Broncos’ Chief Priority: Take Control of the AFC West

The Denver Broncos, reeling in November and having lost 2 of their past 3 games, desperately needed victory Sunday and that’s precisely what they got, in prevailing 39-36 over a Miami Dolphins squad who is better than their 6-5 record.

However, things do not get easier as the caravan traverses into Arrowhead Stadium for a prime-time tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

The Chiefs, despite an upset loss at the hands of the Oakland Raiders last Thursday, still sport a record of 7-4 and have impressive numbers to their credit, as they are the #3 scoring defense in the NFL (17.7 points per game), #8 in net yardage surrendered (328.3 yards per game), and #1 against the pass (198.9 yards).

The one weak link for the Chiefs on the defensive side of the ball is against the run as they are 26th in the NFL, giving up 129.4 yards per contest on the ground.

This bodes well for the Broncos as C.J. Anderson may be the answer to the team’s tailback futility throughout the season as against the Dolphins Sunday, he ran for 167 yards on a season-high 27 carries. Additionally, the 2013 undrafted free agent out of California-Berkeley added four receptions for 28 yards.

Meanwhile, tailback Juwan Thompson added 33 yards on 5 carries, or 6.6 yards per tote so the Broncos are in good shape if they execute and avoid turnovers.

Peyton Manning (28 of 35, 275 yards, 4 TD’s) had one of his best games of the season against the Dolphins Sunday and now has an NFL-best 34 TD’s (4 more than his closest competitor in that department, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers) and only 9 interceptions.

Manning continues to be adroit in getting rid of the ball, (sacked only an NFL-best 2.64 percent of the time when he passes, and most of those situations are when he gives himself up), and is second-best in TD percentage on completed passes at 7.7 percent, behind Rodgers who is first, at 8.8 percent in that category.

As I learned,  in being a new subscriber to NFL Game Rewind, from watching the Chiefs’ only previous loss at home, a Week 1 upset by the Tennessee Titans, then Tennessee QB Jake Locker, was adept at getting rid of the ball.

Locker, who has now been benched in favor of Zach Mettenberger in Tennessee, was excellent against Kansas City (22 of 33, 266 yards, 2 TD’s), primarily because as CBS commentator Rich Gannon, who provided color analysis on the game said, he got rid of the ball swiftly.

This appears to be the way to beat the Chiefs’ #1 passing defense, decisive and precision passing, which Manning’s career has been all about.

Traditionally, while Arrowhead Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Broncos, they have won 5 of their last 7 games at Kansas City’s home field, and Manning has won in only 2 of his appearances as the Broncos’ signal-caller there.

Based on profootballreference.com’s head-to-head game series, this is the best the Broncos have fared in Kansas City in any given span in their history, if they win Sunday as they won 5 of 6 at Kansas City from 1974-1979.

If the Broncos do go 6 of 8 at Kansas City in this recent span of history, this would likely end the Chiefs’ season as losses to the Titans and Raiders would cause them to lose many tiebreakers although a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a couple of weeks could still have many playoff ramifications.

As the final month of the NFL season comes into view, there is lots of football left to be played so if the Broncos could win this game and get to 9-3, especially with the current #1 seed in the New England Patriots playing at Green Bay,  anything could happen.

The Broncos have also cut ties with kicker Brandon McManus for the time being and signed former Chiefs and Buccaneers kicker Connor Barth who has made 84.2 percent of his career kicks, a cut below the NFL average of .850, entering Week 13 of this season.

Barth could be called upon to make a key kick or two in this game, so it’s obvious that the Broncos’ front office was highly disenchanted with McManus, who at the close of the Miami game, missed 4 of his last 8 field goals, resulting in his release.

Demaryius Thomas continues to be solid for the Broncos, with an NFL-best 1,192 receiving yards as well as an NFL-best 108.4 receiving yards per game and his fellow receiver, Demaryius Thomas, is third in NFL receptions (76), fourth in NFL receiving yards (1,079) and fourth in receiving yards per game (98.1).

Kansas City will try to counter with linebacker Justin Houston’s (an NFL-best 13 sacks) pass rushing ability  and hope to enhance their -1 turnover ratio against the Broncos who currently stand at +2 in that category.

In closing, until the Chiefs can show they have sufficient balance offensively (#4 rushing offense in the NFL, #31 passing offense), they likely won’t be able to keep up with the Broncos although tailbacks Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, a combined 1,195 yards and 13 TD’s on the season), this looks to be a long night.

Of course, crazier things have happened in divisional matchups under the lights so tune into NBC Sunday Night Football for what should be a great game between two teams with playoff and Super Bowl title aspirations.