The 2023 season kicks off with a battle between the up-and-coming Detroit Lions versus the reigning Super Bowl champs Kansas City Chiefs. Notable injuries that will affect props for this matchup are Travis Kelce (Q) and Chris Jones (D).
David Montgomery First Touchdown (+1000 DK)
Last season, the Lions ranked 1st in first quarter points, 2nd in red zone touchdowns, and 3rd in rushing touchdowns. They were built on a superb offensive line that managed to constantly create pockets of space for running backs to burst through. Head coach Dan Campbell understands his strengths and frequently runs the ball in the red zone.
As a result, former running back Jamaal Williams easily led the league in rushing touchdowns, PFF’s expected rushing touchdowns, red zone touchdowns, and touches inside both the ten and five-yard-line. If Detroit had a chance to score, Williams was the man for the job. He now resides in New Orleans, so David Montgomery takes over the “Jamaal Williams role”. Montgomery is a 225-pound bruiser with the strength to force his way into the end zone in goal line settings. That may not be necessary given this elite offensive line too.
Meanwhile, Kansas City will likely be without defensive tackle Chris Jones, who is holding out for a larger contract. The superstar defensive tackle notched 15 sacks last season, and PFF graded him as the Chiefs’ best run defender. With him off the field, Detroit will find far more success in the interior gaps.
Finally, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid stated that tight end Travis Kelce hyperextended his knee during Tuesday’s practice. It’s currently unclear whether he will be able to suit up for Thursday’s game, but it seems improbable. That’s a massive loss for Kansas City’s offense, which only boosts Detroit’s chances of scoring the first touchdown.
For Montgomery to hold a positive expected value at +1000 odds, he must score the first touchdown around 9 percent of the time.
Sam LaPorta Lions First Touchdown (+1100 BMGM)
Detroit selected LaPorta with the 34th overall pick due to his quickness and reliable hands. LaPorta projects to be a safety blanket for quarterback Jared Goff, especially in the red zone where his size will shine.
Kansas City possesses rock-solid cornerbacks to throw at Amon-Ra St. Brown, but their linebackers and safeties will struggle to handle LaPorta in isolation. This is a Chiefs squad that surrendered the 5th most touchdowns to tight ends last season, and that trend shouldn’t drastically change.
For LaPorta to hold a positive expected value, he must score Detroit’s first touchdown around 8 percent of the time. That’s an absolute steal for the role I expect LaPorta will play in this matchup.
Jerick McKinnon Chiefs First Touchdown (+650 FD)
Kelce led the NFL in red zone targets and red zone touchdowns last season, so there is a massive void now. Patrick Mahomes must find another safety blanket, and McKinnon may be the top candidate.
Enter running back Jerick McKinnon, who earned Mahomes’ trust last year on scoring opportunities. Inside the ten-yard-line, McKinnon ranked 8th in targets and 2nd in touchdowns across the NFL. And while Isaiah Pacheco mostly hoarded the red zone carries, McKinnon still saw his fair share.
Given Kansas City’s subpar receivers and Detroit’s excellent secondary, look for the Chiefs to either run the ball or throw to the flat more frequently than usual in the red zone. This game plan heavily indicates opportunities for McKinnon.
For McKinnon to hold a positive expected value, he must score Kansas City’s first touchdown around 13 percent of the time.