Denver Broncos: Why Denver Is Still the Team to Beat in the AFC West

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Denver Broncos: Why Denver Is Still the Team to Beat in the AFC West

The Broncos aren’t at the top of the AFC West standings anymore. After their Week 7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the team now has a 6-1 record. The Kansas City Chiefs remain the only undefeated team in the NFL with a perfect 7-0 record.

In the Super Bowl era, 60 other teams have held a similar record after seven weeks of the regular season. During that time, 85 percent of them have reached the postseason, 40 percent have reached the Super Bowl, and 20 percent of them have won the Super Bowl.

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A terrific turnaround for the Chiefs under Reid.

Under new head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs are playing some of the best football they ever have as a franchise. This is the fourth time the Chiefs have been the league’s last unbeaten team. However, they failed to win a playoff game the previous three times.

This is the second time during his career as a head coach that Reid has coached the NFL’s final unbeaten team. Back in 2004, the Eagles opened 7-0 before losing in Week 8 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. That year the Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl, but Reid and Co. lost to the New England Patriots.

Being the league’s last unbeaten team does not regularly lead to winning the Super Bowl. From 2000 to 2013, only one team (2006 Colts) has been the last undefeated team and the Super Bowl champion in the same season.

The Chiefs defense is among the best in the league, with Pro Bowl talent at every level. It is stout against the run, can get after the passer and has the ability to blanket-cover receivers downfield.

Kansas City’s defense regularly stuffs opponents and gets the ball back for its offense. The unit leads the NFL, allowing a first down on only 25.3 percent of third-down attempts.

A big reason why the Chiefs are so successful stopping third-down attempts is their pass defense and their pass rush. They have only allowed 53.3 percent of passes against them to be completed. This is good for the top spot in the NFL. The Chiefs have forced 19 turnovers this season, tied with the Seattle Seahawks for the most in the league.

They have 35 sacks so far in 2013. That’s good for 10 more than the second-leading team in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens. That number is also 16 more than what the Broncos have (19) on the season.

The Chiefs defense is suffocating, and their offense grinds you down.

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Charles is one of the league's best.

The Chiefs offense is built on the ground game, led by running back Jamaal Charles. He’s simply one of the best in the game. Charles runs with incredible speed, and he’s a willing inside runner with the footwork to run through trash with ease.

In addition to being a disciplined and patient runner, Charles can also be used effectively as a receiver out of the backfield. This season Charles has produced over 100 all-purpose yards and scored at least one touchdown in every game. That’s a mark that only O.J. Simpson before him as ever reached in NFL history.

Charles is a big reason why the offense sustains drives, and he is the premiere weapon on this team. He’s accounted for 37.3 percent of the offense so far in 2013. Charles has also scored eight of the team’s 14 offensive touchdowns in 2013.

Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star recently reported that Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson expects Charles’ role to increase. Charles is already on pace for just under 400 touches this season. That would shatter his previous career high of 320 from 2012.

The Chiefs have started out hot and have the recipe to sustain this success. However, the Broncos are still the best team in the division.

Let’s take a look at why the Broncos are still the team to beat in the AFC West.

 

The Chiefs' Soft Schedule

A 7-0 record is tough to pick apart on the surface. However, when looking at the strength of the teams the Chiefs have beaten so far, it’s easy to see why they are undefeated.

The Chiefs are winning games over inferior opponents every week. Beating up on teams like the Jaguars, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Titans, Raiders and Texans is not that difficult.

Their opponents have a combined record of 15-33. When taking out the losses to the Chiefs, we see their opponents only have a 36.6 winning percentage. The Cowboys are the only team with a winning record in this group, and they’re 1-3 outside of the NFC East.

Simply put, the Chiefs have played the NFL’s easiest schedule up to this point. They have two more games before their bye week. In Week 8 they play the Cleveland Browns, and in Week 9 they play the Buffalo Bills. To this point, both of those teams have a 3-4 record in 2013.

