When it comes to arguing over what the best division in the NFL in, there are only two that really have an argument heading into Week 12: the NFC East and the AFC West. Both have the No. 1 seed in the playoff picture at the moment and each has two wild card teams in the fold.
One pair of those contenders faces off on “Sunday Night Football” in one of the more anticipated matchups of the month (and the first flexed game of the year for NBC). The defending Super Bowl champions are off to a 7-3 start to the season and are coming off their bye week ready to make another big run at the division crown. They’ve beat the teams they are supposed to but still haven’t been convincing enough on offense for folks to fully buy in to a title defense. Von Miller and company have been playing at a high level but the national spotlight will be on quarterback Trevor Siemian and the team’s run game with rookie Devontae Booker.
After an uneven start to the season where talk of who wasn’t playing dominated the losses, Kansas City has run off five of their last six since their early bye week. While no game has been pretty, Andy Reid’s squad has alternated between being lucky and good during this run but has really found its stride lately. The defense is in the top third in the NFL in points allowed and lead the league in interceptions. While the run game hasn’t been what it once was with Jamaal Charles in the backfield (injured again), quarterback Alex Smith has been completing 67 percent of his passes this year and has a solid 9:4 touchdown-interception ratio.
It should all make for a must-see game on Sunday night with big-time playoff seeding implications a few months down the road, to say nothing of chasing down Oakland in the division. Kansas City leads the overall series by just two games over 112 meetings and won the last matchup between the two division rivals when the Chiefs snapped a Denver streak of seven in a row dating back to 2012.
Kansas City at Denver
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 27 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Broncos -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Chiefs’ Secondary Handling Denver’s Wideouts
Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL at this time in the season and both squads have had to deal with their fair share of key players missing time. Marcus Peters has proven to be one of the best young cornerbacks in the game (five interceptions this season) but is questionable to play on Sunday as he deals with a sore hip. If he’s out, that’s a big blow to Kansas City’s secondary facing off against one of the more dangerous wide receiver corps in the game. Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and others provide plenty of matchup nightmares with their speed so it will be key to the game for whatever team can get their downfield attack going.
2. Quarterbacks Breaking Out
When you’re talking about NFL storylines, quarterbacks like Kansas City’s Alex Smith and Denver’s Trevor Siemian won’t be mentioned in the same conversation with the Tom Bradys, Drew Brees and Russell Wilsons of the world. Neither has been bad overall this season but neither is exactly the type of signal-caller to game plan around. In such a close matchup between a pair of quality defenses and two offenses that have struggled to find the end zone, whichever quarterback is able to protect the ball and hit some big plays over the top will almost assuredly come out with a win. Both Smith and Siemian are not asked to do a ton in their offensive systems but they’ll be key to making enough plays on Sunday to capture a win.
3. Defensive Scoring
Chances seem pretty high that at least one of the two teams will be able to force a turnover in this one and there are enough athletes on defense that returning one to the house isn’t out of the question. Just ask Denver, which used a blocked extra point to get past a pesky Saints squad in one of the wildest endings of Week 10 and maybe the season as a whole. The Chiefs aren’t too shaby themselves, leading the league in takeaways having forced 10 fumbles to go along with a whopping 13 interceptions. This one figures to be played close to the vest given the offensive coaching staffs involved so a pick-six or a scoop-and-score could be the deciding points.
With a resurgent Oakland Raiders, the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and a red-hot Kansas City Chiefs, the AFC West race has been as good as it has been in years. Each team is still in the running to capture the division title and a first-round bye in the playoffs if they can pick things up and make a run in the second half of the season.
For two of those squads, Sunday represents an early make-or-break point in the year. Denver has not truly lost a beat with the retirement of Peyton Manning on offense but has struggled to run the ball with consistency given some of the injuries, as the Broncos have once again relied on their stingy defense to keep them in the running. The franchise is one of the best at winning games coming off a bye week and will be looking to make a statement with the national focus on Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday night.
Kansas City is looking to make a statement of its own and announce itself as a real contender just like the Chiefs did down the stretch last season. While the IR list for the Chiefs has had some big names on it, they’ve overcome a lot of injuries to remain competitive and are a hard out each game with the style they play. The defense is extremely feisty and the offense has a number of game-breakers who can turn short plays into big gains.
This has been one of the best rivalry games in the league the past few years and nothing suggests that won’t be the case when these two meet again in primetime. Denver is at home where the Broncos play extremely well and are just a tad healthier coming in. It should be a close AFC West battle but ultimately the defending champs come out on top.
Prediction: Broncos 20, Chiefs 17
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.