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Chiefs vs. Lions ‘Thursday Night Football’ pick and open thread

There should be plenty of firepower tonight to kick of the 2023 NFL season!

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions (0-0) at Kansas City Chiefs (0-0), 8:20 p.m. EDT NBC

For the first time since February 12, 2023, football fans have a reason to collectively rejoice. We have meaningful, regular-season football back after seven months of yard work and house chores on Sundays. The first game of the season is a moment of pure football magic where fans’ dreams are renewed, and the undying spirit of the beautiful game stirs in the hearts of all who adore it.

First up for the 2023 season, the defending Super Bowl champions host the Detroit Lions, who travel to Arrowhead to take on Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

There isn’t any film to review, no previous games for me to break down all the strengths and weaknesses of both teams. At this point, all we have to go off is excitement and previous knowledge. So let’s get to it. Here are my thoughts on this game:

  1. A week ago, my friends over at DraftKings Sportsbook had the Chiefs favored to win this game with an opening spread of +6.5 points. Since the news of Travis Kelce’s knee hyperextension injury, the line has moved a lot closer to reflect the impact of the Chiefs missing a player of such caliber. At the time I sat down to write this article, that number had shrunk from +6.5 to +5. Mahomes hasn’t been tasked with playing without Travis Kelce often. For his career, he’s played just two games without his top target. In those two games, Patrick Mahomes has a passer rating of 103.5 with 542 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Mahomes also gets the ball out faster and shorter without his top tight end. With Kelce on the field, Mahomes throws 43% of his passes in under 2.5 seconds. That figure jumps to 48% without Kelce on the field. Likewise, Mahomes’ air yards per attempt drop precipitously from 8.3 with Kelce to 6.2 without Kelce. If Kelce can’t play, look for the offense to struggle building momentum and scoring points with the ease we are used to seeing from an Andy Reid coached offense.
  2. “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems”: Chris Jones hasn’t reported to work this offseason due to ugly contract negotiations. Jones, who’s entering the final year of his four-year, $80 million deal, is searching for a new contract, and has made it clear that he’s unwilling to play for less than what he feels is deserved. Per Pro Football Reference, of the Chiefs’ 185 “pressures” in 2022, 46 belonged to Chris Jones. That’s 24.9% of their pressures. 44 more (23.8%) came from Clark/Dunlap, who are no longer on the roster. For Chiefs fans, this is a headache. But for Lions fans, it’s a prayer answered. Under pressure last season, out of 33 quarterbacks who played at least 400 snaps last year, Goff was 30th in completion percentage (40.7 percent), 25th in quarterback rating (56.2) and tied for 20th in EPA per play (-0.41) when pressured. Those numbers improve dramatically when he has a clean pocket. I’d look for Goff to have a big day against a secondary that isn’t close to elite and a defensive line that is without its best player.
  3. WIKI TIDBIT: The Kickoff Game was introduced in the 2002 season. From 2004 onward, the defending Super Bowl champion has hosted the Kickoff Game with a couple of exceptions. In 2013, the defending champion Baltimore Ravens opened on the road because of a conflict with a previously scheduled Orioles baseball game the same day, and in 2019, the defending champion New England Patriots didn’t play at all in the Kickoff Game as the league instead scheduled the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears for that game to celebrate its 100th season of operation. Since the NFL began the Kickoff Game, the home team has won all but five matchups (2002, 2012, 2017, 2019, and 2022). Shout out to the Buffalo Bills for the most recent example.

Spence’s Bottom Line

For me, it’s tough to bet against Mahomes. When the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins, we all assumed the offense would stall out because there was a lack of a deep threat and speed. Instead, it resulted in a more efficient, scarier version of Patrick Mahomes. But the difference is that he still had a security blanket in Kelce. This time around he’s going into the season with a lot of unproven guys and no security blanket in Kelce. Even if he plays, you’d have to believe Kelce would be a decoy — which would hurt the team more than help, in my opinion.

So, against my better judgment, I’m going to say the Chris Jones drama and Kelce’s injury are bigger deals than any Chiefs fan wants to admit. And for that reason, I’m taking the Lions to beat the spread, win the game and upset the Chiefs on the road. Hang that banner Chiefs fans and enjoy that moment, because the drive home will be frustrating.

Final Score Prediction: Lions 31, Chiefs 24

Parlay Suggestion: St. Brown anytime touchdown, Lions money line, over 20.5 points +425