NFL Preview - Kansas City (9-0) at Denver (8-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - What wins in today's NFL, offense or defense?
You're about to find out on Sunday night when the AFC's immovable object meets its irresistible force as the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs visit the 8-1 Denver Broncos in the first of two matchups over the next three weeks.
The sequel is scheduled for Sunday, Dec. 1 in Kansas City.
The two teams' combined winning percentage of .944 (17-1) is the highest in a single game this late in an NFL season since Dec. 7, 1969 when the 11-0 Los Angeles Rams faced the 10-1 Minnesota Vikings.
The Chiefs, who are coming off a bye in Week 10, are the first team in the four major professional sports leagues to start a season 9-0 after finishing with the worst record in the previous year. Kansas City has allowed a league- low 111 points and is the first club since 1934 to start 9-0, and not allow more than 17 points in any of its first nine contests.
The high-powered Denver offense, meanwhile, will try to solve the Chiefs' stingy D. The Broncos have scored 371 points, the most ever through the first nine games of a season. Leading the way of course is quarterback Peyton Manning, who has passed for 33 touchdowns, tied with Tom Brady (2007) for the most through this point of a campaign.
"It's a big game," said Broncos interim head coach/defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "It's a divisional game against the team we're chasing right now."
"They've got a good football team," countered Chiefs first-year head coach Andy Reid."They've got good players and good coaches and that's normally a pretty good formula."
Last week Manning passed for 330 yards and four touchdowns as Denver held on to beat San Diego 28-20 and get its first win under Del Rio, who is subbing for the convalescing John Fox as the veteran mentor recovers from an aortic heart valve replacement.
Manning connected with Demaryius Thomas on three of his touchdown passes and Julius Thomas took the other one 74 yards. Demaryius finished with seven catches for 108 yards, Julius had three grabs for 96 and Knowshon Moreno rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries.
After Demaryius Thomas scored three straight touchdowns to help Denver build a 28-6 lead in the third quarter, the Chargers got a pair of touchdowns to make it a game but a final drive ended in a punt.
Manning, who was 25-of-36, helped the Broncos kill off the remaining time with a 9-yard pass to Thomas on the left side on 2nd-and-7. The veteran quarterback came up limping on the play, however, after Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget tackled him low.
Manning, who was reported to be nursing two ankle sprains last month, had an MRI exam Monday which revealed an aggravation of a high right ankle sprain but no new damage.
When asked if Manning is still a definite to start against the Chiefs on Sunday night, Del Rio said, "No doubt."
By Wednesday Manning confirmed "he'll be ready to roll on Sunday."
"Yeah. They're not going to Wednesday games yet, are they?" the four-time MVP deadpanned. "I was able to go to the walk-through but spent the rest of the time getting some treatment and was a part of all the meetings to get a head start on the mental aspect of things heading into this weekend."
The Chiefs, meanwhile, haven't been in action since topping Buffalo, 23-13, on Nov. 3.
Sean Smith came up with a tide-turning 100-yard interception return touchdown in that one, and Tamba Hali took a fumble back 11 yards for a go-ahead score in the fourth as the Chiefs rallied past the banged-up Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Ryan Succop kicked three critical field goals to help Kansas City remain unbeaten despite being outgained by a 470-210 margin in total yards. Jamaal Charles added 90 yards on 17 carries in the victory.
"We never panic, not even for one second," said Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis. "We always go in knowing that someone on our defense is going to make a play. That's how we believe in each other. No matter who it may be, someone will come up with a play."
Things weren't all peaches and cream for Kansas City during the bye, though. The team's top receiver, Dwayne Bowe, was arrested last weekend on charges of speeding and possession of marijuana.
According to a press release from the Riverside (Mo.) Police Department, Bowe was pulled over for speeding shortly before midnight on Nov. 10 and a K-9 officer detected the strong odor of marijuana. The dog then found two containers with 6.6 grams and 3.8 grams of marijuana in a black bag that appeared to belong to Bowe, whose wallet was inside the bag.
A court date of Dec. 18 has been set for Bowe, who is expected to play his week despite his troubles because the league's CBA does now allow for the suspension of a player until the legal process plays out.
"There are rules and regulations put in place and we'll abide by the rules and regulations, and we'll make sure we take all of the information that comes out as it goes through the process," Reid said. "That's where we're going with it."
"I addressed him, had that opportunity to talk to him, and I'll leave it at that. There are laws, rules and regulations, and I'll leave it at that."
The Chiefs lead their all-time series with Denver by a 56-49 margin but the Broncos have won the past two encounters and six of the last nine.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Manning, who isn't the most mobile guy when he's at 100 percent, will be facing a defense which has amassed an NFL-best 36 sacks thanks in large part to its two edge pass rushers, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Manning has always combated his lack of speed and elusiveness with a lightning-quick release, along with the smarts to understand where blitzes are coming from and who the hot read is.
Despite the absence of All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady, the Broncos have only allowed 13 sacks, the second fewest in the league. However, eight of them have come in the past three games as Clady's replacement, journeyman Chris Clark, has struggled.
At some point the cumulative effect of some of the hits Manning has been taking could add up and if he is slowed even further by the ankle injury, it's conceivable Houston and Hali could have a field day racing toward a stationary target in the backfield.
"(Manning) will definitely play this week so that's good news," said Del Rio, "We're definitely on high alert in wanting to protect our quarterback. We didn't do it as well as we could (against the Chargers), and we have an even greater challenge this week in the team that's sacked quarterbacks more than anyone in this league."
Manning's counterpart is Alex Smith, a signal caller who certainly isn't explosive but is well-versed in what it takes to win in this league.
Since 2011 Smith is 28-5-1 as a starter and became the first QB in the Super Bowl era to win his first nine outings with a new team when the Chiefs topped Buffalo.
Kansas City's biggest offensive threat, however, remains dual-threat running back Jamaal Charles, who averages an AFC-best 123.8 scrimmage yards per game and generally brings it against Denver.
Charles is averaging 115.2 rushing yards per game in his last five games against the Broncos and ran for a career-best 259 yards in the Rockies on Jan. 3, 2010.
Reid's teams have been historically brilliant when returning from byes. While in Philadelphia, "Big Red" won 13 straight after the bye week until finally falling to then-unbeaten Atlanta last season.
He faces a similar untenable matchup this time around, however, and as long as Manning stays upright, look for the Broncos to deadlock things atop the AFC West before the Chiefs hold serve in Kansas City down the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 27, Chiefs 14
11/14 13:35:50 ET