How can the Broncos upset the Chiefs and take hold of the division lead?

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) is sacked by Denver Broncos defensive end Dre'Mont Jones (93) in the first half at Empower Field at Mile High.
Oct 25, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) is sacked by Denver Broncos defensive end Dre'Mont Jones (93) in the first half at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos travel to Kansas City this week to square off against the Chiefs, in what figures to be the franchise’s most important game since Super Bowl 50.

What must the Broncos do to ensure victory, and what pitfalls must they avoid to dodge defeat? Let’s take a look.

How the Broncos upset the Chiefs

The defense continues its hot streak: For much of the 2021 season, the Denver Broncos defense has been one of the most disappointing units in the entire league.

Throughout the summer, they were hyped up as one of the very best defenses in the sport and one of the few that could truly be a difference-maker in the modern NFL. That very quickly went out the window, after the defense turned in embarrassing performances against the Steelers, Raiders, and a wounded Browns team missing all of their offensive stars.

However, in recent weeks they’ve begun to reshape that narrative. They’ve started to play up to their talent level, and that shift has arguably been the No. 1 reason as to why the Broncos were able to stomp the Dallas Cowboys and Los Angeles Chargers.

Over the past month of football, the Broncos rank eighth in defensive EPA (expected points added) which demonstrates a massive leap forward from their ranking of 27th from Week 4 through Week 8.

Plus, that progression would likely appear to be even more dramatic if it wasn’t for the hiccup they had against the Philadelphia Eagles. The defense’s performance was certainly troubling that week, but it should also be noted that Kansas City’s offense attacks teams in a way much more similar to the offenses of Dallas and Los Angeles than it is to Philly’s.

While the Eagles prayed on the Broncos’ deficiencies defending the run, the Chiefs should play to the Broncos’ strengths defensively.

If the Broncos’ defense can be successful in slowing Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, the Broncos are likely to win this game.

Teddy Bridgewater manages the game beautifully: One of the nicest things to come out of the Broncos’ victory last week was the death of the beyond-tiresome Drew Lock discourse. With the death of that conversation, we can now have a more honest discussion of Bridgewater, who at the end of the day, is nothing more than a high-end complementary piece.

He is not a franchise quarterback. However, he also isn’t a sandbag. He’s a complementary piece.

Generally speaking, that puts you at a severe disadvantage when facing Kansas City, but this iteration of the Chiefs is far more vulnerable, and Bridgewater will have to be able to exploit those vulnerabilities if the Broncos want to win this game.

The Chiefs are going to sell out to stop the Broncos ground attack. We saw the Chargers, a team that tends to live in conservative 2-hi shells do it a week ago, so the more-aggressive Chiefs are likely to do the same.

While that does raise concern, considering the run game is the engine that drives this Denver team, it should leave a lackluster Kansas City secondary exposed on the back end. Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick, Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, and Albert Okwuegbunam should create plenty of opportunities for big plays as they’re gifted numerous one-on-one matchups.

Bridgewater will have to hit on those opportunities if he wants to punish the Chiefs for over-defending the run, and if the Broncos want to win this game.

How the Chiefs maintain their stranglehold on the AFC West

Denver’s run game is left in the lurch: As previously stated, the Chiefs will almost certainly go all-out towards defending the Broncos’ deadly rushing attack — much like the Chargers. However, there’s a difference between attempting to sell out to stop the run, and being successful in that endeavor, as we saw last week.

If the Chiefs want to put the Broncos in their place, they’ll have to stifle Denver’s ability to attack teams on the ground. That should be somewhat easier with Melvin Gordon out of the lineup, but Javonte Williams is no slouch.

Along with the injury to Gordon, another aspect favoring the Chiefs’ run defense is that they’ve been playing much better as of late. Over the course of their four-game win streak, they rank tenth in run-defense EPA, which will provide the Broncos with a much tougher test than the Chargers’ 23rd-ranked unit over that same span was able to provide.

Final Thoughts and Score Prediction

No one knows whether or not the Broncos will show up on Sunday. No one knows if they’ll hold on to the momentum they gained from thumping the Chiefs.

No one knows because it’s been impossible to know with this team all season long.

What we do know for certain is that this Broncos team has two very strong, clearly defined personalities. The personality of Fangio’s idyllic team, a defensive juggernaut that can stifle the most electric NFL offenses of the modern age, with a hard-nosed rushing attack and a quarterback that just stays the hell out of the way; and the personality of a moribund squad with a dead-man-walking as the head coach, looking entirely disinterested in competing and refusing to live up to the potential their high-level talent provides.

The former personality can beat the snot out of the Chiefs and leave the Mile High City riding high as the leaders in the AFC West. The latter personality can make the Broncos a national embarrassment, with everyone in the country watching on NBC.

Fortunately for Broncos country, over the past month, the Broncos have really appeared to turn a corner. They’ve beaten three playoff teams, and their embarrassing loss came at the hands of a team that possesses very different strengths from those of the Chiefs.

The Broncos will emerge from this week victorious and will reclaim their rightful place atop the AFC West.

Broncos win 24-20

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