The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs both finished Week 1 with wins. Yet, of the two division rivals, one appears to be ascending while the other seems to be falling back down to earth.
Since signing quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012, the Broncos have regularly ranked among the NFL's best in many offensive categories. However, after team president John Elway decided to gut the coaching staff and bring in former Denver offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, there have been questions regarding Manning's ability to adjust to a new scheme. It doesn't help that the signal caller celebrated his 39th birthday during the offseason.
The first real test for the Manning-Kubiak marriage came last Sunday during a 19-13 Denver victory over the Baltimore Ravens, a game that featured no offensive touchdowns by either team. Had quarterback Joe Flacco not thrown an interception that was returned by Aqib Talib 51 yards for a go-ahead touchdown, the inefficiency of the Broncos' offense may have been too much for the team to overcome. Manning was sacked four times and finished the game with just 175 yards passing. Though the Ravens' defense certainly played a role in Denver's ineffective offensive play, rarely has a Manning-led offense completely struggled to get the ball into the end zone.
The script was completely flipped in Week 1 for the Kansas City offense, which lit up the Houston Texans secondary for three touchdowns in the first half from Alex Smith. While J.J. Watt and company pitched a shutout during the second half of the game, the early lead the Chiefs carved out proved too much for the Texans and their inconsistent offense to overcome.
Now the Broncos and Chiefs will battle for the early lead at the top of the AFC West, although the San Diego Chargers could factor into that discussion as well should they improve to 2-0 on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. In any case, the Broncos-Chiefs game projects to have a season-long impact on the division.
As has been the case for several years, the Broncos' top priority on offense will be keeping the pocket clean and Manning upright. Though in a one-game sample size, that proved difficult for Denver as the offensive line could not keep Baltimore's front seven off Manning often enough. With Kansas City possessing outside linebacker Justin Houston, arguably the best edge rusher in the league after his 22-sack performance in 2014, holding back the pressure might become a struggle once again.
While Kansas City would prefer not to fizzle in the second half again, it can overcome its offensive issues by winning the turnover battle and avoiding penalties. That combination earned a victory for the Chiefs over the Texans, with quarterback Brian Hoyer throwing an interception to rookie corner Marcus Peters while also fumbling away another possession later in the game. Perhaps that recipe can produce another Kansas City win over their division rival on Sunday.
With the Chiefs' impressive start to the year against the Texans, the odds makers have listed the home team as a 3-point favorite over the Broncos, according to OddsShark.
How to watch online
When: 8:25 p.m. ET
Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.
TV: CBS/NFL Network
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms