Chiefs Can Restore "Powerhouse" Reputation

With a win in the Mile-High city tonight, the Chiefs will once again be considered to be the "sexy" team in the AFC West Division. The national pundits will all jump back on the bandwagon and tell their respective audience's that you heard from them first that the Chiefs will hold on to their place at the top of the division standings, and are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Many in the national media will claim they said all along. They'll talk about all the off-season acquisitions and who good they were. They'll talk about how the team spent their money wisely and that it was obvious to them early in training camp that this was a team of destiny. Outside of the Kansas City press, I didn't hear many bold predictions about the Chiefs 2005 campaign, or about the defensive "improvements", in fact most of the national reports seemed to favor a "wait and see" slant during the preseason following the 7-9 record of 2004.

The one glaring exception to this is ESPN Analyst Ron Jaworski, who has been a believer in the direction his friends, General Manager Carl Peterson and Head Coach Dick Vermeil, have had the team following since they decided to make some radical changes to last years personnel. There have been a few other believers in the national media, but none so outspoken as Jaworski, which is why I was pleased to see him and fellow ESPN peddler of NFL scoop John Clayton in the Arrowhead Stadium press box week one. If the Chiefs are 3-0 after the Broncos game, they will be the media darlings of the early part of the season and the hottest topic on all national sports talk shows.

As well they should be.

Only the Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts, along with the Chiefs, are undefeated in the AFC. In the NFC, only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Washington Redskins remain undefeated, the latter just 2-0 fresh off a bye week. And frankly, only the Bengals have been impressive to date. So with a strong showing by the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, the team could win the favor of a lot of football fans without a strong allegiance to a particular team. The alumni of the 1972 Dolphins are feeling a bit more confident than most years after just the third week of the season, as it seems unlikely that any of these teams will match their feat of going undefeated throughout the season.

The Chiefs aren't looking that far ahead; they are totally focused on the task at hand. In Vermeils tenure with the Chiefs, he has yet to come away from Denver with a win, but this year there are several reasons to feel optimistic.

First, and least important, there is the plight of the Broncos in Monday Night Football games played in recent years. Denver has won only four of their last 17 appearances, although to be fair, five of those losses were pre-season games.

"You would have to bring that up," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson told a Denver Post columnist. "But now that you mention it ..." The Broncos lack of success on MNF seems to be a cause of concern within the team.

"It's a worldwide, televised event," Wilson said. "The phone rings more after you play on 'Monday Night Football.' People call up and let you know how you looked on TV. If you had a good game, they say, 'You were awesome!' And if you have a bad game, they say, 'Al, you messed up. What were you thinking?"'

Be it a good or a bad thing for Denver's players, they won't have to think about it much longer, tonight's game is the only appearance on MNF this year for either team. Although if the Chiefs play the remaining games as well as they have started, and win a playoff game or more, they are sure to have multiple appearances next season. Most NFL players love playing on MNF, it's (usually) the only NFL game on TV and the rest of the league is watching. In fact, the rest of the world is watching.

It's a great opportunity to showcase your talent, build your reputation (for better or worse) and garner some Pro Bowl consideration.

Oddly enough under these circumstances, the Broncos have played on MNF for 15 consecutive years, the longest stretch of any team.

Denver has plenty of motivation to play well tonight and all the other teams in the division will be cheering for them as well. If the Chiefs win, they will have a two game lead on every team in the division, and will have two division road wins before they even play a divisional opponent at Arrowhead, which with the exception of last season, is a notoriously tough place for opponents to win. That is an enormous lead for the Chiefs and gives them some room for error, which is increasingly rare in these days of unprecedented NFL parity.

Another reason the Chiefs should feel optimistic about their chances tonight is the play of the Broncos so far this year. Through two games, their normally stingy defense has allowed 51 points while scoring 30 in route to their 1-1 record. They are 22nd in the league versus the run, allowing a combined 230 rushing yards and a four yards per carry average to Miami and San Diego. This is not an ideal time to face the Chiefs, arguably the best rushing team over the past four years. The Chiefs have what most NFL insiders consider to be the best offensive line in the league, offensive tackle is expected to be able to play tonight coming back from injury, and the Chiefs running back tandem of Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson is surely the best in the league.

If the Broncos put star cornerback Champ Bailey, who isn't 100% healthy, on Chiefs all-pro tight end Tony Gonzales, that allows Chiefs wide receivers Samie Parker and Eddie Kennison to face single coverage from #2 cornerback Lenny Walls and #3 cornerback Darrent Williams, a rookie playing his third NFL game. While the Chiefs wide receivers aren't considered among the leagues top tandems, they would have a decided advantage in this man-to-man coverage scenario. Walls is too big and slow to stay with the much quicker and faster Parker, and the wiley veteran Kennison should have a field day with the rookie Williams due to the experience factor alone.

This situation reminds me of a very similar one in 1997 on a Monday night when Chiefs wide receiver Andre Rison schooled Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson, who is now a perennial Pro Bowler, in his second game as a pro. No matter how good the Denver rookie will be, in his third game as a pro, I like Kennison's chances to have much the same result as Rison did years ago.

In addition to the receivers' match-up, the Chiefs offensive line with Willie Roaf and their zone blocking abilities should have the upper hand with Denver's speedy but smallish linebackers. That is if Roaf plays tonight.

If the Chiefs can run pretty much at will and exploit the wide receiver match-ups with play action, that gives them the ability to win the very important time of possession statistic and essentially play keep-away from the Broncos offense. The Chiefs did exactly that last week in Oakland, holding the ball for nearly 20 minutes compared the Raiders who had it just over then minutes. It's tough to score when you don't have the ball. This match-up advantage allowed the Chiefs to beat Denver 45-17 on December 19th last year at Arrowhead.

However, the Chiefs have lost four years in a row in Denver, the only AFC West opponent that has a winning record heads-up against the Chiefs in Vermeils tenure. This has been mostly due to the Chiefs defenses' in those four years not being able to stop the Broncos running attack. The 2005 Chiefs have a much different team, especially defensively, heading to the mile-high city this year however.

Through two games this year, the Chiefs defense has already collected five sacks, five fumble recoveries and an interception. They are only allowing 64 yards per game rushing, fifth in the league, and are only allowing 12 points per contest. In the Broncos last four home wins in a row against the Chiefs, they have ran for at least 197 yards in each game, however this year the Broncos are only averaging 84 yards a game on the ground, and are ranked 22nd in the league rushing the football. The usually potent Broncos offense simply hasn't been able to put all the pieces together so far this season.

The Broncos have only scored two offensive touchdowns this season. Quarterback Jake Plummer has thrown three interceptions in just 85 attempts.

It has been several years since this match-up has favored either one of these teams over the other to the extent the Chiefs appear to have the upper-hand in tonight's game. That is a scary scenario in and of it self. There have been many games in this league where the better team on paper has lost, and the Broncos have certainly had the Chiefs number in recent years at home. Maybe this is the year Vermeil finally breaks through and gets that road win in Denver.

Perhaps the omen has been provided by the article in the Denver Post I referred to earlier when the writer, while referring to the Broncos woes in Monday Night games, quoted some famous lyrics from an old ‘Mamas and Papas' song, "Whenever Monday comes, you can find me cryin' all of the time."

When this years game is over, perhaps it's the Broncos who will be doing the crying. The Chiefs will certainly be the first to second that emotion.

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