Quite simply, this is the biggest game the Chiefs have been involved in a decade. The only game that comes close in terms of importance to this franchise in the past 10 years was the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens at the end of the 2010 season. Even then, few believed the team was bound for greatness and “one and done” was an acceptable stepping-stone for the franchise.
Not so this year.
Today, the Chiefs are the #1 seed in the AFC with home field advantage and a first-round bye until someone knocks them off. Win this game, and the Chiefs will not only increase their lead in the division and conference, but they’ll push back their biggest challenger. Lose this game and they are automatically pushed down to the #5 seed, behind the Broncos in the division standings, set for a wild card berth.
I can’t remember the last time the Chiefs had a regular season game that not only held huge ramifications for their own playoff chances, but also was key to the entire conference’s postseason order.
Beyond the playoff significance, this game is also pivotal for the Chiefs because it will be the final word on the legitimacy of the team’s shocking success this year. If they beat Denver in Denver, no one will be able to keep them out of the championship discussion. If they lose, they will confirm the expectations of many that this is a flimsy Cinderella team destined for an inevitable fall back to mediocrity.
In short, everything the Chiefs have built so far this season is on the line – their bid for greatness, their
reputation in the league and their ability to forge their own narrative.
The cards are stacked against them.
The Broncos are by far the strongest opponent the team has faced this year, and KC is going to their house. The Broncos are led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback who is probably riding his last chance at another championship ring. The setup could hardly be more cinematic.
Due to the stakes and the setting, the Chiefs are going to need some heroic performances to see them through to victory today.
Where are they going to come from? I’m not sure, but I’m betting they will surprise you.
Here are my guesses.
Offense – Alex Smith
There could be no better time and no better stage on which Smith could make a statement to all the doubters. Not only will it be critical to move the ball and score points in this game, but Smith may have one of his better opportunities to do so tonight. Denver’s passing defense is 30th in the league. Granted, that’s largely because teams have resorted to the pass to keep up with the Broncos’ offense. But, they’ve also given up 26.4 points per game (8th most in the league) and a league-worst 43 pass plays of 20+ yards.
Someone in this wide receiving group is going to step up in this game. Count on it. While I’d like to see Dexter McCluster or Donnie Avery turn up big in a game, I have a feeling this is going to be the day Dwayne Bowe breaks out this season. He’s heard all the talk and he knows he has to prove he’s living up to his contract ever more so with his infamous (alleged) trip to Sonic over the past weekend.
Defense — Derrick Johnson
Don’t get me wrong, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are going to be key to the Chiefs winning this game, but I
think the guy who may end up being even more important to their success is DJ. Everyone and their mother knows that KC is going to try to use the best OLB pair in the league to bust through the Bronco’s battered offensive line and hurry Peyton Manning. But, included in that “everyone” is the Denver coaching staff and I think they know that they’re going to have a rough day passing against the Chiefs’ deep secondary with Hali and Houton screaming off the edges.
I actually think they are going to shock everyone and go to a conservative grind it out approach. With their franchise player hurt and at his most vulnerable, now is the time to hand off the rock against a defense that got gashed big-time by the Bills the last time they took the field. Denver RB Knowshon Moreno is 2nd only behind Adrian Peterson with 9 all-purpose TD’s so far this year and is averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
If I’m right and they decide to try and knife through the KC defense on the ground, there is no one that can shut that plan down better than DJ who is a world class run stuffer.
The moment of truth is just a few hours away. Expect sparks to fly and legends to be born.
Who do you think will answer the call?