With Denver knocking off San Diego on Sunday, the stage has been set for a showdown in the wild, wild AFC West. The 8-1 Broncos will face off against the upstart 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs in a Sunday night game that will determine first place in the Division and have major playoff implications. Despite hosting a team with a perfect record, the Denver Broncos have been selected as the favorites to win this contest in the MileHighCity.
When Denver Runs
For a Denver offense that becomes one-dimensional at times, this Chiefs defense could be a nightmare. The Kansas City defense has only given up two rushing touchdowns all season, and the league’s 20th ranked rushing attack doesn’t seem poised to buck that trend. In the Denver offense Knowshon Moreno has been incorporated into the gameplan catching passes almost as often as been running the ball, and as a result his traditional rushing numbers are down this season. Here, the definitive advantage in the rushing game lies with the visiting Chiefs.
Spotlight Matchup: When Denver Throws
What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We’re about to find out on Sunday. Although I’m admittedly not his biggest fan, it’s undeniable that Peyton Manning is well on his way to winning his fifth Regular Season MVP award, and despite a gimpy ankle he “definitely will play” in Sunday’s matchup. The torrid pace of the Denver passing attack has been well documented and Manning is on a record setting pace. However, this week he’ll face his greatest challenge thus far in the Chiefs secondary. Kansas City has only given up 9 touchdown passes through 9 weeks and forced 12 interceptions. To be successful the Bronco offensive line must keep Manning upright, as the Chiefs lead the league with 36 quarterback sacks. Containing Justin Houston could prove a difficult task for the home team, as he has already totaled 11 sacks on the season. Due to the excellence of both units through nine weeks, this matchup is a Toss-Up.
When Kansas City Runs
In a season filled with offensive accolades, the Bronco defense has quietly put together a strong season against the run. Denver clocks in at 4th in the league in this category, averaging a staunch 86 rushing yards per contest. Jamaal Charles’ numbers haven’t been eye-popping on the other side of the ball, and Kansas City is in the middle of the pack across the board in rushing statistics. As a result, Denver gets the edge here.
When Kansas City Passes
In a time where prolific passers garner the spotlight, Alex Smith has his team undefeated despite being game-manager. However, he will have to improve upon his current pace of 1 touchdown pass per contest if he wants to compete with elite competition. Smith has only thrown a touchdown pass in 2 of his last 7 starts, and is being sacked three times per game. Couple this with a Bronco defense that is leading the league in interceptions, and the clear advantage goes to the Denver.
Denver’s special teams have been rock solid this season, and Matt Prater hasn’t missed a field goal, clocking in at a perfect 12 for 12 including 3 from outside of 50 yards. The return game has also been an asset to them, as Trinton Holliday has two returns for touchdowns. On the Kansas City side, Ryan Succop has converted a respectable 18 of 21 field goal attempts, and Dexter McCluster has one return for a touchdown, but the edge lies with Denver due to their excellence.
Andy Reid has his football team firing on all cylinders right now, as they’re making timely plays and are a very well coached football club. The Denver sideline is a different story however, as with John Fox on medical leave Jack Del Rio has taken the helm as interim head coach. With this coordinator that his struggled as a head coach at the helm last week, Denver only managed to secure a one-score victory over the mediocre Chargers. Here, the advantage goes to Reid’s Chiefs.
Right now the Broncos are leading the league in third down efficiency, and are converting 50 percent of the time. This is a crucial statistic in terms of maintaining drives and keeping their best player on the field. Denver has also been strong in the Red Zone, scoring a touchdown on 79 percent of their trips this season. However, Kansas City has been equally difficult to score on in the Red Zone, leading the league in allowing a touchdown only 23 percent of the time. It’s safe to say that the outcome of this game between two excellent clubs could very well come down to Red Zone efficiency. Kansas City has also run away with the highest turnover margin in the league, as they register at +15, while Denver has at times struggled with ball security and have lost an NFL high 12 fumbles this season. The advantage here goes to the Chiefs.
Mason’s Stance: 23-20 Chiefs
It’s not very often that choosing an undefeated team to win is picking an underdog, but I believe this game will be Kansas City’s. In the key matchup, I think the Chiefs’ pass-rush will slow down Denver’s aerial attack by pressuring Manning and forcing the Broncos to keep an extra tight end or running back in for additional blocking protection. By eliminating these potential pass catchers, the defense will be able to get more double-coverage opportunities on Peyton’s dangerous receiving corps, and will slow down their production enough to escape Mile High with a victory.