Prediction: Broncos 27, Chiefs 17

DENVER – No one can sit here as we get ready to watch the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs play against a quality opponent for the first time tonight, so nobody can claim that they're ready for prime time or a certain Super Bowl contender. I have suspicions that they are, but the fact is we’ll know much more about how good the Chiefs truly are after this game against the 8-1 Denver Broncos.

But we have seen enough to know that these claims that the Chiefs are frauds or that everything they’ve accomplished is the product of a weak schedule ignore some very real accomplishments. The Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring defense, sacks, turnovers forced, third-down defense and red-zone defense. If any NFL team can make that statement after nine games, it has some very real things going for it.

Now come the high-scoring Broncos, who will certainly test these Chiefs in unprecedented ways tonight. Between Peyton Manning and a pack of receivers more deep and talented than any in the league, the Chiefs will have much to accomplish on every defensive play.

The Chiefs have been preparing for this game almost from the January day that coach Andy Reid and general manager John Dorsey first walked through the door. They realized they needed to better match up with Denver’s giant wide receivers, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, so they went out and brought in free-agent Sean Smith, one of the league’s biggest cornerbacks, and rookie Marcus Cooper.

Suddenly, the Chiefs have a pair of cornerbacks who can muscle with Decker and Thomas. Between that and the NFL’s leading pass rush, Manning and the Broncos have a few things worry about as well.

So this won’t be any kind of lopsided matchup. Each side will land some blows, and then it’s up to Kansas City’s sluggish offense to top whatever number of points the Broncos post.

That’s where things get chancy for the Chiefs. The Broncos are better defensively than generally given credit for. They allow some yards and some points, but those are more a function of desperate opponents unsuccessfully trying to keep up with the Broncos than any genuine weakness on the part of Denver’s defense.

The Broncos are fast on defense and are particularly stingy against the run, allowing just 3.4 yards per carry. That’s something that could make for a difficult day for Jamaal Charles.

Kansas City’s offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in six quarters. So it sounds like wishful thinking to expect the Chiefs to outscore the Broncos. Can we really expect the Chiefs to score, say, the three touchdowns and two field goals they reasonably might need to win this game? The Chiefs haven’t scored more than 26 points except in one game this season, against the New York Giants in September.

They hit 31 that day only with the help of Dexter McCluster’s punt return touchdown.

Once the Broncos score beyond a certain point, it’s going to be difficult for the Chiefs to keep up. At some juncture in the fourth quarter, the Broncos will probably get there, leaving the Chiefs and their faulty offense behind.

Prediction: Broncos 27, Chiefs 17