Five To Watch: Chiefs V. Broncos

It really doesn't get any better than this, does it? Thursday Night football returns to Kansas City. The NFL Network's most marketed television event kicks off in a little over 24 hours. I'm not sure if the NFL hypes the Super Bowl more than they've been hyping this game.

Five to Watch: Broncos vs. Chiefs By Nick Athan But this game is in Kansas City, and no contest is more than important for both teams. The winner of this game controls their playoff destiny. This is truly rivalry week. Forget the old-school mindset that fuels the Oakland-Kansas City battles. We all know that the Chiefs didn't play a very good game last Sunday, but they won the game and that's the only thing that matters.

The Broncos are coming off a brutal loss at home to the Chargers in which they blew a 17-point lead. It might be a tall order for Mike Shanahan to get his team fired up to play in Kansas City on such a short week.

Denver is in danger of falling into third place in the AFC West. Even further, the natives of the Mile High City are growing restless with quarterback Jake Plummer. But the disdain from the fans will be mild compared to what his teammates might do to him if he struggles against the Chiefs.

For Kansas City, this is all about revenge. In Week 2, the Chiefs strolled into Denver and nearly pulled of a titanic upset with Damon Huard at the helm. If not for a blatant pass interference penalty that should have called on Broncos wide receiver Javon Walker in overtime, the game might have turned out different.

The Chiefs want some payback. Badly.

This game means something, and players like Brian Waters, Tony Gonzalez, Derrick Johnson and Greg Wesley, who have each battled injuries, are going to play on Thursday.

That speaks volumes, not only about the importance of this game, but the heart of this football team. Herm Edwards continues to put his imprint on the Chiefs. Yes, he's the head coach, but there is so much more to it than just making decisions during the week and within the game. You have to be a motivator. Your players have to respect you if they're going to believe in the message that's been preached since January.

Nationally, the Chiefs are really an afterthought. Most NFL experts believe that they'll fall short in their playoff chase. That may indeed be true, but I don't think it's fair to make that statement until after the Turkey Day classic at Arrowhead. If Kansas City wins this game, they control their playoff destiny. If they run the table, they will qualify for the playoffs and have a legitimate shot at winning the division. But if they grab a win against Denver they'll gain some respect from the rest of the league. The five teams left on the schedule will have to take notice that the Chiefs are for real.

It's scary to think what this team can do with all the pieces on the field. I realize the Chiefs aren't at full strength, but they've been able to plug some holes while going 6-4. Their margin for error is still razor thin, however.

They can't afford any more letdowns this year. I doubt we see one against the Broncos.

Five to Watch:
1. QB Trent Green - This is his coming out party. Forget the Raiders game, that was like preseason. This is the real deal. He survived last weekend by turning it on when he knew he had to make plays to win the game. Against Denver I expect him to be sharp, crisp and in-sync with his offensive mates, especially with Tony Gonzalez back on the field.

2. RB Larry Johnson - You know that LJ will be at the epicentre of the Broncos' defensive radar. They couldn't prevent LaDanian Tomlinson from making big plays on Sunday night. If I were the Broncos, I'd take linebacker Ian Gold and have him shadow LJ the entire game. He might be the last line of defense if the Chiefs can get their running game going. With Green back, Johnson is twice the player that he was without him. Over the last few weeks he's gotten into a groove that's eerily similar to the one he finished 2006 on.

3. WR Samie Parker - Denver's premier cornerback, Champ Bailey, will likely be covering tight end Tony Gonzalez or Eddie Kennison tomorrow. That means Parker is going to be singled up against Darrent Williams. Parker has had some good games against the AFC West and the Broncos in particular. He's the fastest receiver on the team and Williams has a sore shoulder, so if Parker can get off the line of scrimmage he should be able to beat him deep down the field.

4. OT Chris Terry - It's not set in stone that Terry will start on Thursday night, but he played a solid game against the Raiders. He's the best tackle on this team and he can solidify the right side of the line as the season wears on. With Terry on the right side, Kyle Turley can play tight end, upgrading the power at Mike Solari's disposal.

5. DT Ron Edwards & James Reed - After watching Broncos center Tom Nalen dive at the legs of Chargers defensive end Igor Olshansky on Sunday night, the Chiefs starting defensive tackles need to deliver a strong message to Nalen. They need to make him understand early that the kind of tactics that have been a staple over his 13-year career won't be tolerated at Arrowhead.

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