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Extra Points: Broncos and Chiefs should be special
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Boxing people are fond of saying styles make fights.
Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward weren't the most technically sound pugilists in the world but their styles meshed together perfectly, leading to three wildly entertaining bouts and back-to-back Ring Magazine Fight of the Year designations in 2002 and 2003.
The clashes were so engaging Hollywood decided to chronicle Ward's story in "The Fighter," and cast A-list star Mark Wahlberg to portray Ward.
The NFL may be on the brink of one of those special rivalries when the game's best defense tries to slow down one of the most prolific offensive clubs of all-time.
So what wins in today's NFL, that high-powered offense or the stingy D?
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 North American professional sports leagues to start a season 9-0 after finishing with the worst record in the previous year.
And that turnaround has been fueled by a defense which 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, has 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.
"We have a ton of respect for their offense, for Peyton (Manning), for the things that they've accomplished this year," Chiefs first-year coach Andy Reid said. "We understand all of that. They've done a great job. It's important that we prepare ourselves to play a good football team. I think it's two good football teams playing each other. I think it's a good defense playing a good offense and that's what this is all about."
"It's a big game," added Broncos interim head coach/defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "It's a divisional game against the team we're chasing right now."
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, who was reported to be nursing two ankle sprains last month, tweaked his ankle late in he game, however, and 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 early in the week, 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."
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.
"I think (Manning's) been a guy that has maximized his abilities in every area," said Del Rio. "I think you look at mentally, physically -- the guy maxes out in everything he does. He's ultra-competitive. Getting the ball out, knowing where to go and all those things are a part of it. He's done it as well as anybody."
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.
"We're definitely on high alert in wanting to protect our quarterback," said Del Rio. "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 he became the first QB in the Super Bowl era to win his first nine outings with a new team when the Chiefs topped Buffalo in Week 9.
"They had good quarterbacks last year, but Alex Smith -- he's special," Broncos star pass rusher Von Miller said. "He brings a different element to the offense."
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.
"To me he's one of the top three backs in the league with his speed and his vision for finding holes to rush up through there," Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said when discussing Charles. "He's going to be a challenge but we definitely welcome it."
Adding to the intrigue is Reid's historical success after the bye week. His teams in Philadelphia won 13 straight after the off-week until finally falling to then-unbeaten Atlanta last season.
"I've been blessed with good players and good coaches," Reid said. "I don't know if there's a secret to that. If there is, I can't give it to you."
The Chiefs haven't been in action since topping Buffalo, 23-13, on Nov. 3.
Cornerback Sean Smith came up with a tide-turning 100-yard interception return touchdown in that one, and 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.
"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 time off, though. The team's top receiver, Dwayne Bowe, was arrested last weekend on charges of speeding and possession of marijuana.
A court date of Dec. 18 has been set for Bowe, who will play this 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.
Logic says Reid may be facing a similar untenable matchup post-bye for the second straight year and as long as Manning stays upright, look for the Broncos to deadlock things atop the AFC West before the Chiefs rebound and hold serve in K.C. down the road.
That should leave you foaming at the mouth for Round 3 come January, and wondering whether Wahlberg will be available to play Manning in the movie.
"This is what we live for," Woodyard said of Sunday night's game. "I'm excited to get a chance to play these guys. We've heard a lot of build up throughout the whole season and now it's time."
11/15 13:50:05 ET