At the beginning of the 2003 season, Chiefs fans pointed to Sunday's showdown with the Broncos in Denver as the definitive game that would decide the AFC West. But that's all changed.
Fueled by Denver Post loud mouth columnist Mark Kiszla's comments that the Chiefs were a fraud and Eddie Kennison ripping Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, the pre-game hype might not be as exciting as the final score. The Chiefs should whip up on the Broncos who are spinning out of control this season thanks to injuries, bad coaching and under-achieving players.
The odds makers disagree with me but they have other motives. They know the money will poor in if the Chiefs are an underdog on the road. If they were favored everyone would bet on the Broncos to cover but as a road dog, they know the Chiefs are going to win but they need some sucker bets for those who think the Broncos actually have a chance to win this game. I don't have the best track record betting in Las Vegas but this is a lock and the Chiefs should lock up their first AFC West Championship and be on track for home field advantage in the playoffs.
After the Broncos lost at home two weeks ago to the hapless Chicago Bears, the blue print on how to beat Denver at home was written. Put pressure on quarterback Jake Plummer and he'll wilt like the Arizona sun. Bottle up running back Clinton Portis by shadowing him with your fastest linebacker and stay in your lanes and pound his fragile 200 pound frame with your heaviest defensive lineman and gang tackle him. After 15 or 20 unproductive carries, he'll eventually wear down.
The Chiefs defense has been susceptible to the run this season. But Portis can be stopped especially if the Chiefs offense puts up some early points. The other thing the Bears did was shutdown the Broncos wide receivers. They chucked Ashley Lelie and Rod Smith at the line. For good measure the Bears never allowed Shannon Sharpe to get into the flow of the game. They forced him to break off his routes early and after applying even more pressure on Plummer he was ineffective. The Bears were willing to let Plummer beat them if he could but he was unable to move the ball after scoring on the teams first offensive possession.
But this is an AFC West game and anything is possible even in Denver. But defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has studied the Bears game film and has advised a plan that will frustrate Plummer and unless he plays a perfect game. The Broncos have no chance at winning this game; especially with one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL.
The Chiefs defense is overdue for a big game. They've struggled the last several weeks but the competition has been so-so and with eleven wins the Chiefs have been a little complacent on defense but this game is different. The lack of respect by the Broncos and their whining about the first meeting with the Chiefs; gives Kansas City an edge. To a man on the Denver roster, they believe they were the best team in week five when Dante Hall beat them thanks to his spectacular 93-yard punt return.
Yes the Chiefs had some fortuitous blocks but the Broncos still blew a fourth quarter lead and when they had the opportunity to put the Chiefs away, they couldn't make the plays.
That in fact has been the Broncos biggest weakness this season. Yes they've had injuries but in big games they've choked. Beating the Chargers and Raiders twice are easy victories and they don't measure either teams success or failures this season. But the Bears loss and the Patriots loss at home earlier in the season, are better measuring sticks for the Broncos woes this season.
Chiefs head coach Dick Vermeil claims that Denver is the best team Kansas City has played this season. But that was in week #5 and the Broncos have a losing record since leaving Kansas City with their tales between their legs. Yes they won the game statistically but they didn't win on the scoreboard and that's the only statistic in the NFL that matters.
On defense the Broncos have to face a plethora of players with a depleted set of linebackers, weak corners and try to stop a team that can score quickly. The Broncos defense must put eight in the box and do their best to stop Priest Holmes. That might not be possible. Holmes has circled this game on his calendar after ending his season last year against the Broncos in Denver. Holmes injured his hip and the Chiefs season was lost. He could rush for over 200 yards. He's that motivated for this game.
Al Wilson the only starting linebacker left on the squad is not at 100%. Though his mouth was moving pretty fast after the Broncos beat the anemic Raiders on the road last week. Wilson like Kennison made comments about the Chiefs. Wilson better be all-world because he's the only difference maker on the Broncos defense.
Defensive end Reggie Hayward leads the team with 7.5 sacks and he's played his best football recently. The Chiefs however can counter his rushing skills with Willie Roaf. Now Hayward does have the ability to get inside but the Chiefs offensive line is much more physical than the Broncos especially if they don't have to worry about their linebackers blitzing. But season ending injuries to starting linebackers Ian Gold and John Mobley along with rookie Terry Pierce have the Broncos scrambling to change their schemes and rely on their front four. That won't work against the Chiefs.
