The Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL’s best story in 2013. A team that set records for futility in 2012 is now 9-0 and in first place in the AFC West.
They have been called the “worst 9-0 team” CBS senior NFL columnist Pete Prisco has ever seen. The Chiefs have the chance to silence Prisco and other critics with a win on Sunday against their bitter rival, the 8-1 Denver Broncos.
The Chiefs and Broncos rivalry is one that spans all the way back to the inception of the AFL, but this is easily one of the most highly anticipated regular season meetings between the two teams. The Broncos look unstoppable on offense. The Chiefs look immovable on defense.
The Chiefs and Broncos are both elite on one side of the ball, but on the other they struggle to be average. The Chiefs offense is averaging 23.9 points per game, which is good for No. 14 in the NFL. The Broncos defense gives up 26.4 points per game, which ranks them No. 25 in the NFL.
Being the No. 14 offense in the NFL looks like a good place for the Chiefs, but their defense and special teams have scored the most points in the league. And while the Broncos may have the fourth-best rush defense statistically, it’s because their offense puts up points so quickly that teams have to pass the ball to get back in the game.
The marquee matchup in this game is the Broncos’ wide receivers against the Chiefs defensive backs.
Quarterback Peyton Manning feasts on defenses by finding one-on-one matchups before the play. Manning then gets the ball quickly to his hot read, nullifying his offensive line’s poor play.
According to Pro Football Focus, Manning gets the ball out of his hands quicker than anyone else in the NFL, 2.35 seconds. However, Manning also has the least amount of time to pass the ball before he will be sacked, 3.37 seconds.
Every sack Manning has taken this year has come when he holds onto the ball for more than 2.5 seconds. That means it’s vitally important for the Chiefs secondary to be physical with the Broncos at the line of scrimmage. Good coverage for just three seconds can easily result in a sack.
The Chiefs cornerbacks match up well against the Broncos. The Chiefs secondary is physical and the Broncos receivers struggle against those types of defensive backs. The biggest question mark for the Chiefs is Broncos tight end Julius Thomas. Safety Eric Berry will be relied on to cover the big target, and he has had problems covering tight ends in the past.
Against the Colts, Thomas was forced to stay at the line of scrimmage and help protect Manning. If the Chiefs can get enough of a pass rush, the same thing will happen.
The Chiefs have recorded the most sacks in the NFL this season. They get to the quarterback at an elite level, and that will be the difference in this game.
The Broncos will inevitably score against the Chiefs defense. But the Chiefs can limit the Broncos scoring because of their pass rush and physical cornerbacks.
The Chiefs offense must find a way to put points on the board against a mediocre defense. The Broncos are a defense that gave up 48 points to the Cowboys, who the Chiefs only allowed to score 16. There are holes all over the defense. But the Chiefs offense has been ineffective at times this season. This is a big opportunity for them to break out against a unit that has struggled all season.
Whether it’s swing passes or just handing off the ball, the Chiefs need to get Jamaal Charles in position to have a big game. Charles carving up the Broncos will give the Chiefs enough points to win this game. Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who is 13-1 after bye weeks, will have a great game plan waiting for the Broncos.
The Chiefs have a chance to legitimize their 9-0 start, gain national respect and beat a hated rival. But with a win on Sunday night, the Chiefs gain far more than that. They will have a two game lead in the AFC and have the inside track to gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. With a great defensive effort, the Chiefs will do just that.