Who is the better undefeated team: Rams or Chiefs?
Only two undefeated teams remain through five weeks of the NFL season, and they are not exactly unexpected candidates to be the last one standing. Both the Chiefs and the Rams punched tickets to the playoffs last season before losing in the wild-card round; they now look poised to take the next step. Each team has endured just one real scare while surging to a 5-0 record, reaching the top of its respective conference.
Breaking down the Chiefs
Let’s start with the defense. After all, it is becoming increasingly obvious that Kansas City’s offense—led by league sensation Patrick Mahomes at quarterback—is unstoppable. The question is: can K.C.’s ‘D’ at least contain opponents to the extent that Mahomes and company can outscore them on a consistent basis? For the moment, it looks like a bend-but-don’t-break unit. Led by linebacker Justin Houston, the Chiefs are currently second behind Baltimore in opponents’ third-down conversion percentage. When they are either trailing, tied, or leading by no more than seven points, opposing quarterbacks have a 68.9 passer rating (fifth lowest in the NFL).
As for Mahomes, he has taken the league by storm in his first year as a starter. The former Texas Tech signal-caller is 112-of-176 (1-of-1 with his left hand) for 1,513 yards with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He has also added two scores on the ground. Outstanding on his own accord, Mahomes also benefits from a supporting cast that includes wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce, and running back Kareem Hunt.
“Pretty much everything,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick—whose team faces Kansas City this Sunday—said of Mahomes. “He’s got a great arm—a fabulous arm; can throw the ball out of the stadium. He gets the ball to all of his receivers (with a) quick, quick release, sees things quickly, can extend plays, makes good decisions, (is) accurate, gets the ball out on time….”
When Bill Belichick of all people ventures out of his comfort zone to use adjectives like “fabulous,” you know Mahomes is truly impressive.
Breaking down the Rams
The Rams have been getting a ton of respect from the oddsmakers, favored by at least 6.5 points in all five of their games so far in 2018 (they are 3-2 ATS and missed covering the spread against Minnesota by just one point in Week 4). That aforementioned streak will reach six games on Sunday, with Los Angeles favored by seven points at Denver. And why shouldn’t they garner that kind of respect? Talent is oozing all over the stadium, including on the sidelines in the form of a seemingly on-the-rise head coach in 32-year-old Sean McVay. Briefly labeled a bust, QB Jared Goff went for 28 TDs and seven INTs in 2017 and has already thrown 12 touchdown passes in year three of his career. Todd Gurley (nine total TDs through five weeks) is arguably the best running back in the game. L.A.’s defense, which features tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh plus cornerback Marcus Peters, is currently ninth overall and sixth in points per game allowed.
Goff is a +400 second choice to win NFL MVP, trailing only—you guessed it—Mahomes (+220). The No. 1 overall pick in 2016 has thrown at least two more TDs than INTs in three of five games this season, including in easy ATS covers against the Chargers and Raiders. In the Rams’ other cover (a 34-0 rout of NFC West rival Arizona), Gurley did the damage in the form of three touchdown runs.
Edge: Los Angeles Rams
About one thing there is no debate: Kansas City (5-0 ATS) is the best ATS team in the business. That is not to say covering has been easy; head coach Andy Reid’s squad has twice covered by a half-point (in a 42-37 win at Pittsburgh and a 27-23 road victory over Denver).
But which one is the actual better team? The Chiefs have the glitz and glamor in Mahomes, but Goff is looking incredibly solid and playing without pressure given how well his star running back and defense are playing. Looking down the road, Los Angeles has the star power and the depth to remain a defensive force. Kansas City, which is already dealing with an issue on that side of the ball, does not have that kind of luxury. Houston is frequently injured and is likely sidelined for the next few weeks by a hamstring issue. The Rams may have a slight edge right now, and they may boast an even bigger advantage come playoff time. The Chiefs have lost 11 of their last 12 postseason games, including via a spectacular choke in their most recent one against Tennessee. Although Mahomes knows little about that woeful history, it is still something to consider.