1. The opportunity is there
The Kansas City Chiefs (3-5) travel to take on the Denver Broncos (7-1) in an AFC West matchup with plenty of implications for both teams moving forward.
It's just one game—that's a fact—but there's no denying the importance of this game.
"They're the best team in the division," Chiefs coach Andy Reid said this week. "They're holding that— they've had a good season to this point. So you've got to be able to beat them to take charge of the AFC West. And that's how it rolls and so that's what's real."
The Broncos have been the class of the AFC West for the last several years and for the Chiefs to take another step forward to help get them out of the early hole they dug themselves with five straight losses, Sunday's game is paramount in forwarding the "Here we come" narrative that's developed over the past two weeks.
The Broncos are coming off their first loss of the season suffered last week to the Indianapolis Colts. They're looking to bounce back without two key contributors on the defensive side of the ball in cornerback Aqib Talib (suspension) and linebacker DeMarcus Ware (back), as well as the possibility of a few others who have missed practice this week with various injuries.
This is a defense that ranks among the best in the NFL by allowing just 274 yards per game and they'll be without their sack leader (Ware-6.5), and also their leader in interceptions (Talib-3).
The Chiefs, who have lost seven straight to the Broncos, have an opportunity to avenge a heartbreaking defeat back in Week 2, when the Chiefs surrendered 2 touchdowns in the final minute to lose the game, 31-24.
Now, after back-to-back wins, the Chiefs can ride that wave of momentum once again and get over the hump of consecutive losses to the Broncos at the same time.
2. Turnovers could once again be the difference on Sunday
The last time these two teams played, the Chiefs committed five turnovers, which led to 14 points for the Broncos and was the difference in the game.
Over the past two games, the Chiefs defense has forced 5 turnovers and the offense hasn't turned it over once.
It's the kind of turnaround that's led them to a couple of consecutive victories.
Alex Smith has attempted 197 consecutive passes without throwing an interception, the longest streak of any quarterback in the NFL this season.
"He's going to protect the football," Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said of Smith. "I think Denver, right now, shoot, they're relying on defense to win these games."
While it's always important to take care of the football, there's even more of an emphasis on taking care of the ball when you're facing an offense that has struggled to consistently move the football.
"Over these last four or five weeks, the guys have worked really hard," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "Extra meetings, working on their own – nothing to do with the coaches but on their own working. And I think when you're willing to commit yourself like that there's an energy that comes from that.
"It's kind of a force multiplier. It exists within – creates energy within the group and you're relying on other people and they're relying on you."
The Chiefs rank No. 1 in the NFL over the past four weeks at just 14.25 points per game allowed.
The Broncos lead the NFL with 5 non-offensive touchdowns this season, 4 of which have come from the defense.
If the Chiefs offense can help the defense by not doing the Broncos any favors in giving them short fields, the team will have a better chance they'll have at winning on Sunday.
On the flipside, the Chiefs defense knows that they'll be given a few opportunities to make plays in this game as Manning leads the NFL with 13 interceptions.
They'll just need to answer to the call when that time comes.
3. Ground and pound
In the first matchup between these two teams, the Chiefs offense found success on the ground, running the ball with Jamaal Charles, who carried it 21 times for 125 yards and a touchdown back in Week 2.
With Charles now on Injured Reserve with a torn ACL, second-year player Charcandrick West gets another shot at being the lead guy this week, although this will be his first crack at it in a divisional game.
Over the past three weeks, West has averaged 103.5 yards per game, which ranks as the best in the AFC.
"I'd tell you, he gets a little more exciting every time he touches the football," Pederson said of West. "He's still learning, he's growing. I think Coach [Eric] Bieniemy does a great job of coaching those running backs – and, particularly in his case, not only understanding the run game, but understanding protection.
"As a young player in our system, we ask our quarterback and then our backs to do a lot of pass protection. He's done an outstanding job."
West doesn't shy away from the opportunity to get on the field with one of the top defenses in the NFL.
"To play a team like this and to go out there and perform well like I've been doing would be a statement," West noted. "They've got a great defense and we have to honor that."
While much is made of the Broncos pass rush, which leads the NFL with 30 sacks, one player the Chiefs have their attention on is defensive end Malik Jackson (especially as Denver will be missing Ware on Sunday due to injury). Jackson has 3.5 sacks and 20 tackles for the Broncos defense this season.
"I think he's playing well," Pederson said of Jackson. "He's a tough guy to stay blocked. Good burst off the ball, he can get skinny, create an edge and does nice job on stunt games. He's got some speed."
Considering that veteran Ben Grubbs has yet to practice for the Chiefs this week, all indications are that Jeff Allen will stay at that left guard spot with Jah Reid stepping in at right tackle.
This is an offensive line group that found success against the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers over the past two weeks and one that can hopefully have similar success against the Broncos.
4. No free yards
The Broncos lead the NFL with 16 personal foul penalties this season.
Led by defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, this aggressive bunch plays through the whistle and has been known to play through the echo of it as well.
In the last matchup between these two teams, penalties hurt the Chiefs to the tune of nine flags for 60 total yards.
With the knowledge of who they're going up against and how they like to play, Pederson said you have to be smart about how you handle yourself and not give free yards to the other team.
"There's definitely a fine line," Pederson said. "You don't ever want to take that aggression away from your team, and you want to see your guys stand up for their teammates.
"At the same time, you have to be smart. Those are selfish penalties. You have to control your emotions."
With a division rival and something to play for, the stakes and emotions will be high.
This will be football at its best.
5. With two stars on the outside, don't forget about the guy in the middle
The Broncos have two of the best receivers in the game on the outside in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.
Their abilities are well documented as they've combined for 174 targets already this season.
Back in Week 2, Sanders and Thomas teamed up for 16 receptions for 203 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Chiefs.
But don't forget about tight end Owen Daniels, who has really stepped up and found a rhythm with Manning over the past three weeks.
In his last three games, Daniels has 11 receptions for 170 yards, highlighted by his fourth career game of more than 100 yards receiving last week in their loss to the Colts.
Daniels finished with 6 receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown in that game.
He spent the first eight years of his career with head coach Gary Kubiak in Houston, then followed him to Baltimore last season before joining him this year in Denver.
"We played Daniels a lot at Houston and he's been in this system," Sutton said. "He's been every place Kubiak has been. He knows how coach wants the thing to run.
"I think what's happened over these eight weeks is that Peyton has become very comfortable and very confident in him. He's made some really big catches."
While most of the attention is spent watching the guys on the outside, and deservedly so, the Chiefs won't be forgetting about the guys running across the middle, whether it's Daniels or the newly acquired Vernon Davis, the Chiefs will be prepared.
LAST TIME THEY MET
Photos from the Chiefs home opener matchup against the Denver Broncos