Not so fast, Broncos fans. Don’t think the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs are a pushover, despite their creampuff schedule.
No reasonable person can argue that the Chiefs have a very good offense. Heck, Peyton Manning has thrown twice as many touchdown passes as the Chiefs have scored touchdowns combined. But the strength of their team matches up incredibly well with what the Broncos do best.
No one wants to hear this, or even acknowledge it, but the Chiefs defense is built to stop the Broncos offense. They’ve got the best pass rush in football, even when they don’t blitz, combined with big, physical defensive backs to play press coverage.
Oh, and here’s a little more for you to chew on. Kansas City has the perfect scheme. A 3-4 defense has historically given Peyton Manning fits. As a matter of fact, the Broncos last three losses have been against 3-4 defenses – the Colts this season, and the Ravens and Patriots dating back to last season.
It’s a fair assumption that Manning is the key to the Broncos winning like he usually is, but not on Sunday. The offensive line, which has given up eight sacks during its last three games, will decide the outcome. They’ll have a spotlight on them brighter than NBC’s Sunday-night lights.
If crazy Broncos fan is really being honest, how good does he or she feel about offensive tackles Chris Clark and a banged up Orlando Franklin blocking two of the best pass rushers in football?
Remember that guy Robert Mathis who abused Clark? Now picture two of those guys in Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, who’ve got a combined 20 sacks. Throw in tackling machine and two-time Pro Bowler Derrick Johnson, and the offensive line is going to have its hands full. But those three guys might not be the biggest issue.
Dontari Poe is a load in the middle, plugging the run and getting a push up the gut. And if he gets any penetration combined with the Chiefs outside rushers, Manning might not make it through the game.
And don’t tell me the Chiefs haven’t played anyone with a winning record. Neither have the Broncos.
This is your classic puncher vs. boxer title fight. It’s toughness vs. finesse.
The Broncos have racked up wins with style points while the Chiefs win with body blows: nothing sexy, just effective.
This match-up is similar to the Giants-Bills Super Bowl in 1991. It’ll be a prolific offense against a suffocating defense.
Are the Broncos a better team? Yes. But this isn’t one of those games where all they’ll have to do is show up to win. Don’t protect Manning and they’ll lose, while possibly losing their quarterback for a considerable amount of time. Turn the ball over three times and they’ll lose. Poor decisions from Trindon Holliday and they’ll lose. Allow Jamaal Charles to rush for 150 yards and they’ll lose.
Open up a 14-point lead and they’ll win. Force Alex Smith to beat them and they’ll win handily. Move the chains with short passes in the hurry-up offense to gas their defense and they’ll win.
No matter how much individual talent the Chiefs have on defense, fatigue makes cowards of us all. And can this Chiefs defense be beat with the deep ball? Absolutely! But Manning isn’t a guy who consistently stretches the field.
The Broncos magic number is 21. Score more than 21 and they win. Score less and the Chiefs have a chance to shock the world, while sending shivers up and down the Rocky Mountains.
Some would argue the Chiefs need this win to prove their doubters wrong. I would say this is a must-win for the Broncos. A loss and Kansas City hold what amounts to a three-game lead in the division with six games to play, including a matchup at Arrowhead in less than three weeks.
The bottom line is that this isn’t a favorable matchup. Their contrasting styles are a juicy storyline that has all the makings of a trilogy this season, which could end in January.
Don’t sleep on the Chiefs, but don’t bet against the Broncos on Sunday. A blowout victory would hammer home the Broncos as the prohibitive Super Bowl favorite. A loss and the Chiefs will race to the top of everyone’s power rankings, while almost assuredly dropping the Broncos to a wild card team.
The old cliché in every locker room is, “We need to play our game to win.” The team that does will win. Either the Broncos will play their game and continue to score points in record fashion. Or the Chiefs will manage the clock running the ball, pressuring the quarterback and forcing turnovers. That’s what makes this game so fascinating.
Yet, the winner will only have bragging rights until their next highly anticipated meeting on Dec. 1. Never has home-field advantage been more important in round one because Manning will be able to control the crowd while getting a favorable nod with the weather.
This is a must-win for the Broncos. And they better take advantage of it.
Eric Goodman hosts “Drive Time with Goodman, Pritchard and Britton” weekdays from 4p-6p on Mile High Sports Radio (AM 1510 | FM 93.7). You can also follow Eric Goodman on Twitter @ericgoodman.