NFL Preview - Kansas City (7-5) at Arizona (9-3)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - All of a sudden, it's become crisis time in Kansas City.
Coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs were riding high on a five-game win streak - including a defeat of the defending Super Bowl champions - as they reached late November, but the arrival of the holiday season has meant particularly bad tidings when it comes to a would-be AFC playoff list.
First came an embarrassing loss to previously winless Oakland on a primetime Thursday night, which was followed up by another national television misstep, this time to the Denver Broncos last Sunday.
The result: Kansas City has dropped from first to third in the AFC West and now finds itself among a gaggle of conference teams - six, to be precise - with 7-5 records and postseason dreams.
"We didn't finish the third quarter (of the season) the way that we wanted to. We've got to go back to it and get that part fixed," Reid said. "We've stalled the last two weeks, so we've got to get this thing turned around and get us straightened up."
The Chiefs were in a 14-point hole against the Raiders before ultimately dropping a four-point decision, then were down, 17-0, to the Broncos last week. The offense generated just 120 yards in the opening 30 minutes in the Oakland game and only 59 in that same timeframe against Denver.
Running back Jamaal Charles carried 10 times for 35 yards and caught four passes for 24 yards last week, while quarterback Alex Smith was intercepted for the first time since Week 5.
"Our defense was out on the field the majority of that first half. Couldn't help them out," Smith said. "To start off the game with those three-and-outs like that, you're just not helping the team, and not getting into any rhythm hurt us."
Kansas City matched up reasonably well with Denver's prolific passing attack thanks to an aerial defense that's the best in the league with an average of 196.8 yards allowed, but the Chiefs had few answers when the Broncos switched gears and pounded them for 214 yards on the ground.
In fact, the team has allowed 4.93 yards per run, worst in the league.
This week's opponent, Arizona, throws the ball on more than 60 percent of its snaps and averages a league-worst 3.08 yards per attempt. The Cardinals ran just 11 times last week against Atlanta.
"It's disappointing," Kansas City defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. "But we have a couple more games to play. It's not like (the Denver game) was the last one. We still have some stuff to fix. We'll come out this next game and play better."
Arizona is trying to brandish the same confidence amid a raft of injuries.
Quarterback Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a knee injury during a Week 10 victory over St. Louis, and his replacement, Drew Stanton, has lost two of three starts as the Cardinals have tumbled from 9-1 and a clear No. 1 seed in the NFC to 9-3 with just a one-game division lead.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu will miss significant time, too, after fracturing his left thumb. He was part of a ball-hawking defense that had forced eight turnovers in a three-game stretch against Philadelphia, Dallas and St. Louis, but that same unit has generated only two takeaways in the last three games.
"It's a sense of urgency, because we have to play lights-out football," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "We have all the confidence in the world in (Stanton), but we are still playing with a backup quarterback and that changes the dynamics of everything. As a defense, we have to do what got us here, which was taking the ball away, and as an offense, protecting the ball."
Stanton has thrown three touchdown passes and five interceptions since becoming the starter, though he was without No. 1 receiver Larry Fitzgerald for the losses to Seattle and Atlanta. Arizona now leads the Seahawks by one game in the NFC West.
"When you stink, you stink. You point out how you stunk and get it corrected," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "I don't throw chairs and holler and do all that stuff that's non-productive. That's not teaching. You have to teach in order to get things corrected. There's two pictures - the two-game losing streak and being 9-3. We have to get back to the things that got us to this point.
"The next one is huge to maintain where we're at. The sky has not fallen yet. We're still No. 1, and we need to stay there this week."
Fitzgerald is labeled probable to face the Chiefs and help Arizona try to maintain an unbeaten record at its University of Phoenix home. The Cardinals have lost just once there in their last 11 games.
"We've played well at home, and this is a great opponent," Arians said. "Jamaal Charles is playing as well as any running back has in a while. He's always an unbelievable challenge."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
What Can Brown Do?
Rookie wide receiver John Brown has been a home-field phenomenon for the Cardinals in 2014, making 25 of his 39 receptions and scoring all five of his touchdowns there. Considering that Arizona's leading rusher, Andre Ellington, is listed as doubtful with a lingering hip injury, it's likely that the third- round pick from tiny Pittsburg State will become a go-to as Stanton continues to seek offensive comfort.
Go Wide, Young Man
It's a pretty remarkable stat that a quality team like the Chiefs - even after 12 games - has still not generated a single touchdown catch from a wide receiver. Indeed, Smith's 15 TD throws have been divvied up among tight ends (eight) and running backs (seven), though Dwayne Bowe leads the team with 46 catches. Arizona is just 27th in the league is pass defense, so the drought could soon end.
His teammates have said all the right things and his coach still insists that teaching is the way to end the recent doldrums, but the reality is that the Cardinals with Stanton at the helm are simply different than they'd been with Palmer. He's got to play nearly mistake-free to win football games, and against a near-elite team like Kansas City, that's a tough task to complete. In fact, it says here that he won't.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Chiefs 24, Cardinals 14
12/07 09:11:41 ET