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Scouting the enemy: Kansas City Chiefs

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The Denver Broncos host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football in a rivalry game that means everything for both franchises in pursuit of the AFC West crown and a spot in the playoffs.

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The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs have been bitter division rivals for almost six decades.  When it first began, the Chiefs, founded by Lamar Hunt were known as the Dallas Texans, who eventually relocated to Kansas City in 1963.  The first decade of gridiron battle was dominated by the Chiefs, who won 19 of their first 20 meetings in the 60s.  As the years went by, the Broncos turned into a much more formidable foe and have been on the winning side of the coin for each of the past five decades.

As it stands now, the Chiefs hold a two game advantage in the head-to-head series, 57 wins to 55 losses (including playoffs).  Tomorrow's affair on Sunday Night Football will be the 113th time the franchises have faced off.  It has been a full calendar year since they last met, when the Chiefs stormed into Mile High and defeated the Broncos 29-13.  Though the loss left a bitter taste in the mouth of Broncos Country, redemption was had when Denver cemented themselves as Super Bowl champions, while the Chiefs fizzled back into obscurity after a playoff loss to the New England Patriots.

The past only fuels the intensity of what we will all witness tomorrow night.  With 7-3 records respectively, both teams are a game behind the Oakland Raiders in pursuit of the AFC West title.  The victor of tomorrow's game will have their aspirations of a division title still intact, with the loser dropping firmly into third place with the likelihood of being relegated to a wild card berth at best.

Without question, it is a must win game for both teams and a match-up you won't want to miss.  Here is a deeper look at this years' Kansas City Chiefs and what the Broncos will have to do in order to win on Sunday Night Football.

A Concern for Kansas City - The Captain Checkdown Offense

The Chiefs offense in 2016 has been lackluster in regard to points scored (19th) and overall yardage (24th).   Both their passing attack and rushing game are well below the league average, each ranking 22nd respectively.  A larger concern is their lack of efficiency on third downs, converting only 35 percent (47 out of 132) of their attempts, while opposing offenses are converting nearly 45 percent of their third downs against them.

Alex Smith and Nick Foles have been extremely accurate, but their simple and predictable checkdown passing attack isn't scaring anyone. With Jeremy Maclin out for tomorrow's game the Chiefs could be in a lot of trouble going up against the ferocious Broncos defense, headlined by league's premier secondary adequately dubbed the No Fly Zone.

Despite accurate quarterback play, the inability to sustain drives and finish drives with touchdowns as opposed to field goals in the red zone has been a primary struggle for Kansas City through the course of the season.  Their saving grace has been a lack of turnovers, with the two quarterbacks combining for only four interceptions on the year.

With Darian Stewart receiving a big raise earlier today, expect him and his fellow ball-hawking teammates to play with a bit more swagger and poise, with an eagerness to cut into the Chiefs' +13 turnover ratio by forcing Smith into making bad decisions.  Dinking and dunking isn't going to beat the Broncos' defense, so don't be surprised to see the Chiefs try and run the ball early and often with Spencer Ware, who is average nearly 5 yards per carry in order to control and wear out the Broncos' defensive line.

The X-Factor for Kansas City - Marcus Peters

Broncos fans are spoiled with the precedent and high-caliber of play the No Fly Zone doles out each weekend, but the Chiefs have a star cornerback of their own in Marcus Peters who is arguably one of the most dangerous defensive backs in the entire NFL.

In 25 regular season games, Peters has made his mark by defending a whopping 41 passes and reeling in 13 interceptions, two of which have been returned for touchdowns.  Certainly, Peters' ball-hawking prowess deserves admiration and the special attention of the Broncos' coaching staff who have put in long hours studying the former Washington Huskies product.

Trevor Siemian will have to exercise caution and discretion when throwing the ball his way.  If he is off with his timing or accuracy even just a bit, Peters will make him pay and could wind up picking off a pass and taking it the distance for a defensive score.  Denver can't afford to have that happen.

Key Matchup's to Watch

Kansas City's defensive backs vs. Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders

Outside of Marcus Peters, the Chiefs do have some other admirable young players in their secondary such as Eric Berry, Phillip Gaines and D.J. White who are capable of making big plays.  The Chiefs' secondary is ranked middle of the league in terms of passing yards allowed per game, but have made their living off of forcing turnovers, with an impressive 13 interceptions in 10 games.

The Broncos' receiving corps, led by Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders will have to have a great came in order to help propel the team to victory over the Chiefs.  Don't be surprised to see a healthy dose of Jordan Taylor in tomorrow's game as well, who could prove to be a huge asset for the Broncos' offense in the red zone due to his size.

Justin Houston vs. Russell Okung

Up and coming pass rusher Dee Ford is not expected to play, but Justin Houston has returned to the Chiefs' defense and could pose a potential problem for Russell Okung and the rest of his teammates who have struggled to give Siemian adequate time in the pocket all year long.  If the Broncos want to have any success passing the ball, they'll have to limit Houston's pass rushing capabilities and give the second-year signal caller out of Northwestern a fighting chance to make plays.

Devontae Booker vs. Kansas City's run defense

The Chiefs are fifth-worst in the NFL at stopping the run, allowing over 121 yards per contest to opposing teams.  The Broncos' offense has struggled to run the ball consistently as of late, but the opportunity exists for Devontae Booker to have a big game against a Chiefs' defensive front that has allowed over 1,200 yards on the ground and 4.5 yards per carry to running backs.

The Broncos will need to win in the trenches to give Booker a chance to shine, but I expect a healthy dose of fullback Andy Janovich leading the way as a blocker for Booker in a handful of packages.  If Denver can control the clock and run the ball effectively, they will have a very good shot at beating the Chiefs at home and earning their eighth win of the season.

Hart's Prediction

There is always an aura of uncertainty that comes with rivalry games. Tomorrow is no exception.  There is still a lot of time left in the regular season, but there is no doubting how important this game is for both teams.  The winner of tomorrow's game will have some momentum going into the playoff push, with the loser slipping to third place and almost being eliminated from division title contention.

I expect the Broncos' defense to come out with their hair on fire, forcing the Chiefs' offense into a handful of turnovers that will be beneficial for their chances at winning.  I have confidence in the teams' offensive line to get the job done and believe that Devontae Booker is poised for a breakout game against their struggling run defense.  It won't be a blowout, but it will be a solid win for Denver.

Broncos, 24.  Kansas City, 16.