Chiefs vs. Broncos: Five Things to Watch

Top storylines, key stats, and the matchups you need to know heading into Sunday’s game against the Broncos

The Kansas City Chiefs (6-1) have another chance to prove that they belong atop the AFC West as they host the Denver Broncos (3-4) Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium. The game is set to kick off at Noon CT and can be watched locally on KCTV5 (CBS).

Since 2010, these are the only two teams that have won the AFC West division, with the Chiefs taking home the crown in 2010, and then over the last two seasons (2016-17) as well, while the Broncos had a little streak there of five-straight titles between 2011-15.

On Sunday, the Chiefs will be looking for their sixth-straight win over the Broncos, and their 19th win in their last 20 division contests.

And while those numbers might lead you to believe this streak has been something of a cake-walk, that couldn't be further from the truth.

The Chiefs' last two wins over the Broncos were by a total of just seven points, and both took game-winning drives late in the fourth quarter by second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will be making his third career start against the Broncos in just nine career games.

Along the injury front, the Chiefs will head into this game without starting center Mitch Morse, who is still out with a concussion, while linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry are listed as doubtful as either practiced all week.

For the Broncos, they'll be without running back Royce Freeman, safety Darian Stewart, right tackle Jared Veldheer, and receiver DaeSean Hamilton. Kansas City native and outside linebacker Shane Ray, who played collegiately at Missouri, is listed as doubtful.

Here are five things to watch on Sunday:

1.    The development of rookie Breeland Speaks

One thing that's come from the recent absence of Houston, who is nursing a hamstring injury, is that rookie second-round pick Breeland Speaks is getting some key reps for the Chiefs' defense.

And he's taking advantage of them, too.

Speaks, who is transitioning to a new spot at outside linebacker after playing defensive end and sliding down inside a bit in college as well, has 13 quarterback pressures in his last three games, per Pro Football Focus, and his positional coach—Mike Smith—is seeing consistent development from the former Ole Miss standout.

"He's getting to the point where he's understanding offenses," Smith explained. "Now we can talk about formations and backfield sets. He's seeing that; he's understanding what he's getting, and that's becoming a good football player. And that's really as a coach, what you're coaching. You can coach technique and stuff, that's huge, but you've got to understand what offenses are doing and how they're attacking.

"To me, that's what made me really proud with Breeland [Speaks] this (past) week. He came to a point on the sidelines, he was talking and he was comfortable. He was understanding what he was getting. That's a big step for him and I think that's the direction that we'll keep going and he'll continue to get better."

Speaks also said this week that Dee Ford and Houston have been huge in helping him understand not only what he's supposed to do with his role in the defense, but how to attack the offense in front of him.

He said Houston is routinely watching him and giving him tips during the game from the sideline.

2.    The play of center Austin Reiter

With the injury to Morse, the Chiefs had some options on how they were going to handle the center position.

Left guard Cam Erving has experience at that spot, and the recently-signed Jeff Allen has played everywhere along the offensive line except center during his NFL career, but repped there a little bit while in college at Illinois.

The Chiefs also have Austin Reiter—the former South Florida Bull who was twice a finalist for the Rimington Award, which is given to the nation's most outstanding center—on the roster after picking him up off waivers from the Cleveland Browns on September 3.

Reiter entered the league as a seventh-round pick of the Washington Redskins back in 2015.

Reid said on Friday that they're going with Reiter, who will be making just his second career start on Sunday.

Whether it's helping protect the league's leader in touchdown passes or paving way for the league's No. 3 rusher, there's a lot on the plate for Reiter, whose teammates expressed confidence in his ability to do the job when speaking on Friday afternoon in the locker room.

Mahomes is tied with the Patriots' Tom Brady for the fewest times sacked so far this season at eight, and we've all seen what this running game behind Kareem Hunt has done lately.

It's time for Reiter to step up and be a part of the success, and his job won't be easy with Broncos' veteran defensive lineman Domato Peko Sr., who has been plugging the middle of a NFL defensive line for more than a decade now.

3.    The Broncos' attitude

This is a divisional game against a prideful Broncos' team that can't be really thrilled about their recent performances against the Chiefs.

The Broncos had done a pretty good job of containing the Chiefs' league-leading offense in their first matchup—holding a 23-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

But all that did was set the stage for a Mahomes-led game-winning drive, which will always be remembered for a left-handed throw that had the country talking considering the game was in primetime in the biggest of moments.

Much of "Mahomes' Mania" can be attributed back to that drive, and more specifically, that play.

"I feel like every game against an AFC West opponent is a tight one," Mahomes said of the game this week. "It's always something that comes down to the end of the game. I feel like with Coach Reid, he's just prepared us for every situation and we've gotten lucky enough to come out on top of most of those games, and hopefully we can keep that trend going."

The best thing you can do in these kinds of situations is to take away all hope from the beginning.

The Chiefs have been the pride of the division for the past few years and they've gotten the better of the Broncos in their matchups, and while the Broncos are dealing with a lot of off-the-field stuff as well, the Chiefs would be well-served to remove all doubt as to who the best team is on the field from the moment they first kick-off on Sunday.

4.    Do the Broncos try and keep Mahomes in the pocket?

In their Week 4 matchup, the Broncos did a good job of throwing a lot of looks and blitzes that Mahomes hadn't yet seen, but Mahomes also did a fantastic job of then getting outside the pocket and just making things happen by scrambling and throwing on the run.

Mahomes finished the game with 192 yards passing from outside of the pocket, which was the most for any quarterback in a single game in more than a decade.

So, the question becomes whether or not the Broncos want to keep to that same plan and force Mahomes to make plays outside of the pocket by sending a fifth player often.

"As a quarterback you always feel more comfortable in the pocket, especially when I'm getting the protection that I'm getting right now," Mahomes explained. "At the same time, I like to get out of the pocket and buy time for those receivers. I don't know if there is one that I'm necessarily better at right now, but I'll keep working at both and trying to get better at both."

As mentioned by @NFLMatchup earlier this week, Mahomes is also pretty good inside the pocket—ranking second in the league with a passer rating of 119.7, which trails only the New Orleans' Saints Drew Brees (123.8).

It's really a "pick your poison," but the Broncos did hold Mahomes to completing just 15 of 29 for 156 yards through the first three quarters of that Week 4 matchup, but Mahomes went 13 of 16 for 148 yards and a touchdown in the games' final 15 minutes to lead the Chiefs to the win.

Although it's important to note that in his six career starts that haven't been against the Broncos, Mahomes has thrown 21 touchdowns and has just four interceptions. But in the two starts against the Broncos, he's thrown just one touchdown and one interception.

5.    Does Kareem Hunt keep up his hot start?

The last thing to watch is whether or not the Chiefs can keep Hunt rolling like he has been over the past three games.

Maybe it was the late game-winning touchdown against the Broncos in Week 4, but the last three games since that matchup, Hunt has 420 total yards from scrimmage with five touchdowns.

"He's playing as well as any running back in the National Football League," Reid said following Hunt's standout performance last week against the Bengals. "He's not only running the ball like crazy, but he's also catching the football.

"My hat goes off to [Hunt]. I think he is playing great football right now, and tough football. He's punishing right now, and it's something to watch."

The Chiefs could use some of that punishing-type of running on Sunday, and we'll all be watching.

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