It’s only week two, but tonight on Thursday night football looks to be a crucial one in the AFC West. The Broncos who despite a win didn’t quite look like what we’ve become accustomed to, go into Arrowhead to face a Chiefs team that on the surface has the talent to end the Broncos recent run of divisional titles.
There has been a lot of questions about Peyton Manning since last postseason about age, arm strength and injury. But the most important question is how Manning adjusts to Gary Kubiak’s offense. The offense on Sunday didn’t resemble the usual tempo we see in an offense featuring Manning and playing on a short week could make it tough to really improve immediately.
Due to this, we will probably see a heavy dose of the Broncos rushing attack. The matchup could be favorable as last week the Texans despite playing from behind consistently found success on the ground averaging 4.6 yards a carry against the Chiefs. C.J. Anderson in terms of usage was the clear number one back as expected. However, it was backup Ronnie Hillman who was more efficient with his touches in week one while displaying more burst. Look for Anderson to see around 20 total touches and Hillman should be in the 10-12 range for touches.
With Manning still at the helm and Sean Smith still on suspension, the Broncos do figure to still air it out as we’ve become accustomed to. After looking very explosive in week one, I’d expect for Emmanuel Sanders to get plenty of looks early and often. Manning overthrew him on a few deep balls last Sunday, but he was consistently getting separation. Whether it is connecting on big chunk plays or underneath routes, they need to find creative ways to get him the ball. Demaryius Thomas will also get his double digit targets, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Chiefs like many teams, put more of an emphasis on limiting him. A yards after the catch machine, Thomas also figures to get the ball in space and we should see at least three or four of the patented screen plays he’s been so efficient at with Manning. A Kubiak favorite, Owen Daniels figures to see some targets, but as of now it might be best to avoid any Broncos pass catchers besides Thomas and Sanders.
When talking about the Chiefs offense, their lack of touchdowns from receivers constantly comes up, but if you’re still putting six on the board does it really matter? Alex Smith had another efficient game and while they’re never going to be gaudy, his numbers should consistently be there. Against a strong Broncos pass rush, Smith figures to continue relying on the underneath stuff tonight. Even when Smith plays well, the heartbeat of the Chiefs offense remains Jamaal Charles. With the ability to score from anywhere as both a runner and receiver, the Broncos efforts in trying to contain him will probably determine the outcome of this one. While the Broncos did have success stopping Justin Forsett in both of those elements last week, the Chiefs have more options in the passing game and Charles is a whole different animal.
Jeremy Maclin showed a nice rapport with Smith in the preseason, but this doesn’t figure to be the game where it translates. As the only real weapon on the outside the Chiefs have, Maclin will see plenty of two fantastic corners in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris. Despite that Maclin should still see eight to ten targets this week even if it is out of necessity. As you saw against the Texans, Travis Kelce appears to be the next star tight end in the league. The tight end who most closely resembles Rob Gronkowski in style of play, Kelce can win at the point at attack and has certainly shown an ability after the catch. Whether it is on crossing routes or plays down the streams, he’s a player you need to manufacture targets for.
Despite the offensive talent on both sides, this one figures to be a lower scoring affair. Both teams have fantastic pass rushes and figure to emphasize running the ball on offense. While playing in a hostile environment could prove intimidating, the Broncos are a team who with their veteran presence shouldn’t be phased. So while it might be ugly, they have what it takes to squeak out another win. My prediction is Broncos 20 Chiefs (-2.5) 17.