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Scouting the enemy: Kansas City Chiefs

Early bragging rights and an early lead in the AFC West are on the line as the Denver Broncos host the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football. Here is a deeper look at the Chiefs and what to look forward to in tonight’s game.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Rivalry games are always the best ones, especially due to the memories they create. Over the years, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs have given fans of both franchises something to remember.

The Chiefs dominated the Broncos in the 1960’s, but in every decade since the Broncos have had an advantage in the head-to-head series, albeit a slim one. Every Broncos fan knows about Steve Atwater’s hit on Christian Okoye. They will also never forget how Clinton Portis gashed them for over 200 yards and five touchdowns. It’s also well-established that most of Broncos Country despises Eddie Kennison for quitting on the team nearly two decades ago. Not to mention it’s always a blast to always remind the good folks loyal to the Chiefs that their franchise hasn’t won anything worth recognizing in nearly five decades.

In the hundred plus gridiron battles the two teams have embarked on, there certainly hasn’t been a lack of fireworks — and I would expect no differently in tonight’s match-up on Monday Night Football with an early lead in the AFC West on the line. But the truth of the matter is, the Chiefs have had the Broncos’ number for the past several seasons. Dating back to 2015, they have reeled off five-straight wins which is a streak Denver hopes to end tonight in front of a roaring hometown crowd. However, it will be tough task, as the Chiefs are one of the best teams in the league and have shown early on they are contenders.

Chiefs Kingdom has rejoiced knowing the dink-and-dunk days of Alex Smith are over and are giddy about the advent of the Patrick Mahomes Era. The second-year gunslinger has taken the league by storm leading the Chiefs’ offense to its most successful heights in nearly fifteen years. Most certainly, he is an early favorite for Offensive MVP honors for his play to date. In three games, Mahomes has thrown for 896 yards and 13 touchdowns with zero interceptions. Teams have only sacked him four times, which is a testament to their offensive line’s quality play and his ability to get the ball out fast.

Without question, their offense is loaded with extremely talented and dangerous skill position players. Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt are still the most well-known weapons on offense, but the addition of wide receiver Sammy Watkins has proven to be a significant boon for their franchise. Those four players have the ability to take it to the house any time they touch the ball, so the Broncos’ defense needs to be at their best if they want a shot at winning tonight’s prime time affair.

This year’s Chiefs squad reminds me of several incarnations they had in the early 2000’s, when their offense featured Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez, Dante Hall and the aforementioned Kennison. Those teams were incredibly productive on offense with everyone getting a slice of the pie, but the overall success of those teams were hampered by poor defenses. Oddly enough, that happens to be the most significant concern the Chiefs have in 2018. Quite frankly, their defense hasn’t been able to stop anybody, which is the major silver-lining giving Broncos Country some modicum of hope in respect to the game.

Can the Broncos get back on track and defeat the Chiefs this evening? Most definitely, but it’s going to take their best effort of the season to make that happen. Here are some of my keys to the game which I believe are critical for any aspirations of ending the night with a victory.

Keys to the Game

Who will keep Travis Kelce in check?

I’m beginning to sound like a broken record constantly harping on the Broncos’ inability to cover tight ends successfully, but this week they are going up against an All-Pro in Kelce, who has destroyed the Broncos in recent memory. They have weapons galore, but nobody has had the type of success against the Broncos’ defense like Kelce has — therefore he is the player on the Chiefs I’m the most worried about. In the last three games versus the Broncos, Kelce has been on fire and has hauled in 26 receptions for 394 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Broncos’ secondary and linebackers have to find a way to limit his impact, because if they don’t, the game might could into a Mile High blowout relatively quickly.

Offensive efficiency and establishing the run

Sometimes the best defense is a good offense. As I wrote about several days ago, one way the Broncos can limit the offensive assault of the Chiefs is to keep Patrick Mahomes and his multitude of weapons off the field. That starts by having a ground first rushing attack that is efficient and helps control the pace of the game, and also allows to defense to be as fresh as possible.

The Chiefs’ defense is one of the worst in the league and allows more than five yards per carry. With that in mind, tonight would be a prime opportunity to showcase rookies Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay to a national audience. Run it early and run it often. Not only that, but the Broncos can’t afford to mismanage drives or turn the ball over. They need to be efficient — that means touchdowns on a consistent basis, not settling for field goals or even worse — turning the ball over.

Put the pressure on Patrick Mahomes

As my colleague Adam Malnati mentioned, one significant key to this week’s game is the Broncos’ defensive line and their pass rushers getting to Patrick Mahomes. As noted earlier, the Chiefs’ offensive line has done a tremendous job protecting the second-year signal caller and have only allowed four sacks on the year. Mahomes isn’t a scrambler by any means, but has top-level talent at extending broken down plays and making things happen when virtually all hope seems lost.

Putting pressure on Mahomes is paramount. If the Broncos want to win tonight, the defense needs to dial up some creative blitzes and force the quarterback into some questionable decisions. If the Broncos can get a turnover or two by doing so, their chances at victory will tick up a bit higher.

Hart’s Prediction

The Chiefs boast the league’s most potent offense, yet have a defense that has struggled significantly through three games. On the flip-side, the Broncos have an offense capable of great achievement, but have failed to reach their potential due to self-inflicted wounds via turnovers or costly penalties.

Can the Broncos’ offense get back on track? Tonight’s game provides them with a prime opportunity to do so — and it’s a task I believe they will rise to. However, if the team were to struggle against one of the league’s worst defenses, that would be a tremendous setback not only this week, but moving forward as well.

The major aspect of this game comes down to whether or not the Broncos’ defense can limit the offensive onslaught the Chiefs have battered their opponents with all season long. The Frequent Fly Zone will have to perform much better than they have early on this season for the Broncos to have a legitimate shot at winning. While I hope for the best, tonight’s affair concerns me given Denver’s questionable depth and injury concerns at cornerback. In the end, I expect a shootout, but I don’t believe it’s going to be one where Denver comes out on top.

Chiefs 34, Broncos 27.