The most important lesson that should've been learned in the Denver Broncos' 51-48 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday is that the Broncos aren't going to lose a shootout this season. The team that ultimately beats them will have to control tempo. It will need a strong defense. It also will have to know how to win ugly.
In other words, it will have to be the Kansas City Chiefs.
Of all the teams the Broncos will play in the next month, Kansas City is the only one with a real chance of pulling an upset. We all know the Jacksonville Jaguars will be slaughtered by Denver's high-powered attack Sunday. A trip to Indianapolis also should be another victory for the Broncos, primarily because there's no way quarterback Peyton Manning is losing a matchup with his former team. That leaves the Washington Redskins and San Diego Chargers, both of which field some of the worst defenses in the league. Those contests should only add to the hype already surrounding the Broncos' machine.
That leaves the Chiefs in a Nov. 17 matchup that already looks more intriguing than it did when this season began. Few people believed in Kansas City at that point because the Chiefs were coming off a 2-14 season that yielded the first pick in this year's draft. Even with a new coach (Andy Reid) and quarterback (Alex Smith), the consensus was the Chiefs would be fortunate to hover around the .500 mark, and anything better than that would be considered a major shock to those who follow the NFL.
Now that we're entering Week 6, there's a different narrative being written. The Broncos are exactly what most expected -- an explosive juggernaut that has devastated every defense it has faced and stands capable of obliterating every major offensive record in league history. The Chiefs, however, are also 5-0, and they're winning in an entirely different fashion. Like a savvy chef, Reid uses everything in his cupboard to achieve the necessary results, especially a defense that allows a league-low 11.6 points per game.
So, although Kansas City isn't in the same class as Denver, it does have one glaring advantage that becomes clearer each week: a dynamic, relentless pass rush. Manning historically has struggled when defenses get after him consistently, and the Chiefs are built for exactly that purpose. Outside linebacker Justin Houston already has 8.5 sacks, and his counterpart, two-time Pro Bowler Tamba Hali, has four of his own. Add in vastly improved second-year nose tackle Dontari Poe (4.5 sacks) and you see where this is going. Kansas City, which leads the NFL with 21 sacks, should be all over Manning when the teams play in Denver and at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 1
Those three players alone are enough to cause Manning problems. What compounds the issue for the Broncos is the one flaw that has been obscured by their 46.0-points-per-game average: Their offensive line is a patchwork unit. Denver lost starting center Dan Koppen to a torn ACL in training camp, and Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady went on injured reserve with a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot after a Week 2 win over the Giants. You can't lose that much talent up front and not have it hurt eventually. Manning isn't so gifted that he can overcome those losses with a quick release and a penchant for running his system at a warp-speed tempo.
The Chiefs already have dominated one prolific offense, that being Philadelphia in Week 3. The Eagles were scoring 31.5 points per game going into that contest and driving all sorts of debates about how far Chip Kelly's fast-paced system could take him in the NFL. The Chiefs wound up with six sacks, five turnovers and a nice trip home for Reid after defeating his old franchise. That 26-16 victory was the first indication that Denver would not roll this team so easily.
That's not to say the Chiefs don't have glaring issues. Their offense has been limited by injuries, and there's a noticeable lack of depth at wide receiver. They have yet to really unleash their best offensive weapons -- running back Jamaal Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe -- and they look like a team that will struggle mightily when faced with a double-digit deficit. This also has been the genius of Reid this season. He has yet to allow an opponent to exploit the flaws that could easily unravel his team.
For all the knocks about Reid's clock management and his troubles with defense in Philadelphia, he has made himself over as a coach who is flexible enough to work with what he's been given. The Chiefs haven't had many pretty wins so far, and that probably isn't by accident. They're built to absorb adversity and deliver in the most critical of moments. They understand that style points aren't going to mean much when the bottom line is evaluated.
This is a team that has scored a non-offensive touchdown in a mind-boggling four of its first five games. It has already intercepted as many passes (seven) as it did in 2012, and its 2013 win total (five) is three more than all of last season. There's also a lot of talk of this team being a family after what it endured last year, specifically the Jovan Belcher tragedy. The Chiefs, in other words, are more confident and fun-loving than they've been in more than a decade.
That means something when you're facing a team as dominant as the Broncos. So does the fact that Kansas City played Denver tough in a home meeting last year, losing just 17-9 when the Chiefs were 1-9 coming into that contest. Sure, the second game between the teams was a 38-3 laugher, but that was the finale to a season that had been determined fruitless in Kansas City many weeks earlier. The Chiefs were ready to move on to the offseason by that point.
Now the Chiefs, who have a great chance to remain undefeated before meeting Denver, have different hopes and expectations. They believe they can beat anybody, and they are looking more like a playoff contender each week. There are still plenty of people across the country who haven't noticed that transformation, largely because the Chiefs aren't a sexy squad. But when they meet the Broncos in six weeks, they should let the world know how dangerous they really have become.