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Broncos vs. Chiefs 2015 preview: AFC West rivals clash in primetime matchup

Peyton Manning has never lost to the Chiefs in a Broncos uniform.

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Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs battle for early control of the AFC West when they kick off Week 2 with a primetime matchup at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday Night Football. Both teams won their season opener and now face the difficulty of a short week to prep for this key division game.

Kansas City raced out to a 27-9 halftime lead over the Houston Texans on Sunday thanks to a surprising offensive surge and held on for a 27-20 win. Alex Smith threw three touchdowns in the first 30 minutes, including two to tight end Travis Kelce, who also had a monster game. The Chiefs' defense and pass rush were outstanding for the first three quarters with five sacks, four quarterback hits and seven passes defended, before the Texans managed a couple of garbage-time scores in the final five minutes.

The Broncos had a more difficult time with the Baltimore Ravens in a defensive slugfest that featured six combined field goals and no offensive touchdowns for either team. It was a rare type of win for a Peyton Manning-led team -- just the third time in his career that he won a regular season game without his team scoring a rushing or passing touchdown. The last time was on Nov. 30, 2008, with the Colts. The Broncos won with their defense -- which received the highest Pro Football Focus grade of any team in Week 1 -- and their kicking game. Brandon McManus was perfect on all four of his field goal attempts, including two from 50-plus yards.

Denver has won four consecutive division crowns and has owned the AFC West with Manning under center, going 17-1 over the past three seasons. The Chiefs gave the Broncos their stiffest test last year, though, coming within a touchdown in a Week 2 loss at Denver. If any team is going to knock the Broncos off their perch this season, it could be the Chiefs. They've had one of the of the league's best defenses the past few years and now have a few playmakers on offense (Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, Jeremy Maclin) to make things interesting.


Manning did nothing in the season opener to quiet the skeptics who think that the 39-year-old is pretty much done, looking every bit the part of an aging and limited quarterback against the Ravens. His line was ugly: 24 of 42 for 175 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception. Only three times in his career has he averaged fewer yards per attempt (4.4) than he did last Sunday, and his total QBR of 26.4 was his fourth-worst since the stat was introduced in 2006. Manning now has three zero-touchdown games as a Bronco, and all three have come within the past five regular season games.

One of the biggest red flags from Manning's miserable performance against the Ravens was how much he struggled with the Ravens' pressure tactics. He was just 4 of 9 for 23 yards with one pick, and was sacked four times in 13 dropbacks under pressure (per Pro Football Focus). That's a meager passer rating of 12.0, well below the 80.8 rating he averaged last year in those situations. Granted, he was playing behind an offensive line with two first-time starters (left tackle Ty Sambrailo and center Matt Paradis) and a guy who wasn't even on the team a month ago (left guard Evan Mathis).  The problem is it won't get any easier this week against a Chiefs' front seven that loves to bring pressure and wreck havoc in the backfield.

If there any opponent, however, that might be able to snap Manning out of this funk, it is probably the Chiefs -- or any AFC West team. He is 6-0 against Kansas City since joining Denver and has also never lost a division road game in a Broncos uniform (9-0). Manning is also at his best on a short week. He has a 10-2 career record in Thursday games, completing 70 percent of his passes while averaging nearly 300 yards per game.

As mentioned above, a big advantage for the Chiefs heading into this game is an aggressive defense that has the ability to own the line of scrimmage and bring a ton of pressure. The only team that allowed fewer points than KC last year was the Seattle Seahawks, and they also ranked third in sack rate (8.4 percent). One of the keys to beating Manning and the Broncos is holding them to field goals (or no points) inside the red zone. Last year the Chiefs ranked first in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on just 40 percent of opponents' drives inside the 20.

Who to Watch

Travis Kelce - The third-year tight end showed how dangerous he can be as a receiver with his two-touchdown, 106-yard performance against the Texans. He joined Tony Gonzalez as the only tight ends in franchise history with at least 100 receiving yards and two touchdown catches in a game. And he probably had the best touchdown celebration of the season so far. After playing behind the now-departed Anthony Fasano last year, the 6-foot-5, 260-pounder could lead the Chiefs in targets this season and appears to be a prime breakout candidate.

DeMarcus Ware - Although Aqib Talib was the Broncos' defensive hero against the Ravens, it was Ware who was the true superstar on that side of the ball. He had a sack, three quarterback hits and seven pressures in one of his best pass rushing games over the past few years. Ware has the ability to make life miserable for Alex Smith and if his Week 1 performance is any indication, he is primed to once again torment the Chiefs. Ware has five sacks in five career games against the Chiefs.

How to watch online

When: 8:25 p.m. ET

Where: Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.

TV: CBS Sports/NFL Network

Announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms


Preliminary Judgment

The Chiefs are a near-unanimous pick to knock off the Broncos, according to the experts. Only two of the eight panelists at CBS Sports are taking Denver, while all seven of our guys at SB Nation (including the OddsShark computer) are calling for Kansas City to prevail at home.


The Chiefs are 3-point favorites and the over/under is set at 42 in this game, according to

Further Reading

For more on the Broncos, head on over to Mile High Report. For everything Chiefs, check out Arrowhead Pride.