It’s safe to say by the time the Chiefs face the Broncos in Week 11, they will still be undefeated.

 

Alex Smith the Game Manager

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Smith keeps things close to the line of scrimmage.

When the Chiefs added Alex Smith earlier this year in free agency, many labeled him the right quarterback to run Reid’s system. Supporters pointed to his 26-5-1 record as a starter since 2011 and felt he could flourish in Kansas City.

Smith is obviously winning, but he’s not lighting it up through the air. In fact, his average pass travels just 6.23 yards downfield, the shortest distance in the NFL.

He’s always been a quarterback who checks down regularly. However, his completion percentage this year (58 percent) is much lower than the 70.2 percent he posted last season with the 49ers.

In order for the Chiefs to be a serious contender, Smith needs to become more courageous as a passer. That’s a huge concern for Smith as he’s rarely had to play that style of game.

According to Pro-Football-Reference.com the Chiefs are 23rd in the NFL with an average of 1.49 points per offensive drive. On average, the offense begins each drive at its 35.3-yard line. That’s good for the top spot in the league.  

Peyton Manning is much more than a game manager. He’s on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards this season and 56 touchdown passes. Those numbers will far surpass what Smith is on pace for (3,360 yards and 16 touchdown passes).

Comparing weapons in the passing game is laughable. Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and Anthony Fasano can’t hold a candle to the talented quarternary that is Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas.

In a shootout, the Chiefs won’t have the firepower to hang with the Broncos.

 

Beating Up on Backup Quarterbacks

The Chiefs have beat up on plenty of backups this year.

Last week the Chiefs struggled to beat a 2-5 Texans team led by backup quarterback Case Keenum. It was Keenum’s first start (or regular-season action) of his pro career after he went undrafted out of the University of Houston in 2012.

Keenum finished the game with 271 yards passing, one touchdown and a 110.6 quarterback rating. Had the Texans had a more seasoned quarterback, they may have won the game. This is despite the fact the Texans lost both Arian Foster and Brian Cushing to injuries during this contest.

In Week 5 the Chiefs were able to beat up on backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Tennessee Titans. That week, Fitzpatrick completed only 50 percent of his passes, threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.

Coming up in Week 8 the Chiefs get another backup quarterback as they face Jason Campbell and the Cleveland Browns. After that, they get backup quarterback Thad Lewis and the Buffalo Bills.

They have a bye week in Week 10, then travel to Denver to play the Broncos for the first time this year. When they face Peyton Manning, it will be the first time they’ve faced a starter in over a month.

Beating inferior quarterbacks isn’t the best way to prepare for one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. The Chiefs are going to have their hands full the first time they face the Broncos. They should still be undefeated at that time.

The Broncos defense has been sharpened by playing against quarterbacks like Andrew Luck. In Week 8 they’ll have the difficult task of containing Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III. They’ll be more than ready for Smith and the Chiefs' passing game.

 

Summary

The Chiefs and their fans need to enjoy this hot start. It doesn’t happen every year and certainly is rare after a 2-14 finish the previous season.

Enjoy the ride, but realize the road gets much tougher in the second half of the season.

The Broncos have weaknesses that were exposed by teams like the Cowboys and Colts. They need to improve their pass protection, pass rush and pass defense if they want to win the AFC West.

Denver’s No. 1 rushing defense will put up a great fight against Charles and the Chiefs’ ground game. It will be difficult to bottle him up, but the team should at least be able to slow him down.

The Chiefs most likely will not be able to play conservatively against the Broncos. Manning and the Broncos offense lead the NFL with 298 points scored in 2013. This means the Chiefs will be forced to put their foot on the gas when they face Denver.

In the end, it comes down to the quarterback. Manning is far superior to Smith, so much so that it is not even a debate. In the event of a close game, it’s the Broncos who should come out on top most every time.

This is why the Broncos are still the team to beat in the AFC West.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.

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