NFL Debrief: Denver vs. Kansas City was the game you deserved

Doug Pensinger

A Sunday night matchup between the Chiefs and Broncos became the most anticipated game of the season. Did it live up to its lofty expectations? Debrief also tackles the Saints, pokes the Lions, discovers McGloin and more.

It was the game of the millennium of the year of the week, the most anticipated tilt in the NFL since the Broncos and Chiefs began their race to the top of the AFC. The Chiefs were an unlikely 9-0. The Broncos trailed in the standings by way of their 8-1 record. This game would even it all out, peel some layers off each team's identity, and give us three good hours of football after a long series of prime time dog turds wrapped in Al Michaels' niceties and thrown at your door by men in suits.

Denver won by a final score of 27-17. The strategy and the standings will be interpreted all over Monday's deluge of bullet points, but there's another, more important standard to judge this game: did it meet expectations?

A quick Google search provides a short list of arbitrary ways to judge.

Investment

Denver started with a field goal, and added a Julius Thomas touchdown for a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. The Chiefs responded with an 11-play drive that ended with a Dwayne Bowe touchdown. We had a close game. Fortunately, a string of non-smokers making pot jokes on Twitter broke the tension. The back-and-forth continued, and the Chiefs trailed only by a touchdown at the half.

We expect something in return for giving three hours to one something that doesn't return untaxed income or entertainment.

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Anyone with no rooting interest in either one of these teams had reason to be satisfied. It was a fairly well-executed game. Both sides played each other at the same high level, for the most part. The Chiefs never had the lead, but they were never quite out of it either.

Fans of the Broncos or Chiefs had no reason to change the channel or give those last bites of guacamole more attention than the game. You had to see this one until the end.

Quality

Excitement alone isn't enough to judge a game. In fact, the Buccaneers' win over the Dolphins last week was actually a pretty exciting game, but only because both teams nearly matched the other's confoundedness.

The Chiefs and Broncos avoided that. It wasn't perfect snap-for-snap. Andy Reid punted in the fourth quarter while trailing by 14, highlighting his usual list of questionable decisions. Jack Del Rio saw the other side, not USC, the spirit place. Look.

The biggest concern/disappointment was the Chiefs defense. All year it's terrorized opponents with suffocating coverage and relentless pressure. Peyton Manning didn't get sacked or even hit once. They never really had a chance against Manning's quick, cold efficiency, and that was the deciding factor.

Safeties and derpy interceptions have been a constant feature of this season's games. By those standards, it's hard to complain about this one.

Plot

One thing that makes the 16-game season exciting is the week-to-week narrative. It defines a season in short-order. Teams have to do something special in December to rewrite the labels from October.

I wasn't around in 1972, but I have a pretty good memory of the 2007 Patriots. Nobody poked holes in that team's record like they've done for the Chiefs this year. Only one of Kansas City's prior opponents has a winning record at this point in the season (the Eagles).

There are going to be plenty of hot takes about the Chiefs being overrated this week. The game wasn't as close as it should have been. Even with no pass rush and Alex Smith shouldering more workload than Jamaal Charles, Kansas City played a close enough game. You want to see more of the Chiefs with six games to play.

You definitely want to see the game when these two teams play again in two weeks. This time the game's in Kansas City, where the crowd noise alone could give the pass rush an extra step. Both the Broncos and the Chiefs are very good, but neither one is perfect.

You want to see the next game because it will shape the season's stretch run. The stakes will be higher too. A Chiefs' win could make it a dogfight from the end of Hanukkah to the New Year for the tops spots in the playoff order.

Summary

Our review is complete. The Chiefs couldn't get much going in the second half, but they never let it get out of reach. You still wanted to see how the game would end.  The Grade-a-tron gives this one a scaled score of 3276 (an imaginary scale still makes more sense the SATs). That translates to a B+.

Saints the NFC's best?

For years, the football neophyte has wondered how Drew Brees has been so good considering his stature. At six-foot, he does reach the minimum requirement on Sean Payton's "you must be this tall to ..." sign. Brees can also extend his neck when needed. 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks revealed this when he tried to remove Brees' head in the fourth quarter on Sunday.

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Extend-O neck.

You're waiting for a screed about activist refs. What you're really going to get is an awkward segue about perception, stretchy necks and the Saints as NFC contenders.

We spent the offseason writing off the Saints because of the defense. It was historically bad last year, missing players and transitioning from a four- to three-man front. It was bad punditry, but there was also historical precedent working against the Saints.

