Peyton Manning has been absolutely spectacular this season; his stats might not have kept up with the insane pace he set during his first few games, but there’s no better choice for Most Valuable Player right now. At this rate Manning will finish with 59 touchdowns and 5,776 passing yards as well as a 71.0% completion percentage, a combination of numbers we’ve never seen before. His Denver Broncos currently sit at 8-1 and have easily the most intimidating passing offense in the NFL.
Yet, they are second in their division to the Kansas City Chiefs. Yes, those same Chiefs who were atrocious last year are transfromed; they’re starting Alex Smith under center, run an offense that is essentially the opposite of a normal Andy Reid system, and haven’t lost a single game this campaign. Their 9-0 record has them a game up on the Broncos and holding the #1 seed in the AFC playoffs.
But that is all up for grabs this Sunday night, when Reid’s squad travels to the Mile High City and plays Denver for the first time in 2013.
This will be the first match-up of two that are standard for teams in the same division each year. Two weeks after this game, Denver will take a shot at Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium. But that contest won’t be as important as this one, because if Smith and his teammates are able to defeat the high-octane Broncos, they will theoretically control their destiny the rest of the way.
I’m not saying that KC will finish with a perfect record, but being down two games in the loss column with only six left in their schedule will be tough for Denver to overcome. With the way that the playoffs are set up, if they fail to capture the AFC West they will have to settle for a wild-card, which means that Manning won’t get the benefit of a first-round bye. His career playoff record of 9-11 is often cited as a reason that Number 18 is not indisputably the best quarterback of all time, and the Broncos will certainly want to guarantee that they don’t go down in the wild-card round.
This game is a classic case of strength vs. strength. Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Bob Sutton oversees a defense that is tied for New Orleans for third-lowest passing touchdowns allowed (9) and sixth-lowest passing yard allowed per game (208). They have the most sacks as a team with 36, led by linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, who have 11 and 9, respectively. For a team that is led by a head coach who is known for his offensive game planning, their D has not been too shabby.
You can be sure, however, that if anyone would be prepared for the ferocious Kansas City defense, it’s Peyton Manning, especially when he had a bye week to prepare for the Broncos’ biggest game this season. Even after neck surgery and nearing 40, he still has a laser rocket arm and unparalleled game knowledge. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s throwing the ball to Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, and Wes Welker; the Chiefs have a good secondary, but that’s a frightening passing attack. They’ll also make it tough for K.C to blitz effectively, which has been a key to their success this season.
The recent analysis of this Denver team has been that they aren’t as good as their 8-1 record may suggest. Games against the Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts exposed just how flawed the Broncos’ defense really is. However, the Chiefs aren’t exactly the team that will blow you out of a game; watching Smith under center, you’d think he’s literally allergic to throwing a pass deeper than 10 yards. While they have Jamaal Charles and have been using the short passing/screen game effectively, they’ll need a few big plays to move the Broncos’ defenders out of the box.
On Sunday night, we could be see a modern classic in the making. It has all the cliche story lines you could want: offense against defense, one of the best quarterbacks of our time, if not ever, against a game manager, a Super Bowl favorite against the surprises team of the year. There’s even a nice little tagline; the winner will be the best of the West. Enjoy it, ya’ll.