For the second time in the first six weeks of the season, the status of Travis Kelce (ankle) will dominate the NFL news cycle Thursday as the Chiefs get set to play host to the Broncos on Thursday Night Football. As could be expected, Kansas City is 10.5- to 11-point favorites at most books. The game total is 47 to 47.5, leaving the implied totals in the range of 29 for the Chiefs and 18 for the Broncos.
Patrick Mahomes ($12,800 DK, $18,000 FD) is unsurprisingly the most expensive player on both FD and DK. The problem is that he's had pedestrian performances for any quarterback, not just by his lofty standards. He's hit 25 DK points twice and 25 FD points once, while he's put up 19.24, 15.22 and 20.54 points in the other three contests. Indications point in different directions Thursday. The Broncos are a dream matchup, allowing 22.2 fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, second second highest in the league. On the other hand, Kelce at less than full health would hold back an offense that already hasn't been fully clicking. Given his price, I'd be willing to fade Mahomes, but we all know he can take over a game at pretty much any moment.
The Broncos' season has been a disaster, but unlike last year, Russell Wilson ($9,600 DK, $15,000 FD) isn't to blame. He's had a wider range of outcomes than Mahomes, but no truly awful performances. He's scored 15 FD points twice (DK once due to 300-point bonus) and had performances of 18.74, 22.22 and 26.92 (29.92 on DK) fantasy points. The Chiefs have been known for their offense, but the defense has been stout to this point as they held Jared Goff, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields to less than 15 points. Even given that, I'd be more inclined to play Russell at price rather than Mahomes.
Kansas City's backfield was drafted as if it the workload could be ambiguous, but that hasn't been the case through five weeks. Isiah Pacheco ($9,400 DK, $13,500 FD) has 71 carries, while no other back has more than 28. He's shown some explosiveness with two rushes of more than 20 yards and has a touchdown in each of his last three games. In even better news, he has 11 receptions on 13 targets after tallying only 13 catches and 14 targets across his entire rookie season. Even so, spike weeks are few and far between for Pacheco — he's scored between 8.0 and 15.8 DK points in four of five games this season — but this is a dream matchup. The Broncos have allowed 38.9 fantasy points per game to running backs, 11 points greater than the next closest team. That's not a typo.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire ($1,000 DK, $6,500 FD) is next up on the depth chart. He has 33 total touches on the season (28 carries, five receptions), but 16 came in a Week 3 game against Chicago. The case for CEH is that the Chiefs will blow out the Broncos to such a degree that he gets garbage time work. Even in a showdown that's pretty thin, though he enters the punt play conversation for those that need the savings. Kansas City has kept Jerick McKinnon ($5,200 DK, $7,500 FD) in bubble wrap, as he's peaked at five touches in a single game. At some point, he'll become a good play, but that may not be until the postseason.
The outlook isn't nearly as clean on the Denver side. Javonte Williams ($7,200 DK, $10,500 FD) is set to return from a hip injury that sidelined him for one game. He's set to return and should form a three-way committee with Samaje Perine ($5,000 DK, $9,000 FD) and Jaleel McLaughlin($7,000 DK, $10,000 FD). In Williams' absence in Week 5, McLaughlin out-carried Perine 9-6, while Perine had four catches to McLaughlin's three. McLaughlin has been the more efficient rusher, but Perine has three or more receptions in three of five games — two of which came when Williams was healthy. Given his discounted price and role in the passing game, Perine is a decent option on DK.
As for Williams, prior to his injury, he saw between 11 and 13 carries and never topped 52 yards. His workload coming into this game is unclear. If this backfield were a matter of "play the most effective player," McLaughlin has the edge. Of his 22 carries, three have gone for more than 20 yards. Williams has zero on 38 attempts. There's no guarantee that's how work will be divided, however. Of the group, Perine surprisingly seems to have the most secure role as pass catcher.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
As was noted in the intro, analysis of the pass catchers for either team begins with Travis Kelce($11,000 DK, $14,000 FD). He seems to be truly questionable for the game, which casts doubt on his effectiveness even if he does suit up. It doesn't take a football genius to know he can be the must-have player on any slate, though he's been touchdown-dependent to produce this season. In four games, he has yet to reach 70 receiving yards. If Kelce is out, Noah Gray ($4,400 DK, $7,000 FD) steps in as a nice salary-saving option. In Week 1, in the absence of Kelce, he led the team with 37 routes run and five targets.
The receiving corps is a mess. Rashee Rice ($6,400 DK, $8,500 FD) has the most catches on the team after Kelce, but he's worked an underneath role with an unappealing 5.2 aDOT. He doesn't get enough targets to be productive with that role, and even if Kelce is out, that likely remains true. Rice is a touchdown-or-bust option. Justin Watson ($2,200 DK, $6,500 FD) leads the team in receiving yards, and is on the opposite end of things in terms of role as compared to Rice. His aDOT is 21.4, and only 9.2 percent of his yards have come after the catch. Overall, Rice is more appealing on DK, and Watson on FD. Watson is a decent punt option on both sites.
The wild card, as always, is Kadarius Toney ($4,000 DK, $8,000 FD). He's easy to dismiss because he simply hasn't produced, but he tied (an injured) Kelce last week for the lead in routes run and had a solid 28.6 percent targets per route run.
Flipping to the Denver side of things, Courtland Sutton ($7,800 DK, $11,500 FD) and Jerry Jeudy($9,000 DK, $11,000 FD) have a nearly identical role in the offense in terms of overall involvement. Perhaps surprisingly, Jeudy has the more significant role as a deep threat. The raw stats say Sutton is the better play, but Jeudy has the better peripherals. Marvin Mims ($4,600 DK, $7,500 FD) has been incredibly efficient with his work (4.6 YPRR), but he's run only 53 routes across the last four games. His biggest involvement came in the team's 50-point loss to Miami, so his role in a close game appears to be even more diminished than it looks at first glance. I'd rather play Watson.
As for tight end, Adam Trautman ($2,800 DK, $7,000 FD) is the only player with a meaningful role. However, he's been held without a catch in three of five games. He did catch a touchdown in Week 5 and has six targets inside the 20, four inside the 10 and two inside the 5 this season. He's a touchdown-or-bust option but could be a punt option if Greg Dulcich (hamstring) ($3,200 DK, $7,500) remains sidelined. He's still on IR but is questionable for the game. Even if he's activated he's not a great option in his first game back.
Harrison Butker ($4,800 DK, $9,000 FD) has scored double-digit points in three consecutive games. Particularly if Kelce is out, he could be a nice option with the thought that the Chiefs may struggle to find the end zone without their top red-zone target. Given the uncertainty at wide receiver in the lower price ranges, Butker also becomes more appealing.
Wil Lutz ($4,200 DK, $8,000 FD) hasn't been quite as busy, but he has been accurate. The same statement about the uncertainty of the wide receivers applies.
The Denver ($3,000 DK, $7,500 FD) defense is among the worst in the league. There's no reason on paper to play it.
Kansas City ($5,600 DK, $9,500 FD) gets a positive matchup as the Broncos have turned the ball over eight times while also allowing three sacks per game. The absence of Frank Clark (illness) will hurt, and the unit is also priced very aggressively.