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Chief concern? Slowing Patrick Mahomes key to Broncos' upset

Denver has not beaten Chiefs in Denver since 2014
Chiefs Bengals Football
Posted at 6:00 PM, Dec 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-11 15:32:29-05

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Opposites attack.

Broncos v. Chiefs remains unfair on paper. Clark Griswold vs. Clark Kent. Ricola (cough drops) v. Nicola Jokic (dime drops).

This was supposed to be the season Kansas City's crown became loose, their throne wobbly. Instead, the gap between the Broncos and Chiefs has grown wider. Entering Sunday's game, the Broncos have lost 13 straight games to their rival. They haven't beaten the Chiefs at home since Sept. 14, 2014.

Russell Wilson figured to level the matchup, staring down Patrick Mahomes without flinching. Instead, Wilson's spiral has matched the Broncos. He is on pace for career lows in completion percentage (60.1) and touchdown passes (11). Mahomes, meanwhile, is the leading candidate for his second MVP award. And did I mention he's 14-0 in AFC West road games? With a win Sunday and a Chargers' loss, the Chiefs will clinch their seventh straight AFC West title.

Former Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins is Mahomes' godfather. He was telling me about Patrick when he was in high school. I knew Mahomes would be good, but not this good. He's on a Hall of Fame track.

The Broncos are merely trying to get back on track.

"Of course we want to end the streak," Broncos outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper told Denver7. "But we just need a win."

My Denver7 keys to an upset for the Broncos, who are 9.5-point underdogs:

Like, um, score touchdowns
The Broncos rank last in scoring at 13.8 points per game. The Chiefs rank first at 29.2. Denver has no chance without, you know, scoring touchdowns. As it stands, Brandon McManus has 80 points. The Broncos offense has 84. That's a joke. Can the Broncos score two touchdowns for the first time since London?

Wide open spaces
The Chiefs pass defense is ordinary, allowing 237 yards per game. The Broncos pass offense is awful. No Denver receiver has caught a touchdown pass at home this season. Would be a great week for Jerry Jeudy to change that.

Control the ball
The best way to defense Patrick Mahomes is to play keep away. Denver has run the ball a little better in recent weeks. The Broncos must continue to use heavy personnel with multiple tight ends, and encourage Russell Wilson to scramble for multiple first downs.

Convert on third down
The reason Nathaniel Hackett is in position to get fired as a one-and-done coach is because these Broncos feature the worst offense since 1966. He was hired to fix the offense, and it is unspeakably bad. Third down is a huge reason. The Broncos convert 27 percent, ranking 30th in the league. The Chiefs allow 40.5 percent conversions. Reach that number and the Broncos stand a puncher's chance.

Tight, tight coverage
Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce is a Hall of Famer. And that's on his numbers against the Broncos alone. He boasts 90 catches for 1,176 yards and six touchdowns in 15 games. He has 12 receiving touchdowns this season, tied with Davante Adams for tops in the league. The Broncos will look to bracket him with linebackers and safeties, while also mixing in cornerback Pat Surtain II. Slowing Kelce in the red zone is critical.

Turn away
The Broncos' offense has proven it cannot win a game. It is the primary reason the team is 1-8 in its last nine games, and hasn't won at home since September. To eclipse the Chiefs, it will require a pick six or scoop-and-score — which Bradley Roby notched in the Broncos' last win against Kansas City in 2015.

Special case
The Broncos' special teams are not good. And now kicker Brandon McManus has a sore quad, meaning struggling punter Corliss Waitman could handle kickoffs. Can this group of coverage units put it all together for one week? That's what it will take.

Renck's Prediction: Chiefs 27, Broncos 15