A bad Saints defense held the 49ers to 3.5 yards per offensive play. That's the second-worst per play output by San Francisco. The Panthers held them to 2.9 yards per play last week. The Saints defense has 32 sacks this season; only five teams have more. Only two opponents have scored more than 20 points against them, the Patriots and the Jets (still trying to figure out that one).

Add in what you'd expect from Brees, et al, and the Saints are a lot more like what some of us thought the Falcons would be this year. (Whoops).

New Orleans' schedule down the stretch will go a long way toward shaping the NFC playoffs. The Saints are in Seattle on Monday night in Week 13. The winner of that one has a good shot at the top seed in the conference. In Week 14 and 16, the Saints get the Panthers, which could decide the NFC South title as well as who gets the conference's second seed.

These Lions don't roar

Jim Schwartz stood outside on the blustery November day in his leather jacket, thinking. Maybe he needed to shake things up. Two wins and first place in the NFC North felt good, but it didn't feel like pushing a speedometer into the red or hanging out with Kid Rock. He needed to do something radical, before everyone got too comfortable with this success.

A fake field goal could be the hit of adrenaline the Lions needed.

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But, hey, if you're not willing to fail, you'll never taste REAL excitement ... that's what the poster at OfficeMax said.

It's easy to beat up Schwartz for the fake punt. The Lions had a 27-24 lead at that point, in the fourth quarter. The Steelers got the ball back, but they still had 97 yards to go. And if the play had worked, there's a good chance the internet would have given Schwartz the Riverboat Ron treatment.

Going for it on fourth-and-five at the 10-yard line wasn't the problem; a fake with a rookie holder in the middle of a downpour was. Seriously, they used that play over an end zone face to Calvin Johnson. Just play the odds on that one.

The Steelers scored on the ensuing drive, eating up eight minutes of clock in the process. Detroit's defense failed to get much pressure on that drive or the next one, which also resulted in a Steelers touchdown.

Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were on pace to break the single-game record for passing and receiving yards in the first half. The SB Nation newsroom had an exciting post ready to go, just waiting for the records to fall. Megatron didn't catch a single pass in the third and fourth quarters. Stafford was three-for-16 with 35 yards and an interception in the second half.

Reggie Bush's fumbles added to the Lions' problems, and got the running back benched for awhile in the second half.

There are weeks where it just makes sense that the Lions are leading the division. Not this week. Even after this week's debacle, they still have half a game and the tiebreaker over the Bears ... division leaders by virtue of default and Scott Tolzien's existence.

Schwartz is going to have to spend a little time soul searching on the Kid Rock cruise this year.

Birds of prey

Who says we can't love the NFC East?

Okay, it's mostly a pretty wretched spectacle, except for the Philadelphia Eagles. The NFL tried to reject the newness Chip Kelly brought to the league like a bad blood transfusion. But, it's really taken hold.

The Eagles have won five of their last seven games. Those two losses came in Week 7 and 8. Both games featured a heavy dose of Matt Barkley in relief of injured starters. What the hell did you expect? In the three games since then, Nick Foles is 51-for-72 with 932 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

No opponent has managed to score more than 21 points against the Eagles since Week 4, despite surrendering an average of more than 300 passing yards each week, the second-worst mark in the NFL.

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A Week 14 game against the Lions looks like the toughest matchup left on the schedule. They have a Week 17 game left to play in Dallas that could determine the division winner ... providing the Cowboys can arrest their own slide. The smart money's on Philadelphia having wrapped it up by then.

Next man up

Matt McGloin wins this week's unknown quarterback sweepstakes. The former Penn State walk-on entered the pros by roughly the same process, signing with the Raiders as an undrafted free agent. He beat out Matt Flynn (who hasn't) and fourth-round pick Tyler Wilson and got his shot while Terrelle Pryor was sidelined with a knee injury.

Two weeks ago, McGloin threw 15 passes in relief of Pryor against the Eagles. It was enough to start a quarterback controversy in Oakland, apparently. Pregame reports had owner Mark Davis siding with Pryor; others reportedly like McGloin as the next potential quarterback of the future.

The rookie certainly gave the Raiders something to think about in a 28-23 win over the Texans. He threw three touchdowns and 197 yards. With a 4-6 record and now a quarterback controversy, give the Raiders credit for making their season more interesting than anyone thought it would be.

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