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Thursday Night Football preview: Kansas City Chiefs host Detroit Lions in season opener

The 2023/24 NFL season kicks off on Thursday Night Football between the reigning NFL champion Kansas City Chiefs and the ambitious Detroit Lions.

The Chiefs’ offseason has not been the smoothest.

Star defensive tackle Chris Jones is holding out for a new contract and tight end Travis Kelce is questionable for the game after he hyperextended his knee two days before the season opener.

Detroit wants to build on its 9-8 record in the 2022/23 season, which was their first winning campaign since 2017. They narrowly missed last season’s playoffs and want to right that wrong this time around.

WhoDetroit Lions @ Kansas City Chiefs
When8:20 PM ET on Thursday, September 7
WhereArrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
How to watchNBC, Peacock
OddsChiefs -4.5, O/U 38.0, Lions +185 ML

Can Chiefs win without Kelce?

Kelce, the Chiefs’ four-time All-Pro tight end, was the leading receiver for last season’s champions, racking up 1,338 yards and 12 touchdowns on 110 receptions in 17 regular season games.

He’s quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ favorite target, and the loss of last season’s top wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, will make Mahomes look for Kelce even more often this season.

If Kelce misses the first game, Mahomes will rely on Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, and Skyy Moore to pick up the receiving burden.

Former Clemson star Justyn Ross is another Chiefs receiver who could benefit from Kelce’s absence. He caught 112 passes for 1,865 yards and 17 touchdowns in his freshman and sophomore seasons before a neck injury interrupted his college career.

Ross seems to have recovered from the neck issue and the foot injury that landed him on injured reserve last season.

Despite being questionable to play in the game, Kelce is -150 to score a touchdown anytime against the Lions.

Lions look to take advantage of Jones absence

Jones, an All-Pro and Pro Bowl defensive tackle last season, was the primary playmaker in the Chiefs’ front seven.

He had 9.5 more sacks than the second-most productive pass rusher on the team for a total of 15.5 on the season, the fourth-most in the league. Plus, he led all Chiefs players in tackles for a loss with 17, eight more than the nearest teammate.

Without Jones on the field, Lions head coach Dan Campbell will see a huge opportunity.

Quarterback Jared Goff will get more time in the pocket to find wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Marvin Jones Jr. Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs will see his offensive line open up gaps in the Chiefs’ run defense more often.

Kansas City prioritized the pass rush in each of the last two drafts, picking George Karlaftis in the 2022 first round and Felix Anudike-Uzomah in the 2023 first round. Head coach Andy Reid will look to those two young players to replace Jones’s production until Jones gets back, whenever that may be.

Detroit defense needs to set tone

The 2022/23 Lions team had one of the worst defenses in the NFL in terms of points allowed with 427, the fourth-most in the league.

That’s the same amount as the Indianapolis Colts and worse than the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams, Las Vegas Raiders, and Cleveland Browns.

The Lions brought in defensive backs CJ Gardner-Johnson, Cam Sutton, and Emmanuel Mosely, who combined for 10 interceptions last season.

Those three, 2022 second-overall draft pick Aidan Hutchinson, and 2023 first-round pick Jack Campbell will be charged with revamping the Detroit defense.

Hutchinson began his career with 9.5 sacks and finished second in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. He is -185 to record a sack against Kansas City and laying a few hits on Mahomes would help motivate his teammates and disrupt the reigning champions’ offense.

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