The Kansas City Chiefs are coming back from the bye and holiday week, hopefully feeling refreshed and ready for a late-season run. This team has an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the division with a three-game stretch starting Sunday against the Broncos.
This is the time of the season in which the stars should be carrying the team, the rookies are no longer rookies and the midseason additions begin to make a real impact.
Here are a few Chiefs who could be trending this weekend against Denver:
L'Jarius Sneed: Sneed has become the eraser for the Chiefs' defense against the run and the pass. His ability to make plays on the ball is second only to his physicality as a tackler. Sneed should get serious Pro Bowl (and All-Pro) consideration this season, and he's playing his best football over the last few weeks. The Broncos offense takes good care of the ball and leans on their run game, but Sneed can make both difficult this week.
Chris Jones: Four of the Broncos starting five offensive linemen are questionable for this game with injuries. Even if fully healthy, the linemen would have their hands full with the Chiefs pass rush, led by Jones on the inside. Denver is allowing quarterbacks to be sacked at the eighth-highest rate in the NFL. Jones is coming off of a career performance against the Dallas Cowboys and has really found his stride with the help of Melvin Ingram and Frank Clark on the outside. Sack Nation is back, and it could mean trouble for the Broncos this week.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: Make no mistake about it. This team missed Edwards-Helaire when he was injured. Now healthy and coming off of the bye week, he's got an opportunity to be a focal point in the Chiefs offense down the stretch. His skill set is an excellent complement to the offensive line's strengths, as he churns out consistent chunks of yardage between the tackles. As long as Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes can get him involved in the passing game as well, we should expect Edwards-Helaire to go over the 100-yard mark against the Broncos and contribute to an efficient, balanced offense, as we saw against the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Chargers (ideally without the turnovers).
Others trending in the right direction this week: Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Creed Humphrey, Trey Smith, Melvin Ingram, Derrick Nnadi, Tommy Townsend, Willie Gay, Jr.
Mecole Hardman: Now officially the former punt returner for the Chiefs, Hardman's role has also decreased on offense. In the last three games, he's averaging three touches for 25 yards. His snaps have also trended down to a season-low 17% against the Cowboys. Some have speculated that he'll eventually be a game-day inactive, but I believe he's still going to have a role if only as a gadget player with the speed to make a big play if he gets free. There's value in that, but it's not the same as the full-time wide receiver role we all initially thought he could become.
Mike Hughes: Unlike Hardman, Hughes's role is likely to increase this week— he'll be the primary punt returner and could even see more time on defense. Rashad Fenton won't play due to a knee injury, leaving an opening for Hughes or Deandre Baker to step up at the cornerback position. So far this season, that hasn't been a great thing for the Chiefs' secondary. Hughes was giving up a good amount of yardage in coverage earlier in the season, and his assignment won't get any easier this week against a very good Broncos receiving unit.
Andrew Wylie: Wylie has filled in admirably at right tackle in the absence of Lucas Niang and Mike Remmers, but there has been a noticeable difference in play, reminding fans of why the team went out and invested in offensive line this offseason. Wylie's role has some value as a versatile backup, but there's another guy coming off of the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list who might be even better. Kyle Long could make his return, and there's some buzz that he could get the call at right tackle over Wylie. That will be something to watch in the hours leading up to this week's game. It could be the boost in depth that helps this team in a playoff run.
Others trending in the wrong direction this week: Demarcus Robinson, Daniel Sorensen, Noah Gray, Ben Niemann
Value (sleeper) pick: Josh Gordon
We weren't kidding when we said he'd be in this spot all season until he either gets involved in the offense or gets cut. It might finally be time to "buy" Josh Gordon stock. In fact, it might be one of the last chances to "buy low" on him. The Chiefs continue to say that he'll be a factor eventually, and it's possible they were always planning on it being after the bye week. Gordon has been getting plenty of snaps and running routes in recent weeks. It's time he gets some targets.