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'Sunday Night Football,' Broncos vs. Chiefs 2014: AFC West lead hangs in the balance

The Denver Broncos will try to hold off the Kansas City Chiefs and remain atop the AFC West on Sunday.

The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs are set to face off at Arrowhead Stadium Sunday night in a game that could be the deciding factor in who wins the AFC West. Denver, at 8-3, is currently atop the division and is coming off a big win against the Miami Dolphins in Week 12. Most figured the Broncos would run away with this division, but that hasn't been the case as both the Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers are right behind them at 7-4 on the year.

This Sunday Night Football matchup would have had even higher stakes if the Chiefs haven't slipped up in Week 12, falling to the then-winless Oakland Raiders in primetime. It was a huge loss, which means the Chiefs can't take sole possession of first place in the division with a win in this game. But they can still take one giant step by beating Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

Week 2 saw these teams face off for the first time, withe Denver taking a comfortable 24-17 victory on the back of three touchdown passes from Manning. The Chiefs played well on both sides of the ball that game, but Alex Smith struggled to get his team into the end zone, relying on two Knile Davis rushing touchdowns for the scoring output.

Digits

Both teams have their clear strengths and weaknesses. The Chiefs boast the league's No. 4 rushing attack, averaging 137.1 yards per game. Jamaal Charles leads the way with 772 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground, with another 190 yards and three touchdowns in the air. Smith's pass offense only manages 189.5 passing yards per game on average though, which ranks them second to last in the league.

Defensively, the Broncos should have the edge. Charles and the Chiefs' running game is a lot for any team in the league to handle, though the Broncos are holding opponents just 75.5 rushing yards per game on average, second-best in the league. The ball may have to be placed in Smith's hands and while that typically means the Chiefs won't turn the ball over, they probably won't put up much offense, either. So far this season Smith has tossed 13 touchdowns to just four interceptions with a stellar 65.1 completion percentage, but he's thrown for just 2,211 yards.

Fortunately for Kansas City, the team matches up well with Manning and the league's second-best passing offense; the Chiefs have the best pass defense in the NFL. Manning throws for 316.3 yards per game, while the Chiefs allow just 198.9 passing yards per game. It's an interesting matchup as far as the numbers are concerned.

Who to Watch

Jamaal Charles: The prolific veteran has run well against all manner of teams this season, but he went down with an injury before he even had a chance to put up numbers against the Broncos the last time around. In the last two games, he's rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns against the Seattle Seahawks and 80 yards against the Raiders. Denver will have its hands full on Sunday.

Travis Kelce: Kelce is becoming the only reliable option for Smith in the passing game. He's not going to put up huge numbers, but he's a big body who catches the tough passes. He's been leading the team in receiving over the past couple games, which isn't saying much. Still, Kelce has a ton of big-play potential and could be Kansas City's secret weapon against Denver.

C.J. Anderson: Speaking of secret weapon, Anderson qualifies as one for Denver. The second-year pro now holds the starting role, due to a bunch of injuries at the position. He took advantage of that role against the Dolphins in Week 12, carrying the ball 27 times for 167 yards and a touchdown, good for a per-carry average of 6.2 yards. He also put up 90 yards against the Raiders in Week 10, averaging of 6.9 yards per carry in that game.

The Venue

Opening in 1972, Arrowhead Stadium is one of the best, most historic venues in the NFL. For Chiefs fans, tailgating and arriving at Arrowhead en masse is a way of life. The stadium is the fifth-largest in the league and seats nearly 80,000 people. It's one of the most hostile places to play in the NFL with one of the most vocal fan bases. Earlier this season, Chiefs fans broke Seattle's record for loudest crowd noise in a Monday Night Football game against the New England Patriots.

How to Watch

Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City

When: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV: NBC

Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth

Radio: Chiefs Radio NetworkBroncos Radio Network

Online streaming: Verizon NFL MobileNBC Sports

Odds

The Broncos opened as narrow 1.5-point favorites, but most of the lines moved to even money throughout the week. Some sites still have them as narrow favorites, though, according to OddsShark.

Preliminary Judgment

The experts heavily favor the Broncos on the road. The folks at CBS Sports are unanimously siding with Denver while all but three of 13 contributors are doing the same at ESPNHere at SB Nation, the panel agrees, with six of the eight experts picking Denver.

Further Reading

For complete coverage of the Chiefs, go to Arrowhead Pride.

If you want more on the Broncos, check out Mile High Report.