The first place Kansas City Chiefs will try to rebound from a disappointing loss in Oakland last weekend when they head to Denver to take on the last place Broncos.
The Chiefs are holding onto the slimmest of margins atop the division while the Broncos are just trying to save their season. Kansas City is leading the Raiders by only a half game, while Denver is 2-6 and has lost 4 in a row including a 24-16 loss to the 49ers in London.
Here are the three players from each team that you will need to keep your eyes on.
Offense: Thomas Jones
Like most games this year, the Kansas City Chiefs will look to control the game by running the football. While they face the second to worst rush defense in the league, they could be faced with a limited Jamaal Charles. Even though the young back isn’t on the injury report, head coach Todd Haley suggested that he only carried the ball 10 times in Oakland due to some lingering injuries.
Even if Charles is healthier this week, Jones will still need to be better than he was last week. No matter who is on the other side of the line, 32 yards on 19 carries will never be good enough. With Denver dealing with so many injuries on defense, Jones is poised for a big day along with Charles if he’s healthy.
Defense: Eric Berry
The Broncos might only have 2 wins, but they own one of the better passing offenses in the NFL. The Chiefs have one of the best young cornerback tandems in Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr, but are unsettled at safety. Just how much — if at all — Jon McGraw and Kendrick Lewis can contribute on Sunday will put even more pressure on the fifth pick in the draft.
Berry has made a habit of coming up with big plays recently and will have to continue to do that in Denver. He hasn’t been without his mistakes — he was flagged for a penalty that brought back Javier Arenas’ punt return TD last week — but considering the work load he has taken on it’s become less on an issue every week.
Special Teams: Dustin Colquitt
For the first time this season, Colquitt is the focus of the Chiefs special teams and it has nothing to do with how he’s been playing. The punter will be facing his brother, Britton, who is punting for the Denver Broncos.
After a couple of poor performances, the elder Colquitt had a solid game against the Raiders, though he had a touchback, making 4 of 8 games that he has put a ball in the endzone. If he could put up just his fourth game with a net or more than 40 yards, it would go a long way towards helping him win the matchup of Colquitt vs. Colquitt and forcing the Broncos to march the length of the field most of the day.
Offense: Kyle Orton
He may have originally been seen as nothing more than a stop-gap at quarterback for the Broncos, but Orton has turned in a top 10 performance through half the season. While Denver was falling to San Francisco last week, Orton nearly had his second 400 yard game of the year with 370 yards.
Denver might not be able to run the ball, but they are dangerous as long as Orton has time to throw the ball. The good news for the Chiefs is that Orton has had trouble staying upright. Only four quarterbacks have been sacked more than Orton this season as he has had to deal with a rotating offensive line.
Defense: Mario Haggan
Believe it or not, the Broncos do still have players on defense that are healthy and not about to be suspended. With Elvis Dumervil lost for the season and DJ Williams dealing with a DUI that could limit his playing time this week Haggan is going to have a lot on his plate while leading the linebackers.
Haggan is second on the team in tackles and will likely see time both inside and out against the Chiefs. He has particularly been active over the last month, averaging 7.5 tackles. No matter how much Williams sees the field, the Kansas City offense can’t forget about Haggan.
Special Teams: Eddie Royal
He will play a big role in the Broncos passing game along with Brandon Lloyd, but Royal will also be looking to make plays in the return game. Against the Chiefs last year, Royal was good for a 39 yard punt return that he nearly good to the house. To put that in perspective, his longest return this season is 32, meaning he is looking forward to facing Colquitt and the Chiefs coverage unit that is struggling right now.