The NFL was right to flex out KC Chiefs-Broncos game
All across the landscape of professional sports, there are some rivalry games that simply belong under the lights of primetime. For MLB, it’s a clash between the Yankees and Dodgers (or Yankees and Red Sox). For the NBA, it’s the Lakers and the Clippers. There are several fantastic rivalry games in the NFL, but for those of us who sport the red and gold, there are fewer bigger rivalry games than the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos.
Since the 2015 season, the Chiefs and Broncos have met under the lights of primetime a total of eight games, and Week 14 would have made nine had the league not flexed the game out of that Sunday Night Football slot in favor of Dolphins-Chargers.
When it comes to divisional games or other rivalries, you might as well throw away records, rankings, and/or betting lines. They mean absolutely nothing when two bitter rivals face each other. I stand by that statement and still believe that absolutely anything could happen in this Sunday’s matchup of Chiefs-Broncos. Unfortunately, this season’s Broncos team has not exactly panned out the way everyone (including myself) thought it would. To put it bluntly, the Broncos are so laughably bad that the entertainment value of the game is only appealing to fans of the two teams involved. If we are truly being honest, the rest of America should have no interest.
The National Football League got this decision right to flex the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos away from the lights of Sunday night.
While we are talking about rankings and records, the first issue with this game being in a primetime slot is that if you discard the Chiefs’ 13-game winning streak against Denver being on the line, the outcome of the game is completely irrelevant. It is a divisional matchup to be sure, and since their loss to the Bengals this past Sunday, the Chiefs could certainly use the W, but if somehow they happen to lose (other than the embarrassment that Chiefs and Chiefs fans alike would have to endure after losing to this Broncos team), Kansas City would still be in the driver’s seat to win the AFC West division. Meanwhile, the Broncos would not be elevated at all by achieving the victory (except emotionally of course).
If the Chiefs win, it certainly helps their case for home-field advantage and avoiding the Wild Card round during the playoffs. Another loss for the Broncos would only pile onto what has already been a rather dismal season.
However, the Dolphins-Chargers game certainly has playoff implications. The Dolphins are currently sitting on an 8-4 record and the Chargers are 6-6. If the Dolphins win, that would elevate them to a 9-4 record, placing them directly behind the AFC-leading Bills and Chiefs (as it stands at this moment). If the Chargers were to pull off the upset, that would boost them to a 7-6 record, putting them only 2 games behind the division-leading Chiefs, and with a Christmas Eve match-up against the Seahawks and two divisional games after that, the Chiefs’ stranglehold on the AFC West could start to look somewhat tenuous.
Originally, I was looking forward to a matchup between Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson, a face-off that seemed certain to entertain football fans—or at least it would have, were Wilson still in a Seahawks jersey.
When the news broke last season that Wilson had been traded to the Broncos (why?), I promptly wrote a piece that should have struck fear into the hearts of Chiefs fans. Indeed with a new head coach from the land of Green Bay, a bevy of draft picks, and one of the few quarterbacks in the league that Mahomes has yet to beat, the Broncos looked like a force to be reckoned with. Add the fact that the league gifted the Broncos with five primetime games this season means I was not the only person who felt that way about the 2022 Broncos. Unfortunately for Wilson, head coach Nathaniel Hackett and the Broncos organization as a whole, the season has not exactly panned out that way.
Taking what should have been the first clash between Mahomes and Wilson as divisional rivals and flexing it out of primetime can’t be interpreted as anything less than an indictment of this Broncos team.
The 2022 incarnation of the Broncos, despite the addition of Super Bowl champion and nine-time Pro Bowler Russell Wilson, has the league’s worst-scoring offense at only 14 points per game. The Broncos are last in red zone efficiency at only 37.5%—with Wilson being the league’s worst-ranked quarterback in that statistic—and they are 30th in the league in third-down rate. In other words, the Broncos (even with Wilson taking the snaps) couldn’t pick up a third down if the opposing team’s defense allowed them to walk the required yardage. Primetime games need points being scored, and you will not see much of that with this Broncos offense.
The blame should not fall squarely on Wilson’s shoulders, however. The Broncos’ offense has been riddled with injuries, and at one point or another this season, Wilson has lacked nearly all of his big playmakers. Also, it doesn’t help that Wilson has a head coach who, despite his background as an offensive coordinator, can’t seem to devise a scheme to protect the 34-year-old quarterback.
Needless to say, the upcoming matchup between Mahomes and Wilson is not what it should have been, nor is it what fans of both teams would have hoped it would be. It makes perfect sense that the league would hand off the coveted SNF slot to two of the league’s highest-rated passers in Tua Tagovailoa for the Dolphins and Justin Herbert for the Chargers.
It is certainly disappointing for Chiefs fans to find our beloved and deserving Chiefs flexed out of their rightful place under the lights of primetime (although I imagine Broncos fans are breathing a sigh of relief). However, Chiefs Kingdom shouldn’t take it personally, for it has nothing to do with the Chiefs and everything to do with just how far the Broncos have fallen from grace. It’s a measure of how disappointing this season has been with new head coach Nathaniel Hackett and quarterback Russell Wilson.
As much as we as Chiefs fans would have enjoyed watching our boys in red and gold extend their win streak to 14 over this hapless Broncos team, the rest of the sports world might have skipped it in favor of Game of Thrones reruns.
The Dolphins-Chargers match-up has more playoff implications than Chiefs-Broncos, and while a face-off between Mahomes and Wilson would have been must-watch TV at one point, the Broncos’ freefall into incompetence means that this is no longer the case. Even if Mahomes is triumphant over Wilson, that victory will ring hollow because of how ill-equipped Wilson truly is.
The Dolphins-Chargers game certainly boasts the most entertainment value, and it most certainly boasts the more high-quality quarterback duel between Tagovailoa and Herbert. As much as it may pain me to admit it, the league got this one right.