Broncos vs. Chiefs: 4 Things to Watch for as Denver Looks to Secure a Bye
The Broncos are riding a 10-game winning streak and looking to carry that momentum into their final contest of the year against the Chiefs. Kansas City is 2-13 and has only beaten the Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints while it has lost 13 games and one player.
On November 25, the Broncos struggled at Arrowhead Stadium, eking out a 17-9 win that wasn't pretty by any means. Kansas City fought hard and made a close game out of an expected blowout between a 7-3 squad riding high and a 1-9 squad as low as can be.
However, Denver is looking better than ever after consecutive blowouts and 10 consecutive wins of more than six points. The Broncos just went to Baltimore and routed the 10-5 Ravens before coming home and pounding the Cleveland Browns.
What is there to see in this game between a top dog and the bottom dog? Well, there's a lot. Here are four key things to watch for in this game.
Will Denver Come out Flat?
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
The Broncos have struggled to get going from the opening kickoff all year long, even if the last four games have been encouraging in that regard.
Denver coasted downfield for a quick six in the opening drive against Cleveland.
And while it started the first quarter slow against Baltimore, Denver erupted in the second and third to build a 31-3 lead early in the third quarter.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, the Broncos built up leads quickly and won both games handily. However, the Chiefs held them in check early on, and Romeo Crennel has given Peyton Manning some trouble before.
Denver knows all about momentum, but some people are concerned that the team will come out cocky.
I think it's safe to say that veterans like Manning, Champ Bailey and Brandon Stokley will keep the team level-headed and ready, and I think the Broncos will come out fine.
But if the Broncos start slow, it may be a cause for concern.
How Long Will John Fox Stick with the Starters?
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Brock Osweiler has many similarities to Aaron Rodgers, although he may not be as talented. He was drafted by a team with a star quarterback and mentor, and he came from a Pac-12 college with a good amount of talent.
You would think that he could be a decent quarterback, especially after some grooming under Manning. However, he hasn't thrown a pass in the regular season as John Fox has left Manning in until the end in almost every game.
In fact, Matt Prater has thrown more passes than Osweiler.
However, if Denver starts strong and builds up a big lead against a weak Kansas City squad that's been powerless when playing from behind, it could be time for Osweiler.
The last thing Fox and the Broncos want is an injury in the third or fourth quarter of a blowout, whether it is Manning or Knowshon Moreno.
Moreno has been spectacular for the Broncos, but Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball are also capable.
So, it will be interesting to see when (or if) Fox puts Hillman and Osweiler in charge of the offense. He wants to keep the team hot and give them more reps, but he needs to know when enough is enough.
So, when will Manning get pulled? That's a very important question, and we'll learn the answer later on in the game.
How Will the Punt Returners Fare?
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Denver looked almost flawless on Sunday against Cleveland, although there was a major issue.
Jim Leonhard started the game fielding punts, and he muffed one.
Then Trindon Holliday came in, and he muffed one.
The Broncos recovered both, but it's safe to say that they won't recover all of the fumbles. Fumbles are important in the playoffs, and Denver needs a reliable return man.
It doesn't look like Sunday will be an audition for punt returners, but it will be interesting to see how that plays out. Holliday is explosive but also fumble-prone. Leonhard usually protects the ball, but he isn't explosive.
The Broncos have an issue here, and it's one that keeps coming back. Teams like the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers will exploit this issue to gain an advantage on the Broncos, so something like this simply can't happen in the playoffs.
Kansas City should be punting a lot, so the Denver returners should see plenty of action. This game will likely determine what Fox does with the return game in the playoffs, so it's very important.
Can the Broncos Ride Their Momentum into Sunday and into the Playoffs?
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images
Last year, the New York Giants were considered out of the playoff race. Two years ago, the same thing happened to the Packers. But both teams went on to win the Super Bowl.
Both teams won two consecutive games in convincing fashion to gain a playoff berth and build up momentum, which they kept in the playoffs.
Denver has done the exact same thing, except it has won 10 straight games and has a chance to increase that streak to 11.
John Fox knows all about momentum, too. If he didn't, he wouldn't be playing the starters for basically the whole game. This is a new team, and he wants them to be prepared for the playoffs.
And now that they are united and jelling together, Denver is as dangerous as ever.
However, a loss or sluggish game against the Chiefs could bring all of that momentum to an abrupt halt. That could affect Denver's first playoff game, and if it's in the second round against New England or Baltimore, that wouldn't be good.
As I mentioned earlier, though, guys like Manning and Bailey will keep the team focused for the Chiefs game and the playoffs. They are preparing already as fellow writer Jon Heath noted in this article. Kansas City challenged Denver, so Manning and company will be ready.
I'm expecting Denver to cruise from the start and obliterate Kansas City, but if Denver can't, it could be concerning. The Broncos are hungry for another title, and the road has already started.
If they want the road to the title to be smoother, they will have to step up on Sunday and deliver another great performance.