The Kansas City Chiefs are the final undefeated team in the NFL, but they will take on the Denver Broncos on the road Sunday night as heavy underdogs. Despite Broncos QB Peyton Manning sporting a fresh ankle injury, the Chiefs are seen as long shots to stay unbeaten.
Speaking of fresh, Andy Reid and the Chiefs are coming off a bye week and are one of the healthiest teams in the league. Other than P Dustin Colquitt, who was with his wife for the birth of their fifth child, no player missed practice this week.
The time off not only gives the players an opportunity to rest, but also Kansas City defensive coordinator Bob Sutton extra time to try and prepare for Manning.
The biggest part of Sutton’s game plan will be finding ways to rough up the Hall of Fame quarterback. Even if the Chiefs aren’t able to sack Manning — he’s only been taken down 13 times, second fewest in the league — they’ll need to knock him around the way the San Diego Chargers did late in last week’s close Broncos win.
While most of the pressure will be on the Kansas City defense, QB Alex Smith and the offense can help matters by keeping Manning off the field. They’ll have WR Dwayne Bowe on the field, but questions remain about how much — if at all — his recent arrest will serve as a distraction.
For the Chiefs to pull off an upset Sunday night on national TV, here are the three players that will need to turn in huge efforts.
Offense: Jamaal Charles
Despite being fifth in the league in rushing, Charles’ longest run is just one yard more than the best from Smith (24-23). During his three full seasons as Chiefs starting running back, his longest have been 76, 80 and 91 yards.
Is this the week Charles finally breaks off a big play?
He’s been dealing with nagging injuries all season, most notably extreme blisters on his feet that have limited his explosiveness. If there was ever a time for him to have some extra pep in his step, it would be coming off the Chiefs bye.
Charles has always enjoyed playing against the Broncos. There’s no team he’s scored more touchdowns against and we all remember the 25 carry, 259 yard performance to wrap up the 2009 season.
If the Chiefs are going to find a way to win in the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to lean less on Charles. But odds are this isn’t going to be the week they try to figure out that formula.
Defense: Tamba Hali
If the Chiefs defense is going to slow down Manning, it’ll need to be Hali finally finding a way to bring down Manning that makes the difference.
Sure, Hali has had a ton of success against the Broncos throughout his career. In fact, the linebacker has only recorded more sacks against the San Diego Chargers than the 8.5 he’s racked up while playing Denver.
Despite that success, Hali wasn’t able to carry that over during the two games against the Manning-led Broncos last season. Denver shut out Hali, which has been far too common throughout the meetings between the linebacker and Manning.
Hali has sacked Manning just twice over the years, a number that may need to be equaled Sunday night to keep the Chiefs unbeaten.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
The latest edition of Colquitt vs. Colquitt (Dustin’s brother Britton is the Broncos punter) will serve as a memorable one. That’s because Dustin welcomed a new baby to the world this week, so while this matchup normally presents the typical family reunion, it will be take on a whole new meaning for Dustin.
What better way to keep a fantastic season rolling along than out dueling your brother on national TV?
Look for Dustin to have a little extra juice while he attempts to limit the chances for the Broncos electric punt returner, Trindon Holliday.