KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
Tied for 2nd, AFC West
It was a little bit of a shock to the system for the Chiefs to turn on some video of the Broncos' offense and see a quarterback other than Peyton Manning, who started the last eight games between the teams, running the show. That’s not to say the Chiefs aren’t impressed with Trevor Siemian.
“He can make all the throws,’’ linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “He’s not limited in that area at all.
"Have they had the amount of success they want to have on offense up to this point? No. Their team is built on defense. That’s fair to say. But ... they run the ball pretty good; they have really good playmakers on the outside as far as their receivers. They’re a dangerous team.’’
Whether the Chiefs can force Siemian into some turnovers will be a key to determining a winner in Sunday night’s game.
CHIEFS X FACTOR
It’s not often that a team leans heavily this late in the year on a defensive player with two tackles and no sacks for the season, but that will be the case for the Chiefs and linebacker Justin Houston. He returned to play last week for the first time since having surgery to repair a balky left ACL in February. He was in for 55 snaps and was better against the run, where he set a solid edge, than as a pass-rusher. That part of his game will come, and the Chiefs need it to happen in this game, when they could be without their other top edge rusher, Dee Ford. He missed the second half of last week’s game with an injured hamstring.
WHY THE CHIEFS WILL WIN
Turnovers determine the results of a lot of games, but that’s particularly true for the Chiefs, who have forced at least two turnovers in six of their seven victories this season. The Chiefs don’t get a lot of big offensive plays and they tend to stall once inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, so they depend on turnovers to provide field position and to directly score points. The Chiefs are tied for first in the league in turnover margin (plus-13), while the Broncos will give the ball away (15 turnovers, including seven in the past three games). Given the way the Chiefs have struggled to score offensively, combined with the strength of the Denver defense, it’s difficult to picture the Chiefs winning without taking the ball away from the Broncos two or more times.
WHY THE CHIEFS WILL LOSE
The Chiefs have scored two or fewer offensive touchdowns in seven of their 10 games this season, against some of the NFL’s worst defensive teams. The Chiefs have played eight games against teams in the bottom 13 in the NFL in scoring defense. They haven’t played an opponent in the top 10 in scoring defense until the Broncos, who are ninth in scoring defense (18.9 points per game) and fourth in yards allowed (318). So there isn’t much reason to think the Chiefs can win once the score gets above a certain point. The Chiefs will need to keep the score down or get a lot of help from their special teams and defense in order for them to have a realistic chance.
Given the seemingly lopsided nature of the matchups when the Chiefs have the ball, the burden will fall as usual on the defense if the Chiefs are going to win. The Chiefs could give the Denver offense some problems as well. But if the game is to be decided on a down-by-down basis, the Broncos have the advantage. The Chiefs are lugging around a consistently unproductive offense. Kansas City will have to force turnovers in big numbers or otherwise make up for offensive deficiencies with some big plays in the kicking game. Those things are difficult to predict. It’s not hard to predict offensive futility from the Chiefs because we’ve seen it in most of their games this season. Broncos 24, Chiefs 17
Tied for 2nd, AFC West
The Broncos know their best football is yet to come. They have lost their concentration at times, haven’t looked smooth on offense, and know even their do-it-all defense has surrendered too many big running plays.
Yet they are 7-3, in the hunt, and coming off a bye to face the Chiefs (7-3) Sunday night to start the stretch run.
“We feel great, healthwise," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "...Everybody feels fresh and ready to roll. We just know that this is our time when we have to turn it up another notch. This is our time where a lot of teams fall off and they can’t continue to stay on that ride and continue to get better, but this is where we know that we have to turn our game up another notch."
Sunday's game versus the Chiefs is the first of three division contests that remain on the Broncos’ schedule -- another one against Kansas City plus the regular-season finale against Oakland. And since the Raiders have moved to 8-2 with their Monday night win over the Houston Texans in Mexico City, the Broncos know they need to find that next “notch" if they are going to stay in the playoff conversation.
BRONCOS X FACTOR
Running back Devontae Booker. Siemian has taken too much punishment, and what he’s done in the face of that has been undervalued. The best way for the Broncos to finally slow down those opposing pass-rushers, especially those who are consistently coming from off the ball to lay some of the biggest hits on Siemian, is to run the ball with some intent. Booker, a rookie, needs to play like a veteran. If Booker can power some semblance of a run game, Siemian will show what he can do with more room to work in the pocket, and an offense that has been stuck in neutral plenty will finally get moving.
WHY THE BRONCOS WILL WIN
When it comes to stretch drives, the Broncos know the way. They have won five consecutive division titles and made two Super Bowl trips in the past three seasons because they know how to handle business during the holiday season. They’re coming off a bye, so they are as healthy as they’ve been since September and will have all of their defensive regulars available for the first time since Week 2. And the Chiefs have injuries on defense, most notably to Dee Ford and Marcus Peters, so if the Broncos are dialed in, this should be their eighth win of the season.
WHY THE BRONCOS WILL LOSE
These two teams have suffered through the same sort of issues on offense -- neither team finishes drives, and neither is in the league’s top 10 in passing yards per game. That means a mistake here or a mistake there -- or a four-interception day like the Broncos’ offense had last November against the Chiefs -- would cost the Broncos. And this year’s Broncos have simply lost their overall concentration more than last year’s, which has shown up in their lack of a running game and lapses in their run defense. They haven’t shown the chops to win on their own bad day, so any slip in how they conduct their business will result in a painful loss in the AFC West race.
The Broncos are 4-1 at home this season, and the only loss came when rookie backup Paxton Lynch started at QB in Week 5 against the Atlanta Falcons. The Broncos are 21-6 overall coming off their bye week, including six wins in a row, and 15-3 in home games after their bye week. They’re rested and healthy and, they say, motivated to make the most of what’s left of this season. If that’s really the case, it should show up on the scoreboard. Broncos 23, Chiefs 13