KANSAS CITY (The Sports Xchange) – For many years, decades actually, the biggest rivalry in the world of the Kansas City Chiefs involved the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders. But those days are gone, long gone.
As the Chiefs come off their bye week, they face the team they want most to beat: the Denver Broncos.
Even before Chiefs-killer Peyton Manning landed in the Rockies, the Broncos have ruled over the Chiefs.
To call Denver the biggest obstacle for Kansas City would not properly portray how many times they’ve found themselves staring at the hind-end of the Broncos in the AFC West standings.
“They’re the best team in the division,” head coach Andy Reid said. “You’ve got to be able to beat them to take charge of the AFC West. That’s how it rolls, that’s what’s real.”
In five games over the last three years, the Reid-led Chiefs are 0-5 against Denver. Since the turn of the century, the Chiefs are 11-20 against the Broncos, including losing seven straight.
The last Kansas City victory was at the end of the 2011 season, and that was also the most recent winning effort for the Chiefs in Denver.
This Sunday’s visit to the Mile High City begins a four-game stretch that will provide the evidence of whether the Chiefs are still a contender for the 2015 AFC playoffs, or just an under-achieving pretender.
In most seasons, their 3-5 record would make talking about the playoffs a ridiculous exercise, but the mediocrity of the conference has kept them in the hunt.
The sixth spot in the AFC postseason bracket right now is Pittsburgh (5-4), but the Chiefs own a victory over the Steelers. There are two teams at 4-4 between Pittsburgh and the Chiefs, Buffalo and Oakland, and K.C. faces both teams in the season’s second half.
The Chiefs season turned back on Sept. 17 in a Thursday night game at Arrowhead against the Broncos. They jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first half and led by seven points with 2 minutes, 27 seconds to play.
But Manning took the Broncos on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that used 1:51 of the clock before finding wide receiver Emanuel Sanders for a 19-yard touchdown pass. The score was 24-24 with 36 seconds to play.
After a touchback on the Denver kickoff, the Chiefs started at their 20-yard line with 36 seconds to play. Rather than take a knee and play for overtime, Reid called for a running play, and Jamaal Charles fumbled the ball away.
It was recovered by Denver’s Bradley Roby and returned 21 yards for the winning touchdown.
“Listen, they got us; I said that after the game, they won the game and that’s all that counts,” Reid said. “So you move on and get yourself ready for this game.”
Added quarterback Alex Smith: “Looking back at the film it certainly felt like we did some really good things moving the ball and having some production against them. But it’s tough to win with that many turnovers.
“We’ve been in some close games with these guys and every close battle we’ve had with them, they’ve come out on the right side the last few years.”
The Broncos will be without two key defensive starters, outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (back injury) and cornerback Aqib Talib (NFL suspension.)
But Manning is still in the offensive huddle, and he’s been a thorn in the Chiefs side for many seasons. Manning’s record as a starter for Indianapolis and Denver against Kansas City is 14-1 and he hasn’t been on the losing end against the Chiefs since 2004. Reid has a 1-10 career mark against Manning.
After their trip to Denver, the Chiefs go back on the road to face San Diego, before coming home to play Buffalo. They start December with a trip to Oakland, host the Chargers, visit Baltimore and finish up with home games against Cleveland and the Raiders.
Among those opponents, only Denver has a winning record. Five of those games come in the AFC West, and in three seasons Reid’s teams have a division record of 5-8, and 2-4 on the road in the AFC West.
So it will start with the Broncos for the Chiefs. In the seven-game losing streak to Denver, the margin of defeat has been 12.5 points per game. The Chiefs have lost by a touchdown or more, something they cannot afford to do this Sunday in Denver.
“The important part on our side is we take care of our business, study them, respect them — but get ready to play them and play a good football game against them for four quarters of a game,” said Reid.
SERIES HISTORY: This is the 111th regular-season meeting between these original teams from the 1960 start of the American Football League. The Chiefs lead the series 56-54, but the Broncos have dominated the action over the last 16 seasons (2000-15) holding a 20-11 edge, including a victory in September at Arrowhead Stadium 31-24. In the previous 15 seasons, the Chiefs are only 3-12 in Denver and have not won there since the 2011 season. The teams met once in the playoffs, with the Broncos grabbing a 14-10 victory in Kansas City after the 1997 season.
GAME PLAN: If there’s one item at the top of the Chiefs’ agenda for their visit to Denver it would be a reminder that an NFL game is 60 minutes. The last time these teams met, Kansas City played stout, aggressive and productive football for 57 minutes and a few seconds. They held a seven-point lead with 2:27 to play and gave up a 10-play touchdown drive to Peyton Manning and then fumbled the ball away and allowed Denver’s defense to score the winning points with fewer than 30 seconds to play. More than the Broncos winning that gave 31-24, the Chiefs lost it with five turnovers, four sacks allowed and nine penalties. Andy Reid’s offense was able to move the ball against the Denver defense, averaging 5.4 yards per play and 5.3 yards per running play. Where they failed was on third down (0-for-7) and in the red zone (one touchdown in four trips inside the Broncos 20-yard line.) The Chiefs season went south with the last minute loss back in mid-September, but they have a chance this Sunday to solidify their push back into possible contention for a wildcard spot.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
–Chiefs tight ends Travis Kelce and James O’Shaughnessy vs. Broncos safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart.
When these teams got together in the season’s second week, the Chiefs were able to move the ball against Denver’s defense, picking up 314 yards and 24 points. Kelce and rookie O’Shaughnessy combined for six catches for 112 yards, including completions of 30, 29 and 24 yards. It was easily the most productive day tight ends have had against Denver’s defense through this season. Ward and Stewart rank among the Broncos top five tacklers, plus Ward has added two sacks, Stewart an interception and both players have forced fumbles. Kelce broke out of a bit of a first-half of the season funk against Detroit, as he finally reached the end zone for his third scoring catch of the season.
–Chiefs edge pass rushers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston vs. Broncos offensive tackles Ryan Harris (left) and Michael Schofield (right).
Kansas City’s outside linebackers are proven commodities when it comes to rushing the passer. Houston leads the Chiefs with 5.5 sacks, while Hali has 3.5 sacks as he’s played the first half of the season with a balky knee. Overall, the Chiefs have 21 sacks and in the first game between the teams, they took down Peyton Manning three times. Manning has been hit more often, but he’s been sacked only 13 times. Harris spent the 2014 season with the Chiefs and was not re-signed for the current year. Schofield is in his second season and has played and started only five games. There’s always been one truth with defenses that face Manning — or any other good quarterback/passer — and that’s making him uncomfortable, making him move his feet. The pass rush doesn’t have to throw Manning on the ground, but they have to be able to breathe on him and affect the Denver offensive timing.