It was tough to take the Kansas City Chiefs too seriously last season, even when they kept devouring opponents as quickly as Andy Reid could make a stack of cheeseburgers disappear.
Nine up and nine down. The Chiefs were lucky to be undefeated going to Denver, where they lost by 10 and went into a tailspin before finishing 11-5. And heading into this year, most of the so-called experts were forecasting another Kansas City fade.
But if Reid’s second season as coach has proven something, it’s that his team is a serious contender in the AFC.
The next step he needs to take is a big one. Reid has dropped three in a row to the Denver Broncos, who are 1½-point favorites at Kansas City on Sunday night. Temperatures are expected to be in the 40s with light winds, which is good news for Peyton Manning, who is a weak bad-weather quarterback.
Manning has not been that strong away from home, no matter the weather. The Broncos have lost two of their past three on the road, getting pounded at New England and shut down at St. Louis in a dome.
The Chiefs, 7-4 and one game behind the Broncos in the division, are riding a four-game win streak at Arrowhead Stadium that includes victories over New England and Seattle.
The formula for Kansas City’s offensive success all season should carry over against Denver. Alex Smith has been an efficient quarterback, throwing only four interceptions in 327 pass attempts, and he can make things happen on the run when the pocket collapses. Jamaal Charles, one of the NFL’s top running backs, is coming on strong with 54 carries for 337 yards in the past three games.
The Chiefs, who rank No. 1 in pass defense, can put pressure on Manning. Justin Houston leads the league with 13 sacks, and Tamba Hali is another pass-rushing threat.
A week ago, the Broncos needed a fourth-quarter rally on their home field to beat Miami. The fates of last season’s Super Bowl teams seem to be changing. While the Seahawks are gaining steam, the Broncos appear to be fading.
The Chiefs, of course, are coming off an embarrassing loss at Oakland. A win here wipes that away. It will be an emotional night in Kansas City, and I’m serious about taking the home ’dog to upend the Broncos.
Four more opinions for Week 13 (home team in CAPS):
■ BILLS (-3) over Browns: Josh Gordon’s return is a big boost to Cleveland’s passing attack, and Brian Hoyer needs the help. Hoyer tossed three interceptions in a smoke-and-mirrors win at Atlanta last week. The Browns’ 7-4 record is phony. Buffalo is nothing special, either. But the Bills do have the No. 4 defense, and Kyle Orton should outplay Hoyer enough to get the cover.
■ Giants (-3) over JAGUARS: This looks too obvious, so it probably won’t be easy. Jacksonville is a pancake spot on every opponent’s schedule, and the Giants might be flat. But the Giants also should be hungry to stop a six-game losing skid. Eli Manning can use the best weapon on the field, rookie wideout Odell Beckham Jr. The Jaguars, who picked up their only victory over the Browns, are 2-8-1 against the spread.
■ BUCCANEERS (+3½) over Bengals: Tampa Bay continues to compete for coach Lovie Smith. The Buccaneers outgained Chicago 367-204 last week, but costly turnovers during a third-quarter meltdown by quarterback Josh McCown led to another loss. The home ’dog should hang with Cincinnati, which is in a bet-against spot in its third consecutive road game.
■ Patriots (+3) over PACKERS: Aaron Rodgers is the only quarterback I would consider taking to beat Tom Brady at this point. Instead, I’ll take points with the Patriots. During its seven-game win streak, New England is 4-0 in the underdog role. This line has hit 3½ at one Las Vegas book, so get the best number.
Last week: 3-2 against the spread
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.