After the first dozen weeks of the NFL season, the AFC West race is about as close it gets.
But the Chiefs, who lead the division with a 7-4 record, will have an opportunity to take control of the race in the next 18 days. In that time, they’ll face all three AFC West foes, who each have a 6-5 record, starting this Sunday with the Denver Broncos.
Each week, I take an early look at the Chiefs’ next opponent, and here are five things to know about the Broncos before Sunday’s game at Arrowhead Stadium. Kickoff is at 7:20 p.m., and the game will air on KSHB (Ch. 41).
1. Nuts and bolts
The Broncos shut down the Chargers and won 28-13 on Sunday, and Denver has victories in three of its last four games.
But the Chiefs lead the all-time series 67-55, and they have won 11 straight dating to the 2015 season when Peyton Manning was the Broncos’ quarterback.
The Broncos’ website notes the team also hasn’t won on “Sunday Night Football” since 2015 when they beat the Patriots. They’ve lost six straight under the lights on Sundays.
Denver averages 20.7 points per game, which ranks 21st in the NFL, while allowing 17.8 points per game, which is third.
The Broncos are tied for 13th in the NFL in turnover margin (plus-1). They have 13 takeaways (10 interceptions and three fumble recoveries) and 12 giveaways.
2. Bridgewater update
A shin injury knocked Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of Sunday’s game in the first quarter, and former Mizzou/Lee’s Summit High School star Drew Lock replaced him. Lock threw an interception and the Chargers scored a touchdown after being given a short field.
Bridgewater came back in the third quarter and wasn’t at full strength, coach Vic Fangio said. However, Bridgewater led a fourth-quarter touchdown drive that gave the Broncos a 21-7 lead.
Bridgewater evaded Joey Bosa and threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Eric Saubert.
— Jordan (@J22Lopezz) November 28, 2021
Bridgewater said he had an X-ray on the shin but seems focused on the Chiefs. He was asked by reporters about playing the Chiefs and possibly moving into a first-place tie in the AFC West.
“It’s a great feeling, but we got work to do. We have seven days to our next opportunity to go out and compete,” Bridgewater said. “So we’ve got to make sure we’re maximizing and winning each day leading up to that game.”
For the season, Bridgewater has started every Broncos game and has completed 233 of 339 passes for 2,518 yards. He has 15 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.
3. Receiving corp
Wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who suffered a season-ending injury in the 2020 season opener, has been Bridgewater’s favorite target. He is tied with a team-high 45 receptions and 634 yards. He’s been targeted 70 times, the most of any Denver pass catcher.
Receiver Tim Patrick has 549 receiving yards in 39 receptions with four touchdowns. Tight end Noah Fant also has caught 45 passes, and he has 391 receiving yards.
4. Two-headed rushing attack
Denver is 21st in passing (233.7 yards per game), but 14th in rushing (114.7 yards per game).
Former Chargers running back Melvin Gordon leads the Broncos with 605 rushing yards in 135 attempts (4.5 yards per carry). Gordon also has 22 receptions for 166 receiving yards.
Rookie Javonte WIlliams has rushed for 569 yards in 117 carries, and he has caught 27 passes for 193 yards.
The duo combined for 195 total yards (including 137 rushing) on Sunday, and Williams piled up 111 yards.
Denver is 23rd in third-down conversions (37.7%), but they converted eight of 11 against the Chargers.
5. A look at the defense
The Broncos’ passing defense is 10th in the NFL, allowing 224.2 yards a game, and they have the 13th-most sacks (27). The rushing defense is ranked 12th with opponents running for 106.6 yards a game.
Denver blitzes at the eighth-highest rate in the NFL (28.9% of dropbacks), according to Pro Football Reference.
Rookie cornerback Patrick Surtain II had a pair of interceptions in Sunday’s game, and he took one back 70 yards for a touchdown for Denver’s final score of the game.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 28, 2021
That name may sound familiar to KC fans. Surtain’s father played his final four NFL seasons with the Chiefs (2005-’08).
Safety Justin Simmons leads Denver with four interceptions. Linebacker Malik Reed’s 5 1/2 sacks are a team high.