Will Missouri native Drew Lock out-duel Patrick Mahomes in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday?
It's meeting two between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs this season on Sunday, this time in Arrowhead Stadium. Round one was back in October, which the Chiefs won 30-6 in convincing fashion on "Thursday Night Football" in the Mile High City. That also was the game in which Patrick Mahomes infamously dislocated his kneecap. Matt Moore came on in relief and did his part, but it was Kansas City's defense that led the way. The Chiefs sacked Joe Flacco eight times, held the Broncos to 205 total yards, and produced their own defensive touchdown on a fumble return. The victory was Kansas City's eighth in a row over its AFC West rivals.
Much has changed for Denver since that game, which dropped the Broncos to 2-5. Denver enters Sunday's game at 5-8, having won two in a row behind rookie quarterback Drew Lock. Lock replaced Brandon Allen, who took over for Flacco after the veteran suffered a neck injury that eventually landed him on injured reserve. Denver also traded wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to San Francisco just a few days after the loss to Kansas City. Lock has given the Broncos' offense a boost, and he's coming off of an impressive performance in last week's road upset of Houston. Denver's defense remains solid for the most part and has given up 20.8 points per game since that loss Week 7 loss to the Chiefs.
Kansas City (9-4) stumbled a bit following the injury to Mahomes but has won three in a row since losing to the Titans in his Week 10 return. The reigning MVP has taken some hits lately, including one that led to a hand contusion in last week's big road win over New England. The Chiefs' defense hasn't been talked about a ton but has held the Patriots, Raiders, and Chargers to a total of 42 points during this winning streak. If this unit continues to improve, a Super Bowl appearance could be in the works.
Denver at Kansas City
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas City -9.5
Three Things to Watch
There are certainly some angles to consider in this matchup. The Chiefs are coming off an extremely satisfying and emotional road win in New England. There could be a bit of a letdown after a game like that, and Kansas City has already lost three times at home this season. Next up is a "Sunday Night Football" matchup with Chicago. The Chiefs have already won the AFC West but still have a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the taking. For Denver, this is the end of a stretch that has the Broncos playing four of five away from home. That kind of schedule can wear on teams, so it will be interesting to see how much energy they come out with and how long they're able to maintain it. Denver is just playing for pride (and draft positioning) at this point and no doubt would love to end their eight-game losing streak to a division rival.
2. Are things on Lock-down in Denver?
The plan all along was to have Drew Lock play quarterback, but a preseason thumb injury complicated things, resulting in him starting his rookie season on injured reserve. It's been a long road back but the wait has been worth it so far, as he's 2-0 to begin his career. Now, the Missouri native gets the start in Arrowhead and figures to have a lot of friends and family in the stands for his homecoming. Lock was efficient last week against Houston, throwing for 309 yards with three touchdowns, one interception, and just five incompletions on an 81.5 percent completion rate. He's been very mobile in the pocket as well with just one sack in 55 dropbacks. Lock has gotten the job done against the Texans and Chargers, so it'll be interesting to see how he fares against a Chiefs defense that's on its own roll.
3. Keeping defenses honest
Speaking of defense, last week was just the second time over the last five games that Patrick Mahomes surpassed 200 passing yards. He totaled 357 yards in wins over the Chargers and Raiders, who don't exactly employ the best pass defenses. After throwing a total of 10 touchdown passes in the first three games, Mahomes has three over his last three. He needs someone from a crowded backfield to emerge as a consistent threat, whether it's Damien Williams (dealing with a ribs injury), LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson or Darrel Williams. Denver's defense is way too good against the pass (sixth), so the Chiefs need to figure out a way to run the ball somewhat effectively.
It would be really impressive if Drew Lock was able to march into Arrowhead Stadium and pick up his third straight victory. I'm not buying into the Chiefs' defensive resurgence all of a sudden, so I could see some points scored by the road team. Still, I think Patrick Mahomes plays well and the Chiefs get a win over their division rival as they extend the series' win streak — and put a damper on Lock's Missouri homecoming in the process.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Broncos 20
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Top photo by David Dermer, courtesy of denverbroncos.com)