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Broncos enter crossroads stretch of season as underdogs

Posted: 1:42 PM, Sep 28, 2018
Updated: 2018-09-28 20:00:59Z

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Four weeks is not a long time. But there's no denying the Broncos sit at a crossroads in their 2018 journey to redemption. 

They own a 2-1 record. They are undefeated at home. And yet, it feels precarious, an uneasy feeling for a head coach who barely kept his job last season and a defensive coordinator whose game plans have been openly questioned. 

The Broncos face Kansas City, the AFC's Super Bowl favorite du jour. Next are the Jets, a team Denver desperately needs to beat for its first road win, followed by a home date with the Los Angeles Rams, whose coach Sean McVay might be the game's best playcaller.  

Broncos coach Vance Joseph embraces the challenge of facing the Chiefs. He knows the history. Kansas City has won five straight games against Denver, three of which predated his arrival. The Broncos wade into Monday night's game as a home underdog against the Chiefs for the second time in 27 years.

"I'm not surprised they're favored," Joseph said. "That means nothing."

Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett put it another way to Denver7, "It's disrespectful."

Walk around the Broncos locker room this week, and the motivation is clear. They remain irritated by the Chiefs' status, with players putting in extra time to prepare. That's the easy part. The hard part is doing something about it on Monday.

Kansas City has won 17 of its last 18 division games. And the Chiefs have never had a stretch where they've played this well offensively. They are attempting to become the third team in league history to score at least 38 points in each of its first four games. 

"You can't be scared. If you're are scared, go to church," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who has made clear he wants an aggressive approach defensively after watching opposing quarterbacks complete 69.5 percent of their passes this season. "You've got to be ready to challenge everybody."

The test for coordinator Joe Woods is daunting. Even if the game plans have been sound, the in-game adjustments have not. The Broncos struggled to adapt against Oakland quarterback Derek Carr (29 completions in 32 attempts against soft coverage) and Joe Flacco, who said the Ravens could have thrown 55 times and won easily.

The matchups favor Kansas City this week. Receiver Tyreek Hill ranks as arguably the league's fastest player, Sammy Watkins provides a new physical presence on the outside, and tight end Travis Kelce has used the Broncos for a chew toy, collecting 394 yards and two touchdowns in his last three games against Denver. 

Harris insisted a "championship" mentality is required this week. This is not a must-win game, not with the way the Chiefs are playing. But how Denver plays is important. Can the Broncos compete with Kansas City, building confidence for a victory at New York? Or does this game represent a loose thread pulled to begin a slow unraveling?

The Broncos are underdogs in the next three games. This season boasts a different feel. For that to be real, the Broncos must win at least one of these games. There's no shame in a .500 record after six weeks. Anything less places the postseason in doubt, leaving the Broncos climbing Pike's Peak in Crocs. 


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Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook , Twitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page . Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com .