Welcome to the biggest game of the Kansas City Chiefs 2014 season as they host the Denver Broncos on national TV Sunday in primetime. Because it's such a big game we talked with Mile High Report about the matchup.
The Broncos are a 1.5-point favorite so they're expected to win but of course those odds don't actually mean anything. A win and the Chiefs keep their AFC West title hopes alive. A loss and the Chiefs are focused on the Wild Card.
Here's my exchange with Mile High Report.
1. The Broncos seem to be struggling a little bit more this year than last. What's the difference between last year and this year's team?
The big difference is the struggling offensive line. Early in the year, it impacted the running game, forcing Peyton Manning to throw. In November, it's been a serious detriment to the passing game as well; combine that with Peyton Manning not having his best games (he threw two interceptions in three consecutive games to start the month) and you saw a surprisingly struggling Broncos team.
The Broncos' offense seemed to right a lot of those wrong against the Dolphins in a 39-36 shootout win, but only time will tell if it was a permanent fix.
2. The Chiefs have struggled against the run. What is Denver's injury situation at RB and what do you expect from the run game?
The Broncos will be without Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman in Week 13, meaning the majority of the running duties will again fall to third string back C.J. Anderson. This isn't so bad - Anderson has been the Broncos' best running back in 2014. In Week 10 against the Raiders, Anderson took a Manning pass at midfield and dodged a hundred Raiders to take it 51 yards to the house. That blew the gates open on that game. Then, in Week 12, Anderson rushed for 169 yards and averaged over six yards per carry. The Broncos inexplicably went away from Anderson in Week 11, a brutal loss to St. Louis - I don't think they'll make that mistake again as long as Anderson is healthy.
3. Kansas City's o-line has been up and down. Are Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware in fine form this year?
Miller and Ware have 19 sacks combined on the year - pretty good, but they were on a pace to be truly exceptional early in the season. Their ability to take down the quarterback has slowed over the last month. Miller and Ware only have three sacks in the last four games between them - I know, "only," right? But considering they had 16 sacks in the first seven games of the season, it's been a disappointing November for this part of the defense. Hopefully they return to early season form as the Broncos make their playoff push.
4. The Chiefs could need a big special teams play. Have the Broncos given up any big punt or kick returns this year?
The Broncos special teams is easily its most maligned unit. The Brandon McManus placekicker experiment is over; enter Connor Barth, who will make his Broncos debut vs. the Chiefs this week. Rookie Isaiah Burse, who has been sure-handed most of the year, fumbled a punt return last week (not when fielding it, but while fighting for extra yards). That was a huge turning point against the Dolphins that gave Miami too-good field position. And yes, there have been big returns - the Patriots' Julian Edelman returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown. It hasn't been pretty.
5. What's your prediction for the game?
I feel like I leaned negativity in these questions so far - part of that is Denver's going 2-2 in November and watching the Broncos not playing like themselves. But hope springs eternal when you have Peyton Manning and a newfound commitment to the ground game. While it's tough to predict a win in Arrowhead, and I see a close game, I also see the Broncos pulling away in the fourth quarter to win by a touchdown.