As the NFL enters week two, the number of teams desperate to win games this weekend have stretched across the country in every division. The one that matters most in the heartland, the AFC West, saddles up an old fashioned AFL matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos on Sunday afternoon.
At stake for the Chiefs, avoiding the post-season death nail by starting the season 0-2. For the Broncos, it’s an opportunity to basically move three games up on Kansas City within the division. The Chiefs enter this game already down three starters while the Broncos, not yet fueling their engines on all cylinders, are still the class of the division.
In fact, it’s possible if the Broncos with a win on Sunday, they could be the only AFC West team with a win inside the division. Both the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders have tough contests at home this weekend that will challenge each of them to earn their first victory.
So that basically puts the Chiefs in a position to ruin the Broncos plans for a quick early lead in the division. Ironically, despite the fact Kansas City laid an egg against the Titans last weekend, a win against Denver, puts them atop the division.
The Chiefs fall from grace since their 9-0 start a year ago began with a road loss at Denver. It was a game that included errors on the field, poor coaching and bad angles to the football, that began a slide that has seen Kansas City win just two of their last eight regular season games.
The common denominator in this slide has been a lack of playmaking on both sides of the ball. Against the Broncos on Sunday that can’t be the case. Kansas City has players that can carry the Chiefs to victory. The problem to date is that we’ve not seen any of them play in a consistent manner in quite some time.
Quarterback, Alex Smith, has the goods to match touchdown throws with Peyton Manning - provided his offensive line shows up to play this weekend. Wide Receiver, Dwayne Bowe, Running Back, Jamaal Charles and Tight End, Travis Kelce are a fearsome threesome that Denver won’t be able to stop if they’re at the top of their offensive game.
On the flip side, Denver has the best set of receivers in the game today and an offensive line that’s adequate in developing a pocket cushion for Manning. However, they can’t match the run prowess of the Chiefs and in the fourth quarter, that could be a factor.
The key for the Chiefs though is their defense. They can survive the loss of Defensive End, Mike Devito but replacing Linebacker, Derrick Johnson, is something altogether different for Kansas City. DJ was the defensive leader and there’s yet to be another player on defense in the last several years that’s stood up and carried this unit.
Someone has to emerge this weekend to set the course for the season this defense wants to have for the remainder of the 2014 season. They have leading candidates such as Safety, Eric Berry, Defensive Tackle, Dontari Poe and Linebacker, Tamba Hali. But for me, there is only one player that can guide this defense to a division title, that’s linebacker Justin Houston.
The All Pro Linebacker probably is entering his final season in Kansas City. After contract talks resulted in zero progress and some very hard feelings, it’s time Houston elevates his game to the next level and begins to truly earn the coin he’ll get from another NFL team in 2015.
To that end, he has to become their defensive leader. Regardless, if he’s playing for his current team, he won’t get the ridiculous riches he wants, unless he becomes a dominating every down pass rusher. He has to show he can carry a team defensively.
As I try to understand what’s gone wrong over the last half season in Kansas City, I can attribute much of their lack of wins to the fact they are young at some positions and some players seem void of any real emotion when losing games again and again.
The only way the Chiefs are ever going to be relevant again in the NFL is if they start defeating the elite teams in this league. They proved a year ago they can beat the bad teams but when the winning streak ended they could not win against a good team - let alone a great team.
If Head Coach, Andy Reid, is going to take this team to a championship level, he has to have a watershed victory. He has that opportunity this Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
Without that defining moment this weekend, the Chiefs face a winless start to their season that could stretch well into the month of October.
Photos Justin Houston (Denny Medley USA Today Sports) and Alex Smith (John Rieger USA Today Sports)
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