Kansas City Chiefs fans dressed as nuns react watching the final minute of the game against the New York Jets in Week 13 of the NFL season on December 3 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (9-6) AT DENVER BRONCOS (5-11)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, Sports Authority Field at Mile High. TV: CBS, Beth Mowins, Jay Feely.
SERIES HISTORY: 115th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 60-54. The Chiefs used five turnovers to knock off the Broncos 29-19 in Week 8, the team’s lone victory during a stretch when Kansas City dropped six of seven games. The Chiefs own a four-game winning streak against the Broncos, their longest winning streak against Denver since winning four straight during the 1999-2000 seasons.
KEYS TO THE GAME: This game represents a step into the relative unknown, as Paxton Lynch is likely to start for the Broncos, while rookie Patrick Mahomes will start for the Chiefs.
The Broncos want to get a look at Lynch, but they also want to make sure running back C.J. Anderson hits 1,000 yards. Their running game has been by far the best aspect of their offense, so look for the Broncos to keep it on the ground to allow Lynch to get comfortable.
Defensively, the Broncos will try to crank up the pressure on Mahomes, who will make his first regular-season start. Throughout the game, the Broncos likely will want to get a look at some younger players, so running back De’Angelo Henderson, right tackle Cyrus Kouandijo, tight end Matt LaCosse and rookies safeties Jamal Carter and Dymonte Thomas are just some of the players who could get long looks.
The Chiefs plan to rely on youth as well, so the defense needs to make an impact against Lynch.
The Chiefs don’t expect Mahomes to lead them to victory, but he should lean on running backs Charcandrick West and Akeem Hunt to run the ball and control the clock. If Mahomes can use his elusiveness and arm strength to make a couple of plays downfield, the Chiefs can pull out the win.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
–Broncos RB C.J. Anderson vs. Chiefs’ front seven. The Chiefs’ run defense has struggled throughout the season, including against the Broncos, as Denver racked up 177 rushing yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry in its Week 8 loss at Arrowhead Stadium. Anderson needs 54 yards to get his first 1,000-yard season as a pro, and the Broncos will likely feed him the ball constantly.
–Chiefs LT Cameron Erving vs. Broncos LB Shaquil Barrett. This should be Kansas City’s first chance to get a look at Erving at tackle, which the team believes is his more natural position. The club picked up the former first-round draft pick from Cleveland via a preseason trade. With left tackle Eric Fisher likely sitting out most or all of the game, expect Erving to get tested protecting the blind side for rookie QB Patrick Mahomes.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORTS
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
–Out: WR Tyreek Hill (not injury related)
–Doubtful: DT Bennie Logan (knee)
–Questionable: CB Kenneth Acker (illness), T Cameron Erving (illness), LB Tamba Hali (knee), RB Akeem Hunt (shoulder), DE Rakeem Nunez-Roches (illness), LB Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder), RB Charcandrick West (illness)
–Out: DE Zach Kerr (ankle), WR Cody Latimer (thigh), WR Emmanuel Sanders (ankle)
–Questionable: T Donald Stephenson (hand)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes. The first-round pick will make his first start because the AFC West champs have nothing to play for in this game. "It’s not going to hurt him for sure and he will learn from it," coach Andy Reid said. "Every snap that he gets is a valuable snap for him whenever he has that chance of getting in there. It’s invaluable."
FAST FACTS: The Chiefs won the AFC West title for the second consecutive season. … QB Alex Smith leads the NFL with a 104.7 rating and ranks third in the AFC with 4,042 passing yards. He is the third QB in NFL history (Rich Gannon and Steve Beuerlein) to record his first 4,000-yard season in his 13th year or later. He has five games with 300 yards and no INTs this season, tied for most in the NFL. … RB Kareem Hunt is second in the NFL with a franchise rookie-record 1,292 rushing yards. In the past three games, he has 450 scrimmage yards and four TDs (three rushing). … WR Tyreek Hill has 457 receiving yards and three TDs in his past four games. He has a career-high 1,183 yards and can become the first Chief since 2004 (Tony Gonzalez) with 1,200 yards. … LB Justin Houston had two sacks in the last meeting. In the past five meetings, he has 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. He has recorded at least two sacks in four straight games vs. Denver. … Denver RB C.J. Anderson had 133 scrimmage yards last week and has 291 in his past two games. He has 100 scrimmage yards in three of the past four. With 946 rushing yards, he can become the first Bronco with 1,000 since 2013 (Knowshon Moreno). … WR Demaryius Thomas needs 108 receiving yards for his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Since 2012, he ranks second in the NFL with 569 catches, third with 7,762 yards and fourth with 50 TD receptions. … LB Von Miller has 11 tackles for loss and eight sacks in his past seven games vs. KC. He has six seasons with at least 10 sacks, most in team history.
PREDICTION: Mahomes will put on a show and get the Chiefs to 10 wins.
OUR PICK: Chiefs, 24-17.