Thursday Night Football kicks off tonight with a matchup that may hold big playoff implications already. The Denver Broncos visit the Kansas City Chiefs, and both teams could be in a tight race to top the AFC West. The most current odds have the Chiefs showing as 3-point favorites with an over/under of 42.
Thursday Night Football: Denver Broncos vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Betting Line: Kansas City -3.0 / 42.0 Points Date: Thursday, September 17, 8:25pm ET Location: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
The Broncos go to Kansas City having won 12 consecutive divisional road games dating back to the 2011 season. During that streak, Denver has managed to outscore their opponents 338-198 with a +11 turnover margin. There are a few reasons why this streak may end tonight, one of them being an 18-24 record against the Chiefs when playing at Arrowhead Stadium. Home-field advantage definitely plays into the point spread favouring Kansas City by three points.
Not only will Denver have to overcome the harsh environment, it also needs to figure out how to get the offense in a rhythm. Peyton Manning has begun to show signs of aging as he went 24-for-40 with just 175 yards, no touchdowns and an interception last week against the Ravens. These stats are a far cry from the Manning we know, but the simple fact is that his play has been in sharp decline since mid-year of the 2014 season.
While Manning is still capable of picking apart a secondary, albeit with less arm strength, head coach Gary Kubiak has stated his clear intention of making this a running team. C.J. Anderson (questionable) and Ronnie Hillman will get plenty of carries in hopes of opening up the passing game. If either of them can break big gains early early, it will force the Chiefs to drop their safeties in the box, which will give Manning the opportunity to find his receivers open down field.
Defensively, the Broncos were stingy against the Ravens, holding Joe Flacco to just 117 yards passing, no touchdowns, two interceptions and an abysmal 38.2 passer rating. Denver’s corners can blanket receivers and their pass rush is relentless. They’ll be on a mission to bring Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith back down to Earth after scorching the Texans’ defense for 243 yards and three touchdowns.
Kansas City Chiefs
While the Chiefs had no issue scoring on Houston last week, they’ll face a more complete defense in the Broncos. Smith relied on quick reads, getting the ball to the hands of his receivers on timing routes, and he’ll need to do the same in order to get the ball off before the Denver pass rush can get to him. Smith has always been regarded as a game manager and needs to play to minimize mistakes against an opportunistic Denver defense.
Jamaal Charles had an underwhelming performance in Week 1, gaining just 57 yards on 13 carries. If he’s unable to be more effective against the Broncos, it could spell trouble for the Chiefs who need to find a way to keep Denver guessing. If Charles can solve the Bronco’s defense, that could open up some play action out of a running formation to tight end Travis Kelce, who had a monster game in Week 1.
The Chiefs are hoping their defense can keep this game within reach for the offense and they stand a very good chance with their elite pass rush. Expect Justin Houston to be in Manning’s face all night. The rush should be able to collapse the pocket consistently enough that they will give an immobile Manning little time to escape. If Manning gets too much time, they’ll leave their secondary vulnerable to Denver’s talented receivers.
Thursday Night Prediction
The Chiefs haven’t won a game against the Broncos since 2011 and with this struggling Denver offense, they finally have a great shot at ending that streak. Kansas City can cover the point spread if it is able to control the clock on offense, using quick timing plays and a good dose of ground and pound to tire out the defense. Long, sustained drives that end in points will be the Chiefs’ key to winning.
The Broncos, on the other hand, will need to play with a sense of urgency early on. A quick score would do a lot for their confidence while playing on the road. Manning will need to find a rhythm fast, as the running game is not going to carry this team against the Chiefs defense. While they can hope their own defense can stop Kansas City, they simply need to move the ball and score. Put points on the board early and let your defense get the ball back in your hands.
It won’t happen for the Broncos this Thursday night. I like the Chiefs to win and cover, 23-17.