KANSAS CITY, MO. -- There was a time when I wandered into Arrowhead Stadium, cutting through the wafting aroma of tailgate barbeque, that I knew the Broncos would win. The date was Nov. 16, 1998.
The Broncos arrived with a 9-0 record, dripping with swag before the term landed in the lexicon. They were so good they started backup quarterback Bubby Brister and faced no resistance. They scored two early touchdowns then watched Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas melt into a flurry of penalties, unnerved by the relentless trash-talking of the Broncos' Shannon Sharpe.
It seems like a long time ago when Denver owned this rivalry. The Broncos no longer do. They have dropped six straight to the Chiefs, and haven't won an AFC West road game since Peyton Manning retired. Can they pull off the upset today as a 10-point underdog on most books?
My Denver7 keys to victory:
Survive the first punch
The Chiefs have scored on all seven of their first possessions this season, collecting 41 points. The Broncos have not, owning 17 points. Kansas City leads the league in scoring on the first possession of the second half. My point? When Kansas City's Andy Reid stays on script, no team is better. The Broncos must knock them off schedule on down-and-distance, and survive the early flurry.
The Broncos, against the statistics, want to keep quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the pocket. He's been an ace from there. But he crushed Denver on scramble throws in the previous matchup, totaling 230 yards on those passes. The defenders must rush together and deliver an inside push. If Derek Wolfe, Domata Peko and crew can get Mahomes off his spot and on the ground, perhaps it will lead to a rushed turnover.
Von Miller and Bradley Chubb lead the NFL in sacks by a duo with 14. The pair remains critical to a win. However, it's not about sacks as much as containment with a funnel rush. They must not drift behind Mahomes. Do that, and he will take off laterally and make it impossible for corners to stick with their receivers for five or six seconds. Rush with purpose just like they did against Russell Wilson in the opener.
On a team with more stars than a planetarium, running back Kareem Hunt becomes lost. He's really good. He had his best game this season against the Broncos, though his stats received a bump from a single 45-yard run. He's hitting his stride and Denver's rush defense is not good. The Broncos must contain the edge, and limit missed tackles or they will get smoked.
Play action special
Case Keenum remains strong in play action. Yet, the Broncos run as few of those plays as any team in football. If the Broncos want Keenum to meet expectations, they need to run more play action out of two-back sets with Phillip Lindsay and fullback Andy Janovich. Use Janovich as a receiver out of the backfield, and please, call play-action bootlegs.
To pull off the surprise, unlikely contributors must emerge. Hello Adam Jones. The veteran cornerback played his best game as a Bronco against Kansas City. Can he fight Father Time in coverage again, and reel off a huge punt return? That would go a long way in accomplishing an upset, and so, too, would a career day from safety Will Parks playing for injured Darian Stewart.
Us against the World
This is a tired cliche, but needed for the Broncos. Their season is hanging in the balance after a roller-coaster week of distractions. Win Sunday, and everything changes. They are a legitimate contender with a resume-building moment. Lose, and the Broncos return home with legitimate chatter about coach Vance Joseph's job security, with the possibility he might need a victory at home against Houston to survive entering the bye week.
Broncos inactives: The only mild surprise is Shane Ray. But his sprained ankle didn't cooperate: RB Royce Freeman, RT Jared Veldheer. S Darian Stewart, OLB Shane Ray, WR DaeSean Hamilton, LB Alexander Johnson, OL Nico Falah.
RENCK PREDICTION: Chiefs 35, Broncos 24