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24

NFL Preview - Kansas City (0-1) at Denver (1-0)



By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - When it rains, it pours and Kansas City is in the midst of quite a storm.

The Chiefs are already in deep trouble in 2014, losing a game and two defensive starters -- linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Mike DeVito -- in Week 1.

Things don't figure to get any easier this week for Andy Reid's club as it travels to the Rocky Mountains to take on AFC West rival Denver, which remains the class of the AFC.

Ryan Succop came back to haunt his old teammates last week, kicking four field goals in Tennessee's 26-10 season-opening victory over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

Succop had been the kicker in Kansas City the past five seasons, but was released by the Chiefs at the final roster cut down on Aug. 30. He had successful kicks of 36, 31, 46 and 47 yards in Week 1.

"It was an awesome day," Succop said. "It was great to come back to Kansas City. I feel very blessed to feel here with an organization and a team like the Titans and thankful that the day went the way it did."

Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith, fresh off a lucrative contract extension last month, threw a pair of interceptions to the Titans' Jason McCourty. Overall, Smith connected on 19-of-35 throws for 202 yards with a fourth quarter TD pass to tight end Anthony Fasano, as the Chiefs simply couldn't overcome a huge deficit after giving up 23 consecutive points.

"We failed to get in any rhythm," said Smith. "We had some chunk plays early, but we didn't sustain any drives."

The biggest issue may have been the fact that star running back Jamaal Charles had just seven carries for 19 yards and four receptions for an additional 15.

"We just failed to get him the ball," Smith said. "One of our biggest playmakers, if not the biggest playmaker. We certainly need to get him involved more. That's on all of us."

Worse than the loss, however, was the fact that Pro Bowl linebacker Johnson and DeVito both went down with ruptured Achilles tendons.

Johnson was carted off the field late in the first half. He suffered his injury when he dropped back in coverage with under a minute left in the second quarter and fell to the field. DeVito, meanwhile, was hurt early in the third quarter, and both players were placed on season-ending injured reserve earlier this week.

Denver, meanwhile, got off on the right foot after Peyton Manning and Julius Thomas connected for three second-quarter touchdowns, and the defending AFC champions held off the Indianapolis Colts from there to win 31-24 on Sunday night.

Manning, who spent the first 13 years of his brilliant career with the Colts, was in midseason form in the first half, guiding the Broncos to a commanding 24-0 lead. Andrew Luck led Indianapolis back and made things interesting, but ultimately fell short of upending Denver for a second straight season.

"We've got to find a way to play all four quarters as an offense," Manning said. "Thank goodness the defense picked us up when the offense wasn't doing their job quite as well."

Manning finished with 269 yards on 22-of-36 passing, pedestrian numbers by the high standards the future Hall-of-Famer set last season. Manning broke all sorts of records in 2013, throwing 55 touchdown passes in leading the Broncos to Super Bowl XLVIII, where they were ultimately humbled by the Seattle Seahawks.

Thomas made seven catches for 104 yards and set a career-high with his three touchdown grabs, and Montee Ball carried 23 times for 67 and a score in his first game as the featured back behind Manning. Knowshon Moreno, who led Denver in every rushing category a season ago, moved on to Miami in the offseason.

"I thought Montee ran really hard," Manning said. "I just kind of liked the look in his eye in his first start. I think he'll just keep getting better all season."

By taking down his former team, Manning has now beat every franchise in the NFL at least once.

"I think it means you have to be old," joked Manning. "You have to be 38 years old, at least, to beat all 32 teams. I don't think I'll have that one up on my mantle."

The Chiefs are 56-51 all-time versus the Broncos but haven't been able to do much with Denver since Manning arrived.

The Broncos are 4-0 against Kansas City with Manning at the controls and the All-Pro has thrown 11 touchdown passes in those games. Last year Manning tossed for 323 yards and a touchdown in a 27-17 victory over the previously unbeaten Chiefs in November before trumping that with 403 yards and five TDs in a 35-28 triumph in December.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

You never want to go into a matchup with Manning by losing two defensive starters on the front seven and remember Kansas City was already down Johnson's running mate at inside linebacker, Joe Mays.

Ex-Raider Vance Walker is expected to replace the stout DeVito up front and former Bronco Kevin Vickerson was brought in this week to add some depth. The real issue, though, is at linebacker where former waiver pickup James-Michael Johnson and nondescript veteran Josh Mauga are being asked to replace Derrick Johnson and Mays.

"The other guys haven't had as many reps," Reid said. "(But) I hate to get into that because it sounds like you're belly aching up here and that's not what we do. The next guy, we expect to come in and play."

Expect all you want but defenses at full strength generally have major problems trying to stop Manning and the Broncos' explosive offense, the first in NFL history to score more than 600 points when they cracked the barrier in 2013.

Last week Manning became just the second passer in NFL history with 65,000 career pass yards (65,233), joining Brett Favre (71,838).

"You hate to see what happened to DeVito and Derrick, those are two excellent players," Manning said. "But they're going to have guys step up like all well- coached teams do."

If the Chiefs want to have any chance in this one, they need to get Charles, who averaged nearly 5.0 yards per carry against Denver last season, more involved.

"I want to see the ball more and coach knows that," Charles said. "It's a long season, just one game. We can get worse or we can get good. My job is to get the team good."

Kansas City should also benefit from the return of its best receiver, Dwayne Bowe, who served a one-game suspension last week for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

"We'll ease him back in," Reid said when discussing Bowe.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

This is probably an untenable matchup for Kansas City at full strength but after losing two defensive starters, winning in Denver probably seems like climbing Mount Everest.

The Chiefs' game plan should be all about ball control and playing keep away from Manning in hopes of making it a 50-50 game in the fourth quarter, an unlikely scenario.

"I think our division is the toughest division in football," Manning said. "You throw what happened last week out the window. It's a division game, two teams very familiar with each other, physical football and that's how we're going to have to play on Sunday."

Sports Network predicted outcome: Broncos 37, Chiefs 14

09/11 11:50:00 ET