As chaotic and abnormal as the NFL season has been, all 32 teams have stayed well-enough intact to play their entire schedule — and one of them will be winning a Lombardi Trophy. At this point of the campaign, the Kansas City Chiefs look to be as able as any other team — if not more so — to pull it off.
We’re here. It’s the playoff push. The Chiefs get credit for starting 10-1, but now it’s about how they perform over the next five regular--season games — and the three (or four) postseason games after that. They trail the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers by one game for the highly-coveted AFC top seed. The Chiefs have to finish with as good a record as they can to have a chance at earning home-field advantage — and the single first-round bye.
That starts with taking care of business by handling the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football. When the teams last met, the Chiefs thrived on the plays of the defense and special teams to produce a blowout in the snow at Mile High. They can’t rely on that to happen again, but the contest will present a good opportunity to continue their momentum into another two-game road trip.
As the Chiefs attempt to make it 11 wins in a row against Denver — and 11 wins on the season — here are five things to watch:
1. Production from the Chiefs rushing attack
The Denver defense is still a talented group. In terms of yards and touchdowns, their big-name secondary is effective — but their run defense has been exploitable.
On the season, Denver has allowed the NFL’s sixth-most rushing yards and the ninth-most rushing touchdowns. They have surrendered 4.5 yards per carry, which also ranks towards the bottom of the league. In Week 7, the Broncos allowed 4.6 yards per carry and an opening-drive rushing touchdown by rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
The last game was also running back Le’Veon Bell’s debut with the Chiefs. He broke off two 16-yard runs, which are still his longest carries with Kansas City. As the season moves forward, it’s important that Bell continues to spell Edwards-Helaire appropriately. The rookie wall is real; the Chiefs could end up playing four or five more games more than Edwards-Helaire played during his last season at LSU.
In a matchup that could call for the running game to shoulder a heaver-than-usual load, watch to see how much room Edwards-Helaire and Bell are given to work.
2. Getting home against Drew Lock
The Chiefs’ pass rush has produced only four sacks in their last four games. Coaches point out that they’ve been able to get some effective pressure on quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Derek Carr in those games — but against the Broncos’ Drew Lock, they have a good opportunity to put up some sack numbers.
In the last game, the Chiefs had three sacks on Lock — one each from defensive tackle Chris Jones, defensive end Tanoh Kpassagnon and cornerback Charvarius Ward. It’s the interior of the Denver line that is most exploitable; Denver’s offensive tackles have played well this season — which means defensive end Frank Clark will have to overcome another strong individual matchup.
Over the last two weeks, Las Vegas Raiders offensive tackle Kolton Miller and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tackle Tristan Wirfs were both able to stonewall Clark. In this game, Broncos left tackle Garrett Bolles will be Clark’s main foe — and in Week 7, Bolles didn’t allow a single pressure.
Look to see if the Chiefs’ pass rush can overwhelm the young Lock — as they were able to do in the first game.
3. Two receivers continuing their historic seasons
It’s incredible that after 12 weeks of the season, the Chiefs have two of the NFL’s top three receivers. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill is second with 1,021 yards, while tight end Travis Kelce is third with 978 yards. They trail only Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, who has 1,039 yards.
Against the Broncos, each of them have chances to continue making history. Kelce needs just 22 yards to reach 1,000 for the season, which would mark his fifth consecutive year over that threshold. No other tight end has ever had more than three straight — and the only one who has is Seattle Seahawks tight end Greg Olsen. Kelce would also become the first tight end to have five 1,000-yard seasons in any sequence.
For Hill, a touchdown would extend his streak of games with a score to six — the first being against Denver in Week 7. In fact, Hill has scored in every game this season except against the Buffalo Bills. If he hits 98 receiving yards, it would be his fifth-consecutive game with at least that many.
Watch for another dominant game from the Chiefs’ best pass-catchers.
4. How the Chiefs’ secondary plays
The Chiefs’ secondary has been up and down over the last three games. They allowed big passing days by the Carolina Panthers and the Raiders — but then stepped up against Tampa Bay’s talented receiving corps.
But playing Lock and the Denver passing offense, they’ll get their friendliest matchup in a while. As a unit, the Broncos offense has 19 interceptions on the season. In their last game against the Chiefs, Lock put it up for grabs — and safety Daniel Sorensen got a pick-six.
In two games against the Chiefs, Lock has yet to throw a touchdown pass — although he did have a rushing touchdown in Week 7. Meanwhile, he’s thrown three interceptions and has a passer rating of just 54.3.
It’s not going to get easier. Rookie cornerback L’Jarius Sneed missed the Week 7 game, but he’s now back in the mix — which should give Lock that much more trouble against the Chiefs’ secondary.
5. Matching up with Denver tight ends
Denver has a few dangerous wide receivers — but since Lock became the starter, they have consistently attacked the Chiefs with their tight ends. In the last two games between them, Noah Fant has caught six passes for 101 yards — and in the last game, rookie Albert Okwuegbunam emerged with seven catches for 60 yards.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, Okwuegbunam is now on IR — but Fant will still be a point of emphasis. Last time, the Chiefs trusted Sorensen and linebacker Damien Wilson to handle Fant — and they were able to hold him to just 38 yards.
Nick Vannett is now filling in for Okwuegbunam as the second tight end. Watch to see how the linebackers and safeties defend the middle of the field.