This week’s game of the week is the easiest one to identify this season. For the first time in six years, two teams with eight or more wins will meet in an NFL game. The last time this happened, my home state Green Bay Packers fell to the Dallas Cowboys on the road in a game that saw Aaron Rodgers show his skills in the NFL for the first time when Brett Favre had to leave the game due to injury. Tonight, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs will battle in Denver for AFC West supremacy.
The most talked about aspect to this game is that it will be a duel between the Broncos’ number one offense in pro football and the Chief’s number one defense in pro football. This has created a classic offense versus defense dynamic in everyone’s minds, and rightfully so. So far this season, both of these teams are only known for their work on one side of the ball, with the other side of the ball getting some attention, but not much and usually attention that’s more negative than positive.
However, there’s more here than meets the eye as both of these teams are polar opposites of each other in almost every way, not just that each does extremely well on one side of the ball.
While the Chiefs haven’t done well throwing the ball (ranked 27th in the NFL), they have ran it well (12th). The Broncos have obviously done extremely well throwing the ball (1st), but they not been as good running it (20th). Then on defense, it’s virtually the opposite for both with the Chiefs’ D defending the pass very well (6th), but not the run (24th) and the Broncos ranked 30th against the pass and 4th against the run. So both defenses are equipped for what their opponent will be putting against them tonight.
In in the interest of fairness regarding the above defensive stats, the only team with a winning record that either team has played this season was the lone loss either team has suffered this season, the Broncos’ loss on the road to the Indianapolis Colts. So it’s fair to say that this will be the toughest test so far this season for each team.
I don’t believe that the quarterback matchup of Peyton Manning versus Alex Smith will be the key factor in this game. There, I put it out there. It’s a bit ironic because a lot of the attention that has been given to this game had to do with this matchup and specifically Smith’s battle for respect. Smith can still gain a large amount of respect by leading his team to victory and running the offense efficiently in this game, but with the cold weather and potential wind for this one, passing may not be where this game is won.
Neither of these quarterbacks have ever played that well in the cold, though Manning is getting better at it being in his second season with the Broncos. Still, the elements may end up doing more to stop both team’s passing games than either secondary.
With that in mind, it’s my opinion that whichever team runs the ball better will find themselves victorious at game’s end. This is where the Chiefs have a distinct advantage. It’s not just that Jamaal Charles is a duel-action running back (can run & catch the ball) who has been piling up yards, but also that Smith is one of the top rushing quarterbacks in the NFL. This is a key because Manning is not a scrambler and because Smith is, the Chiefs have one more option on third down plays than the Broncos do. Third down efficiency keeps possessions going, takes more time off the clock, controls the tempo of the game, and provides the team converting those third downs with precious momentum.
While the Broncos aren’t highly ranked in terms of yardage gained, their running game has still been very effective for them within their overall offensive strategy with Knowshon Moreno in particular having a good season so far, but not great. He will likely have to have a season-high in carries and yards to ensure a Broncos victory.
The strategy for the Chiefs to beat the Broncos was laid out by the Stanford Cardinal in their upset of the Oregon Ducks a few weeks ago: run, run, run the ball and keep the opposing offense off the field for as much of the game as you can. This also includes the offensive line and defense playing their best game of the season. The Chiefs are capable of doing this because what the Cardinal did is against the Ducks is how the Chiefs play against everybody, though not to the same degree.
I might be crazy, but after much self-deliberation, I’m going with the Chiefs on the road to pull the upset and put themselves one step closer to a division title nobody, and I mean nobody, would’ve predicted at the beginning of this season.
My Prediction: Kansas City 24, Denver (-7.5) 21
Straight Up: 6-4