The last time the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs played, the game was a lot closer than most assumed it would be. The Broncos stormed to a comeback victory with touchdown scores in the fourth quarter (most importantly a timely Bradly Roby fumble return for a touchdown) to bring home a hard fought road victory at Arrowhead 31-24.
Quarterback Peyton Manning had arguably his best game of the year with 256 yards passing and three touchdowns, but also had an interception that as returned for a touchdown by Chiefs promising rookie cornerback Marcus Peters. Denver's defense had five sacks and forced five turnovers that helped propel the Broncos to victory and made up for a handful of mistakes and inefficiencies on the offensive side of the ball.
HT: Manning poised to hit a major milestone Sunday
Winning the game is goal No. 1 and going undefeated against the Chiefs will be a nice perk, but Peyton Manning is also set to break two records this Sunday - one of which deserves high praise for what it represents.
A lot of things have changed for both teams since they met in the second week of the season. The Chiefs are without their star running back Jamaal Charles, who suffered a torn ACL against the Chicago Bears a month ago. By all accounts, even with an underwhelming performance against the Indianapolis Colts last Sunday, the Broncos defense is even better than it was in September.
There are a handful of stories to watch through the course of the game. First and foremost: Manning's quest to break the NFL's all-time yardage and wins records. Fans in attendance will undoubtedly be witnesses to the former and will be cheering their lungs out to ensure the latter happens as well. Secondly, how will the Broncos defense fair with star cornerback Aqib Talib on the sidelines? You will have to tune in this Sunday to watch history be made to find out. But in the meantime, here is a different take than the one I provided earlier in the season on the Chiefs.
Who's Hot for Kansas City
Quarterback Alex Smith: The Chiefs Week 2 loss to the Broncos marked the beginning of a five game skid for the Kansas City Chiefs, who have finally been able to rebound in their past two games with home wins against the Steelers and Lions. In those outings, Smith has averaged a 104.3 QBR and completed 67% of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Despite his efficiency, he only threw for 396 yards combined in both games.
Smith's game has always been predicated on high efficiency throws and taking few risks, but if he wants to lead his team to victory at Mile High, he will have to take some chances down the field against the Broncos secondary. Can he do it? If he cannot, it is almost certain that the Chiefs will eliminate themselves from any possibility of getting a Wild Card playoff spot in the AFC.
The Chiefs Defense: After an opening game win against the Texans, the Chiefs defense allowed 30 points or more in three consecutive outings. Fortunately, the defensive tide as turned around for them and they have held their opponents to under 18 points a game the last four outings. Their pass defense has been on point and as a unit they've forced five turnovers the past two games. They will need to put together another strong effort against the Broncos on Sunday in order to win.
Who's Not Hot for Kansas City
Wide Receiver Jeremy Maclin: After erupting for almost three hundred yards and 19 catches in games against Green Bay and Cincinnati earlier in the season, Maclin has steadily declined in regard to production over the past several games. In their two recent victories, he has only had six catches for 88 yards. Expect either Chris Harris, Jr. or Bradley Roby to keep him in check most of the game this weekend with Talib being sidelined due to #PokeGate.
The Match Up to Watch
Broncos rush defense vs. Charcandrick West: Losing Charles for the remainder of the season has had some negative implications for the Chiefs offensively, but back-to-back performances from West have alleviated some of the concerns about their rushing attack. Against the Steelers and Lions, he toted the rock for over 200 yards and two touchdowns combined and has averaged rougly ~ 4.9 yards per carry.
The Broncos rushing defense showed some vulnerability against the Colts last weekend and were dominated throughout the course of the game at the line of scrimmage. If Kansas City can replicate what Indianapolis did against the Broncos, they will have a good shot at managing the game clock and sustaining drives.
The Chiefs have had two weeks to prepare for their game against the Broncos this weekend, which could give them the upper hand in game planning and strategy. Alas, the Broncos will be eager to rid themselves of the bad vibes of their loss to the Colts and will have home field advantage with a roaring crowd set to cheer on the team this weekend. The stakes are high for both teams. A win by Kansas City keeps them in the AFC Wild Card hunt. A win by the Broncos gives them another mark towards securing the AFC West title.
This will be another nail-biting game, but a game where I believe the Broncos will reign supreme. Expect Denver to try and get the ground game going to help set up their passing attack. Moreover, have no doubts that the Broncos defense will be playing with a large chip on their shoulder after their tumultuous performance at Indianapolis.
The game's X-Factor? Demaryius Thomas. I believe he will have a large game to honor his mother who was recently released from her halfway house few days ago, but won't be in attendance at the game.
Denver 27, Kansas City 17.