KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES HISTORY: 107th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 56-50. The teams have split the season series four of the last five years and eight of the last 10. The most notable meeting between the two teams was on Jan. 4, 1998, when the Broncos upset the top-seeded Chiefs 14-10 in the divisional playoffs en route to their first world championship.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles didn’t break the 100-yard barrier in the first meeting, but he did average 4.9 yards per carry and has averaged 104.4 yards from scrimmage in 17 career December games. Combined with the Broncos’ loss of DT Kevin Vickerson, and there’s good reason to believe Kansas City should be able to move the ball on the ground. The Chiefs don’t often stretch the field vertically, but QB Alex Smith is highly efficient working off play-action and the Broncos don’t know if they’ll have CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or if Champ Bailey will be able to return to the lineup. The Chiefs must dominate time of possession with OLB Justin Houston almost certainly out and pass-rushing cohort Tamba Hali dealing with a sprained ankle. Broncos QB Peyton Manning threw for 323 yards and a touchdown while going virtually untouched in the first meeting in Denver two weeks ago – a 27-17 Broncos victory. WRs Eric Decker, Damaryius Thomas and Wes Welker combined for 18 catches for 264 yards that day, but the Chiefs’ secondary held the trio out of the end zone.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
- Broncos secondary vs. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe: Denver might not know until Sunday who will be available to suit up at cornerback. Bowe was targeted 14 times in the first meeting but came down with only four catches for 57 yards, although one was for a touchdown for the Chiefs’ first points of the game.
- Broncos DT Sylvester Williams: The rookie will be asked to fill much of the role vacated by Vickerson, along with Mitch Unrein. Williams has been inactive for three games and little-used in many others until having a significant impact at New England.
FAST FACTS: Denver’s 429 points are the second-most in NFL history through 11 games of a season (New England, 442 in 2007). … Smith has passed for 519 yards with a 104.5 passer rating in his past two home games.
PREDICTION: Broncos QB Peyton Manning left the first matchup two weeks ago with a uniform that barely needed to be washed – and that was when the Chiefs had their full complement of pass rushers. Minus Justin Houston and with Tamba Hali gimpy, K.C.’s backsliding defense will struggle to get off the field.
*Our pick: Broncos 31-23