denver Broncos. Four years ago, the NFL was celebrating their 100th season and in recognition put the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears in the prime time opening slot to commemorate one of the league’s oldest rivalries.
In the 17 games the defending champions have opened at home on Thursday night they have done very well. The Super Bowl champions are 14-3 straight-up and 9-5-3 against the point spread. Twice the defending champions have been home underdogs with the Denver Broncos beating the team they also defeated as an underdog in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers, and last year the Los Angeles Rams opened getting points against the Buffalo Bills and the visitors crushed the Rams, 31-10.
The first team to lose at home on a Thursday night in defense of their Super Bowl title was the 2012 New York Giants. They were defeated by their NFC East Division rivals the Dallas Cowboys. The other opening day home loser on Thursday night was the New England Patriots who as an 8½ point favorite were upset by the Kansas City Chiefs, 42-27, six years ago.
The Giants loss to the Cowboys is easily explainable, the 2011 Giants may be the weakest team ever to win a Super Bowl … they were outscored in the regular season by six points. They are the only team in history to win a Super Bowl after giving up more points than they scored in the regular season. The Patriots loss to the Chiefs in 2017 is a little more difficult to explain, although history shows the Patriots did win one more Super Bowl two years later while the Chiefs have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl three of the past four seasons and twice winning the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
That is what the Detroit Lions are hoping for tonight. That is being a team on the rise against an aging champion. Behind Dan Campbell, the Lions opened the 2022 season with losses in six of their first seven games and then surged to a near playoff berth while winning eight of their final ten contests.
So, if the Chiefs are down a notch from their recent success, Detroit appears a likely candidate to be able to take advantage.
Two key players in the Chiefs rise to the top of the football world could be missing from Kansas City’s lineup tonight. Their best defensive lineman, Chris Jones, is still holding out at press time and even if he signs later on Thursday his chances of playing tonight are slim. The availability of Travis Kelce is not, he is out of the Chiefs lineup after hyperextending his knee during practice on Tuesday.
Getting the best line on a game can sometimes make all the difference. Teams that would have been a loss on the opening line can gain a push or win 7% of the time based on the closing number. Last year, Qoxhi delivered 80 selections from opening day through the Super Bowl, and 39 times we alerted phone clients to take a game now while expecting the line to not be as advantageous on the closing number. Thirty-six of the 39 games we offered early releases did have a better line early than the closing number, and two games of the 36 were a push and win with the early line and losses based on the closing number.
I closed up shop on Monday night noticing that our pick on the Kansas City Chiefs had a point spread of 6½ while some of the sharper books had already moved the spread up to 7 points. The first thing I did on Tuesday morning was to put out a buy on the Chiefs giving the 6½ points … about three hours later Kelce injured his knee and the betting world reacted with a surge of Detroit action that drove the number as low as 4½ points.
Some might think the injury sticks us with our early buy with a bad number, but I can tell you from my experience the motivation we pick up with the Chiefs playing to compensate for the loss of Kelce will more than make up for his absence. While the public moved the line two points down I expect the Chiefs will get an edge that drives their success the other direction making them, by my numbers, at least a nine point winner tonight.
The most classic example of this tendency can be found in a 1989 game played between the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins. The Broncos were favored in Washington by three points. We had the Broncos that day giving the points and yet about 40 minutes before kickoff we got word that Broncos quarterback John Elway was puking in the locker room and not expected to play.
Paul, who still works with me, offered to call as many clients as he could to warn them to get off the game. The public heavy late wagering on the Redskins, in light of the breaking news that Elway was out, drove the home-standing Washington club to a two point favorite.
In words that Richard Dreyfuss would have appreciated, after some metal gyrations, I decided to “Let it Ride.”
The Broncos responded to the loss of Elway and went on to win the game, 14-10. It was a lesson learned, and one that has paid off on a number of occasions over the past 33 years, and one I expect to pay dividends one more time tonight. What we have here is a more inspired defending champ with a line that has been shaved two points or more based on the Kelce news.
Qoxhi Picks: Kansas City Chiefs (-4½) over Detroit Lions