Denver Take Five

Posted Jan 1, 2012

Five things to watch on New Years Day in Denver

DENVER, CO – The Chiefs close the 2011 season on New Year’s Day 2012 in a game of “what could have been.”

Oakland’s 16-13 Christmas Eve victory over Kansas City ended what could have been the Chiefs defending their AFC West title this weekend in Denver. Instead, the Chiefs will look to close out a season of ups and downs on a positive note while the Broncos look to punch their ticket to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

Denver’s five-season playoff drought is currently the second-longest in the division behind Oakland. One of those two teams, potentially both, will represent the AFC West in the playoffs next weekend.

Kansas City ended Denver’s last playoff bid with a 44-24 Week 17 victory to close out the 2009 season. Sunday’s game is a case of déjà vu as Denver has seen three potential playoff appearances disappear with Week 17 losses since 2006.

Will the Chiefs play spoiler in Denver? Let’s Take Five…

1) December’s To Forget

Denver has struggled mightily in December/January over recent years. The Broncos are currently losers of two straight games and own the NFL’s fourth-worst December/January record since 2006 (9-19, .321).

In addition, the Broncos have been uncharacteristically bad at home this season against division opponents.

Denver is 3-0 against division foes on the road, averaging 250.3 rushing yards per game with no turnovers and allowing just 15.7 points per game. But the Broncos are 0-2 against division opponents at home, averaging 100.0 rushing yards per game with four turnovers and allowing 26.0 points per game.

No team since the NFL merger has won a division crown and lost all of its divisional home games. If Oakland loses, it won’t matter what Denver does. All of this potentially coming a year after the Raiders became the NFL’s first team to go 6-0 in division play and miss the playoffs.

With all of that said, the Chiefs have only won once in Denver since the new Mile High was constructed in 2001.

This is a wild division…

2) AFC Sack Race

The race for the AFC sack crown will be on display Sunday afternoon.

Chiefs Pro Bowler Tamba Hali enters Week 17 trailing Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs by one sack on the AFC leaderboard. Broncos rookie Pro Bowler Von Miller sits in third, a half-sack behind Hali and 1.5 sacks behind Suggs.

Miller paired with Elvis Dumervil to terrorize the Chiefs in the first meeting between the two teams on November 13th. Matt Cassel was hurried on 12 occasions and sacked four times before leaving the fourth quarter with a season-ending hand injury. Miller and Dumervil split the sack that injured Cassel.

Nursing a hand injury of his own, Miller has been held without a sack in Denver’s last two games and opposing offenses have rolled up 81 points on the Broncos defense. Miller will play with a cast on his right hand to protect an injured thumb.

One positive for Kansas City is that Kyle Orton has been very difficult to sack this season, being taken down on just 3.9% of his pass attempts (9/232). Orton’s sack percentage is the NFL’s fourth-lowest while Tim Tebow leads the NFL at 11.1% (31/280).

3) Tebow vs. Orton

This one is for the birds. Or maybe made-for-TV-movies. Perhaps even mid-day soap operas.

ESPN has led the charge in pumping what has become an overblown storyline. At the end of the day, both quarterbacks just want to win.

Tim Tebow sells, and Kyle Orton’s return to Denver only makes Tebow coverage spicier. This game, however, is about much more than two quarterbacks out-dueling one another.

Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel said it best this week: “It’s not Kyle versus the Broncos. It’s the Chiefs versus the Broncos.”

It’s not unreasonable to think this storyline doesn’t return next season.

4) Motivating Factors

Romeo Crennel vows that his team will play hard despite a season-crushing loss to Oakland that eliminated the Chiefs from what would have been a Week 17 AFC West Championship Game. Human nature is at play and Sunday’s game is a good test of Crennel’s ability to generate positive player response.

The mere fact that Kansas City remained in playoff contention until an overtime field goal last weekend is astonishing in itself. It’s been a widely inconsistent season for the Chiefs that’s seen three different starting quarterbacks, an in-season coaching change a five losses of 27 points or more.

In fact, another blowout loss could tie the Chiefs with 1984 Buffalo Bills for the most losses by 27+ points in a single season since 1970. The ’84 Bills were eliminated from playoff contention long before Week 16. Buffalo went 2-14 that year.

5) Jones’ Last Hurrah?

As a 33-year old running back set to hit free agency, there are no guarantees for Thomas Jones beyond Sunday’s season finale. With that said, Jones has found the fountain of youth over the last month in leading the Chiefs with 147 rushing yards.

With Jackie Battle placed on injured reserve (foot) Saturday evening, Jones’ load is likely to increase against Denver.

“My sense is he’s looking at it and saying, ‘Hey, I don’t know how many more times I’m going to get to carry the ball. I’m going to make the most out of it that I can,’” Chiefs offensive coordinator Bill Muir observed. “He’s certainly – in a down period for us offensively – he’s been a spirit. He’s been a guy that has kind of carried the flame. He’s gotten people excited with the way he’s playing right now.”

Chiefs Leading Rushers By Month

September: Dexter McCluster, 138 yards

October: Jackie Battle, 287 yards

November: Jackie Battle and Dexter McCluster, 154 yards

December: Thomas Jones, 147 yards

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