Kansas City Chiefs (5-3) at Denver Broncos (2-6)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Solomon Wilcots
PREDICTION: Chiefs 25-14
KEYS TO THE GAME: The first quarter is critical for the Broncos. They have been outscored by 33 points in the opening 15 minutes, while the Chiefs are plus-11 and have two running backs with more than Denver's team total of 538 rushing yards. The Broncos have the passing attack to play catch-up, but the Chiefs have the league's No. 1-ranked rushing offense and can dominate time of possession and wear down Denver's 31st-ranked run defense if they get an early lead.
FAST FACTS: The Chiefs haven't won a November game in Denver since 1974, when Hall of Famer Len Dawson was their quarterback. ... Broncos QB Kyle Orton threw for 431 yards in the last meeting.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Chiefs The Buffalo Bi
lls tried to do it, but things did not work so well for them. The Oakland Raiders tried to do it, and they were able to have some success.
So it's only a logical conclusion that defenses will continue to stack eight-men in the box in hopes of stopping the Chiefs' No. 1 ranked running game. That puts the future success of the offense on the right arm of quarterback Matt Cassel.
"It will be interesting to see how they approach us," Cassel said of the Denver defense. "We have been running the ball well, but if they are going to work on stopping the run all day, that puts the balance on us, the quarterback and the receivers to go out and make plays and take advantage of those one-on-one opportunities on the outside."
In the 2009 season finale, the Chiefs went to Denver and ran the ball down the throats of the Broncos, as Jamaal Charles ran for a franchise-record 259 yards on 25 carries with touchdowns of five and 56 yards.
So the Broncos' defense, which ranks next to last in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (154.6 yards) will have to face the league's best running game (179.6 yards). If they can stop the Chiefs' runners that would put the ball in the hands of Cassel, a quarterback that Denver coach Josh McDaniels wanted back in the 2009 pre-season.
"I just know that there was a lot of speculation out there and a lot of rumors. ... (It) was a crazy time and I was just eager to find a home," Cassel said. "As a player it was one of those situations of me just wanting the opportunity to play again and be a starter. I felt that I had the ability to do so and anywhere that I was going to go, I was going to be happy about."
Cassel ended up being traded to the Chiefs really before the Broncos knew what was going down. That started a string of dominoes in Denver that led to the trade of Jay Cutler, the acquisition of Kyle Orton and the drafting of Tim Tebow. The Broncos are 10-14 and trending downward under McDaniels. and the Chiefs are 9-15 and trending up under Haley and Cassel.
"We know that we have a lot more work to do but I think at the end when it starts going in the right direction and we accomplish some things, it is going to be all the more worthwhile," Cassel said.
A 2-6 record doesn't exactly scare Jamal Williams in his first year with the Broncos. And why should it?
For the last three seasons he walked the tightrope of slow starts by the San Diego Chargers and things always seem to turn out just fine.
A 1-3 mark in 2007? Transformed to an 11-5 finish.
A 3-5 stumble out of the gate the next year? Forged into an 8-8 finish and another AFC West title by beating Denver in the season finale.
A 2-3 foray into panic mode last season? Erased by 11 straight victories.
It's not the preferred route, but at least Williams is familiar with how to navigate out of it once the fans are ready to rip nearly everyone for their ineptitude.
"The first thing we did up there is we couldn't look at other teams or games compared to us," said Williams, who signed with Denver as a free agent in March. "We had to have the approach of one game at a time, because if we didn't win that game in front of us, you couldn't get the ball rolling. Each week it was win this game and worry about the rest at the end of the season."
Williams sees his teammates with similar blinders on now, while preparing for Sunday's AFC West home game against Kansas City.
The bye week allowed not only for introspection but a big-picture view of what got Denver into this hole in the first place. Williams says those shortcomings have been "a little bit of everything," but largely have been addressed this week and he senses change on the horizon.
"We're confident of going out and getting some wins," he said.
The team's captains are trying to make sure that 2-6 isn't the focus but what can be controlled, beginning this week.
"It really falls on our shoulders as leaders of this team to make sure we don't go in the tank and give up on the season because there's a lot of football left," cornerback Champ Bailey said.
--OLB Tamba Hali should be next in line for a new contract after fellow LB Derrick Johnson signed a five-year extension with the Chiefs. Hali's contract expires at the end of the season. There have been no substantive talks about a new deal for the team's leading sacker.
--P Dustin Colquitt helped achieve an NFL first in the game against Denver as he punted against his younger brother Britton Colquitt, who punts for the Broncos. It was the first time in NFL history that punting brothers competed against each other in a game.
--TE Tony Moeaki has a chance over the second half of the season to post the best receiving season by a rookie in Chiefs history. The record is 70 catches by WR Dwayne Bowe in 2007. Moeaki had 30 at mid-season and continues to be QB Matt Cassel's go to guy, especially in pressure situations.
--DE Wallace Gilberry picked up a fine from the NFL for hitting Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick in the helmet. Gilberry plans to appeal the sanction and draws confidence from the fact that teammates Shaun Smith was fined earlier this year, appealed and had the charge rescinded. "Shaun showed us the way," said Gilberry.
--RB Knowshon Moreno can expect a larger workload Sunday, barring unforeseen circumstances. Coach Josh McDaniels wants to get the running game untracked behind yet another offensive line configuration. And as for Moreno, the coach added, "We'd like to get him going. That's an important part for us."
v --S Darcel McBath (ankle) remains limited in practice but is expected to play Sunday. McBath could play in three safety defensive packages and on special teams.
--DE Kevin Vickerson (groin) once again was a limited practice participant but pronounced himself ready to play Sunday. Vickerson's availability will help determine how much 3-4 Denver runs, since he's the best option at end.
--LB Wesley Woodyard (hamstring) was limited both Wednesday and Thursday but is expected to return to his key special-teams role. Woodyard also could play in sub packages, potentially covering Chiefs tight end Tony Moeaki.
--LB Joe Mays should continue to draw the starting assignment at inside linebacker next to D.J. Williams in the absence of Robert Ayers (foot). Mario Haggan would move back to his middle linebacker position from the outside once Ayers returns.
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