With that said, the Broncos will be very vulnerable to the Chiefs play action passing game and also to giving up the big run. Last Sunday Raiders running back Tyrone Wheatley shredded the Broncos eight man front for some big gains. But the Raiders offense didn't stick with the running game. That might have been the ‘dumb' that Oakland head coach Bill Callahan was referencing.
The Broncos starting cornerbacks only have three interceptions between them compared to ten by the Chiefs starters Dexter McCleon and Eric Warfield. Denver corners Kelly Herndon and Lenny Walls don't have the ability to play strong bump and run coverage and will have to play off the Chiefs receivers.
This will allow the Chiefs to execute short passing routes and screen passes to take advantage of the soft coverage. The safeties are Denver's weakest position on defense. Tight end Tony Gonzalez should be able to stretch the defense and catch balls over the middle over the linebackers and under the safeties. If that happens the Chiefs wide receivers should have plenty of open spaces to run after the catch. That's where the Chiefs wide receivers excel and they'll have plenty of opportunities to make plays on Sunday.
Eddie Kennison squarely put a bulls eye on his chest with his comments this week but he has the ability to get downfield and separate himself from the Broncos cornerbacks and safeties. The Chiefs would be wise to at least try some long passing plays to give the allusion that they can throw a deep pass at anytime.
Last year Dante Hall had his best game as a receiver against the Broncos when he caught two touchdowns in the Chiefs 31-24 loss. But its not Hall's receiving skills that worry the Broncos the most. The Broncos are likely to kick the ball to Hall in Denver. With the mile high air, Denver should be able to get good hang time to negate any long returns by Hall. But I think if Hall is going to break the NFL record of five returns in a season this will be the game he gets one for the thumb.
Dick Vermeil and the Chiefs understand the importance of a victory in Denver. They can clinch the AFC West and put distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC. If they lose and the Patriots win on Sunday, the Chiefs will lose their tie-breaking edge with the Patriots.
This game also represents a stepping stone for the Chiefs Super Bowl aspirations. They have a chance to set a tone that can carry them to Houston. Vermeil has preached in order for teams to be successful in the playoffs they must win three out of their last four regular season games. This game is critical and vital to the Chiefs and Vermeil knows it. He's relayed it to his players in practice all this week and I expect Kansas City will play one of its best games of the year.
The Broncos have all the pressure. They are one and done the rest of the year. If they lose this week, they still could win their last three games and not make the playoffs. They could back into the post season but that's not likely even if they manage to beat the Chiefs on Sunday.
If Kansas City starts out hot and puts up 21 or more first half points and can hold the Broncos to 10 or fewer points; then the Chiefs can control the second half with their running game. Expect the Chiefs to frustrate the Broncos offense with constant pressure on Plummer and take advantage of the wounded bodies on defense with an efficient and nearly flawless offensive game plan.
The Chiefs seem to have their swagger back this week and the Broncos are coming at a good time. If Kansas City does not turn the ball over, this game is likely to be ugly as the Chiefs should easily extend their 2003 record to 12-1 and win the AFC West title.
* The bad news first. The Chiefs are only 4-7 the last three years when playing a team with a winning record in December the last three years. Denver has only won four of nine games against teams with winning records the past three years in December.
* The Broncos have sacked opposing quarterbacks 27 times compared to the Chiefs 17 this season. Most of those sacks occurred in first half of the season when the Broncos had their all their linebackers healthy. The Chiefs have 21 interceptions on the season compared to 14 by the Broncos. Kansas City leads the NFL with 36 turnovers while the Broncos have taken the ball away 31 times.
* The Chiefs and Broncos will be scoreboard watching on Sunday afternoon. The Miami Dolphins visit the New England Patriots and play their game at the same time. The Patriots are one game behind the Chiefs for the #1 spot in the AFC and the Broncos are one game behind the Dolphins for the sixth and final playoff spot.
Fearless Prediction : Chiefs 31 – Broncos 17
Season Prognostication Record : 10-2
2003 Game Recaps
Week #12: Chiefs 28 – Chargers 24
Week #11: Chiefs 27- Raiders 24
Week #10: Bengals 24 – Chiefs 19
Week #9: Chiefs 41- Browns 20
Week #8: Chiefs 38 – Bills 5
Week #7: Chiefs 17 – Oakland 10
Week #6: Chiefs 40 – Packers 34 OT
Week #5: Chiefs 24 – Broncos 23
Week #4: Chiefs 17 – Ravens 10
Week #3: Chiefs 42 – Texans 14
Week #2: Chiefs 41 - Steelers 20
Week #1: Chiefs 24 – Chargers 14