Two AFC West rivals look to get back on track
The Week 8 finale tonight features two division rivals on different, yet for the moment, similar paths. The Broncos (3-3) started out the 2017 campaign with hard-fought, AFC West wins over the Raiders and Chargers that paired nicely with a 25-point home victory against the Cowboys. But Denver has all but wasted their hot start following back-to-back losses after their bye week and having lost three of its last four games overall.
Even if the Chiefs (5-2) falter on “Monday Night Football” they would still lead the Broncos, with Oakland and Los Angeles currently bringing up the rear at 3-5. But Kansas City, masters of the hot start the past several seasons, also has faltered the last two weeks, losing back-to-back games after opening 5-0. While a win against Denver wouldn’t necessarily sew up the AFC West at this point, it would give the Chiefs a comfortable cushion at the midway point while the Broncos would join the Raiders and Chargers with sub-.500 records.
Denver at Kansas City
Kickoff: Monday, Oct. 30 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Kansas City -7
Three Things to Watch
1. The return of Jamaal Charles
For the first time in his NFL career, Charles (above, right) will be playing at Arrowhead Stadium as a member of the visiting team. The four-time Pro Bowler was cut by Kansas City this offseason after nine seasons, amassing 7,260 rushing yards and 63 total touchdowns as a Chief. In May, Charles, thought by many to be done after back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, was signed by Denver.
While no one truthfully thought that Charles would put up the same numbers in Denver that he did in Kansas City, he probably will be getting more touches as the Broncos’ offense searches for answers.
Charles will undoubtedly find himself being honored in front of the Chiefs home crowd one Sunday afternoon in the somewhat near future, but until then, the former Texas Longhorn will look across the sideline to watch his predecessor, Kareem Hunt. Hunt, like Charles before him, follows in an unprecedented lineage of franchise running backs that feature not only Charles, but names like Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes as well.
No matter what, tonight figures to be an emotional homecoming for Charles.
2. Denver’s disappearing offense
The Broncos started out the season looking like contenders, winning three tough games out of four. But since a 42-17 stomping of the Dallas Cowboys back in Week 2, Denver’s offense simply has not gotten the job done.
The Broncos have scored just three touchdowns on their last 49 drives, kicking seven field goals, while committing eight turnovers. In the last four games, Denver has scored 32 total points, including being blanked 21-0 by the Chargers — the first shutout at home in 25 years
Making matters worse, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is expected to miss another game, as the dynamic playmaker is still suffering from a lingering right ankle sprain. The Broncos have a great opportunity to right the ship against a Chiefs defense that has been marginal, at best, this season. The question is does Denver’s offense have the horses to get it done?
3. Kansas City balancing act
It’s almost reminiscent of the old Peyton Manning Colts teams — great offense, bend-but-don’t-break defense. That seems to be the approach that’s being employed by Andy Reid and the Chiefs. Of course, some of this team’s defensive woes are out of Reid’s control with All-Pro safety Eric Berry out for the season and linebacker Justin Houston nursing a sore knee. But with or without Berry or Houston, the Kansas City’s defensive issues are worrisome for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Currently, the Chiefs rank 29th in the NFL in yards allowed (396 per game) and 19th in points (23 per game). Last week, they surrendered 505 yards and 31 points to an Oakland squad that had been averaging just 13 points during a four-game losing streak.
But on the other side of the coin, Kansas City’s offense has been outstanding, ranking third in the league in both yards (392) and points per game (29.6) per game. Led by quarterback Alex Smith, who has yet to throw an interception this season, and a dynamic running game, the Chiefs finally have the ability to outscore opponents in order to win games. And with an ailing defense, that may be just the winning ticket en route to an AFC West title.
While the spread would assume that the Chiefs should run away from the Broncos on tonight at home, a struggling, banged-up Kansas City defense facing off against a struggling, banged-up Denver offense could lead to mayhem, which is something we have seen plenty of this season already. The Broncos may not come away with the win, but here’s saying they cover, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Prediction: Chiefs 28, Broncos 24
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
(Jamaal Charles photo by Ric Tapia, courtesy of www.denverbroncos.com)