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Why it's Crucial Broncos Win the Time-of-Possession Battle vs. Chiefs

This hammers home the reality that the Broncos simply can't afford to start slow in Kansas City.

If the Denver Broncos are going to beat the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, this team is going to need to play one of its best games of the season. While Kansas City has not been the offensive juggernaut via the passing game that people have become accustomed to, it still possesses one of the best units in the NFL. 

Trailing only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals in offensive EPA/Play this season at 0.104 and ranked as the sixth-best offense in football per Football Outsiders' DVOA, the Chiefs can put up points and in a hurry behind Patrick Mahomes.

While the Chiefs' recent run of offensive dominance has been very much predicated on the ability to create explosive plays via the passing game, it is perhaps a tad bit surprising how good Kansas City has been at simply possessing the football this season. Beating this Broncos’ offense at their own game, Kansas City is ranked second in the NFL in time of possession per drive at 3.10. 

The Broncos are not too shabby themselves ranking fourth at 3.07 time of possession per drive but how these two teams are getting it done is extremely different. The Chiefs’ offense has been one of the fastest offenses from a snap-to-snap basis, averaging 26.33 seconds per play. 

When a team not only is the quickest at running plays but also one of the league leaders in time of possession, that likely means that that offense is moving the ball a lot and running a lot of plays. This is true for the Chiefs this season as they're ranked first in both plays per drive (7.24) and yards per drive (41.16) in the NFL.

The Broncos this season have earned their time of possession per drive a slightly different way. Averaging 29.65 seconds per play, Denver is the third-slowest offense in the NFL snap-to-snap. 

It’s not sexy but when the Broncos have been good this season, and the offense has been able to move the ball, not turn it over, and play complementary football, they've been able to win games.

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Prized Possessions

All the above data likely suggests that come Sunday Night in Arrowhead, possessions will be at a premium. Falling behind early will likely be a death sentence for the Broncos they're not built to play comeback football on offense while the Chiefs run the clock out.

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With there likely being fewer opportunities to have the football in a game where both teams possess it at such a high rate, the Broncos will also have to improve upon their performance so far this season in the red zone. With a current rate of 4.59 points per red-zone trip and .541 touchdowns per time in the red area (both currently rank 26th in the NFL), Denver’s offense will have to come away with seven points in its likely limited possessions inside the 20-yard line. 

Settling for field goals in the red zone against Kansas City is a recipe for falling behind and never catching back up. Given the time of possession data, expect Broncos-Chiefs to be a game with a quick overall runtime on Sunday Night. 

Also, bet the under on the 47 O/U for the game given the limited number of possessions each team will likely have. Every possession of the football will need to be maximized if Denver is to have a chance.

If there is one large hope for Denver it's the Chiefs' propensity to cough up the football. While Kansas City is one of the best offenses in moving the ball and putting up points, it has been horrific in turnovers.

Averaging 0.189 turnovers per drive (almost two in every 10 possessions), the Chiefs rank 31st in the NFL, with 0.104 interceptions per drive ranking 31st, and 0.085 fumbles per drive ranking 32nd. The Broncos should have ample chances to take the football away from Kansas City and give their offense short fields.

If the Broncos can go out and take advantage of the times Kansas City puts the ball in harm’s way and then possess the football with efficient drives while protecting the ball themselves and scoring touchdowns in the red zone, Denver can not only cover the -10 spread favoring the Chiefs but win at Arrowhead. 

It won’t be easy, but the formula is there. The Broncos must understand, though, that falling behind early is not an option and that every possession is of the utmost importance given the limited number of opportunities each offense will likely have on Sunday night.


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