The Chiefs (9-3) seek to rebound from Week 13’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and get a good matchup against the Denver Broncos (3-9) to do so.
On paper, at least.
Kansas City has won 13 straight games against the Broncos, and Denver’s season has been a disappointment despite optimism following the offseason blockbuster trade for quarterback Russell Wilson.
The Broncos’ offense under first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett ranks at or near the bottom of multiple categories, including points per game (32nd), net yards per game (27th), third-down percentage (30th) and red-zone touchdown percentage (31st).
Nevertheless, the Chiefs aren’t overlooking their divisional opponent.
“We get rid of the record on this thing as we evaluate them and look at them as a team and their defense is one of the top defenses in the NFL,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “The red zone, they’re (at the) top, and the third downs they’re (at the) top.
“They’re playing like crazy, and then their offense is like one fingertip away from winning games. We’ve got to make sure that we have a good week of practice and get ourselves ready for an AFC West opponent, which is always great competition.”
Reid has a point on not paying attention to Denver’s record.
Even with all the struggles on offense, the Broncos have been competitive. Seven of the Broncos’ nine losses were by a touchdown or less, including three one-point defeats.
Will it be a tough outing for the Chiefs on Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High?
Here are four key areas to monitor for the Chiefs, who seek to improve to 10-3:
STRENGTH VS. STRENGTH
Reid brought up Denver’s defense for good reason.
Entering Week 13, the Broncos allow just 17 points per game, which ranks second in the NFL. The Broncos also rank third in total defense (304.6 yards allowed per game), second in yards allowed per play (4.8), first in red-zone touchdown percentage (32.1%) and third against the pass (184.5 yards allowed per game).
Denver will need every bit of that defense against the Chiefs, who rank first in total yards of offense (423.3 per game), first in points per game (29.2) and first in passing (306.5).
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL in yards passing (3,808) and touchdowns (30), but he gave Denver’s defense full respect.
“Their defense is special,” Mahomes said. “They have a good scheme, they have good players.
“When you play division opponents, you obviously know they’ve studied you all offseason, so you try to have a concept of what you do best. But at the same time, throw in some wrinkles so that they can’t be on top of your best plays. So, for us, it’ll be a great challenge against a great defense to go out there and try to find a way to put up enough points to win.”
Still, the Broncos have arguably yet to face a potent offense like the Chiefs this season.
In a classic on-field battle of strength squaring off against strength, the Chiefs’ offense projects to be more than a handful for Denver’s defense, which might find itself on the field entirely too long if the Broncos’ offense doesn’t get going.
The Chiefs’ front five took a step back in Week 13’s loss to the Bengals, allowing two sacks and eight quarterback hits on Mahomes.
Denver comes off a game where they recorded four sacks and five quarterback hits against the Baltimore Ravens.
Last week wasn’t exactly a good warmup for the Chiefs’ offensive line heading into Sunday’s game.
Given the stingy nature of Denver’s defense, the front five must step up and allow Mahomes time in the pocket to find his top receiver, tight end Travis Kelce, while also distributing the ball to others, such as wide receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The Chiefs should have help on the way, though, as starting left guard Joe Thuney practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday. Thuney didn’t play the past two games with an ankle injury.
Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson was once regarded as one of the NFL’s elite signal-callers and he won a Super Bowl while with the Seattle Seahawks.
But the nine-time Pro Bowl selection, all in Seattle, has found the going tough in Denver, where he leads a passing offense ranked 21st in the NFL (212.3 yards passing per game). In 11 games this season, Wilson has just eight touchdown passes. His career low is 20, which occurred in 2014.
The Chiefs, however, know what Wilson can do to an opponent if he gets going, especially down the field.
“I think he’s really good at throwing the deep ball,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “I know he wants to throw it. I mean, it’s something we’ve got to be concerned about. It’s something we can’t allow.
“When we limit explosive pass plays usually points allowed turns out pretty good, so we got a great deal of respect for the player that we know he is.”
While the Broncos’ quarterback can get after a team with his arm, he could be short-handed on Sunday with Courtland Sutton, the team’s leading receiver, trending as not playing with a hamstring injury.
If that’s the case, the Chiefs’ defensive front, led by Chris Jones and his team-high 10 sacks, must get after Wilson and make him uncomfortable.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way because the Chiefs found themselves answering questions about the loss to the Bengals as deep as Thursday.
The Chiefs’ head coach, though, probably provided the best answer on Wednesday.
“Listen, we’re past the Bengals,” Reid said. “I’m way past that, so let’s keep going on to Denver. You’re asking me questions about them but you’re asking them to forget about them, so they’re forgotten. On to this one.”
The Chiefs are saying all the right things about moving on from last week’s disappointment and they should be plenty motivated to leave Denver with a win because of what’s at stake.
Last week’s loss dropped the Chiefs back into a tie with the Buffalo Bills for the best record in the AFC, and the Bills currently own the tie-break scenario for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
A win against the Denver not only puts the Chiefs in position to win a seventh straight AFC West title, but the opportunity to keep pace with the Bills in the playoff chase.
“The guys know,” Reid said. “They know where they are at. Nobody knows better than they do about what’s out front. You don’t have to stand up there and preach to them about that. They want to do well, and they want to win games. That’s the mentality of this team.”