Thursday Night Football Preview

September 7, 2023

Detroit Lions @ Kansas City Chiefs

© Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

At long last, it’s finally here. The NFL is back.

America’s favorite game will kick things off with a bang, too. Twenty-four months ago, if anyone who follows the NFL would have seen this game – an opening night Thursday Night Football thriller between the Chiefs and Lions – on the schedule, they’d have been scratching their head. One of the best teams in the league versus a perennial doormat? On opening night? What gives?

But it’s 2023 and those questions no longer jive. Yes, the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs are still indisputably among the best teams in the league. It’s the Lions that make this game fun though, as Detroit has gone through a transformation that has all eyes on the Motor City.

On Thursday Night Football, Patrick Mahomes and Co. will embrace the chance to show America the difference between a defending champ and everyone else. Meanwhile, Dan Campbell’s Lions are itching to show the world they’re suddenly knocking on the door as a real contender.

Kansas City -4.5 (-110)

What to like about this line…

  • The Chiefs begin the defense of their crown at Arrowhead. That’s reason enough to expect a big win. In the Patrick Mahomes Era – defined here as from 2018 on – the Chiefs are 5-0 in their opening game, with an average margin of victory of 13 points. In their home opener, they’re also a clean 5-0, with an average margin of victory of 7.4. Simply put, Mahomes and the Chiefs jump out of the gates strong every year.
  • With all due respect to everyone associated with the Lions, this is Patrick Mahomes versus Jared Goff. Mahomes is an annual MVP candidate, while Goff is a serviceable signal caller coming off a 9-8 season. Mahomes led the league’s best offensive team, while Goff (admirably) guided the Lions to the fifth best. But it’s the Lions defense that has questions to answer, as that unit gave up more yards per game than any other team in the NFL last season, allowing 25.1 points per game in the process (fifth worst). That’s a bad recipe for the Lions, considering what the Chiefs offense can do to just about anyone. As a general rule of thumb, it’s never a bad wager to bet on the team with the best quarterback.

What not to like about this line…

  • Travis Kelce is listed as questionable after hyperextending his knee in practice on Tuesday. While the Chiefs are loaded, an inactive or “less active” Kelce could drastically change what KC does on offense. If Kelce were 100 percent, this line might be even higher, but with his status somewhat unknown, it’s fair to be leery of any line. Keep a close eye on this situation and make an educated wager.
  • The Lions are the team with something to prove. Nobody is accusing the Chiefs of taking the summer off, but there’s always the possibility that a Super Bowl hangover applies – especially early in the season. Behind the fiery Dan Campbell, Detroit has suddenly become oddly beloved across the country. Campbell’s team may not be there quite yet, but rest assured they have no plans of laying down to the almighty Chiefs.

O/U 52.5 (-110)

What to like about the OVER…

  • What to like? What’s not to like? This game has all the makings of a good old-fashioned track meet. The Chiefs typically have a middle-of-the-pack defense –

 just good enough to let Mahomes and Kelce outpace their opponents. The Lions, regardless of their resurgence, had one of the league’s worst defenses a season ago. To be fair, Detroit prioritized defense in free agency and the draft, but the Chiefs aren’t exactly an opponent most new-look defenses want to face first. If the Chiefs jump out ahead – which they likely will – the scoreboard should light up from there.

What to like about the UNDER…

  • As a duo, Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid have impressively slapped 33 points on opponents during Kansas City’s home opener over the past five seasons. On the flip side, Jared Goff and Dan Campbell – despite having an excellent offense last season – have managed just 20.5 in their road opener. Those numbers still add up to favor the over, but considering that Goff’s offense only scored 19.4 on the road last season (versus an impressive 33.1 in Detroit), there’s reason for concern. Can a mediocre quarterback go into the defending champ’s back yard and exchange blow for blow with Mahomes? That’s a big ask, which puts the under in play.

Preferred Prop: Isiah Pacheco OVER 52.5 rushing yards

  • In the past 12 games – essentially the timeframe in which Isiah Pacheco became the Chiefs featured back – only twice has Pacheco not surpassed 53 yards on the ground. In fact, in that span, the speedy back has averaged 70 rushing yards per game. At this point, Reid trusts his young back, and his statistics prove it. If the Chiefs can build any type of comfortable lead, which is always possible, Reid will give the ball to Pacheco and try to eat up the clock. That’s a strategy that should work considering that Detroit gave up more than 146 rushing yards per game last season. And just in case you were wondering, Pacheco’s name is nowhere to be found on the Week 1 injury report, as it appears he’s healthy heading into the season. It all points to a no-brainer prop bet.  

Steve Quinne’s Pick: OVER 52.5

There’s not a bet on this board that shouldn’t be made – the Chiefs will cover, 52.5 will be in the rearview mirror early in the fourth quarter and Isiah Pacheco should run roughshod over a Lions defense in transition. But if there’s one bet that looks like a lock, it’s the OVER. If the NFL is good at one thing, it’s putting on a show, and a TNF opener that features two of the top-five offenses in the league should be a wildly-entertaining, high-scoring affair.