DENVER — The last time the Broncos beat the Chiefs in Denver, Taylor Swift topped the charts with "Shake it off."
I remember that song more than the game. Peyton Manning completed 21 of 26 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns, his excellence so routine it dulled its appreciation. Montee Ball led the Broncos in rushing with 60 yards.
It was Sept. 14, 2014, a balmy 85-degree day in Denver at Sports Authority Field. The Broncos were an 11.5-point favorite, opened a 11-point halftime lead and held on for a 24-17 victory, one of 12 that season.
The Broncos have lost nine straight games to the Chiefs, not winning since Manning retired. There have been nine starters post-Manning. None can count a win against Kansas City. During the current skid, the Broncos have been outscored by an average of 12 points per game.
Last season, the Broncos welcomed the Chiefs on Thursday night. Denver had won two straight, but wasn't ready for the spotlight. The Broncos yielded nine sacks, and allowed 30 unanswered points, riddled even after Patrick Mahomes dislocated his kneecap. It represents the low point in Vic Fangio's tenure.
A year later, the context is similar. The Broncos are flirting with relevance as the defending champions saunter into Denver on Sunday where snow is expected. Will this time be different?
For argument's sake, I present some reasons why it might be, while acknowledging the reality that the Broncos remain heavy underdogs:
Two for the Show
The Broncos have won two straight games. Nobody cares that they beat the winless Jets, one of the NFL's worst teams in 20 years. But, the upset of the Patriots resonates. The Broncos are the first club ever to beat Bill Belichick's Patriots without scoring a touchdown, in large part, because of the work of the offensive line and Phillip Lindsay. And regardless of how little New England practiced, the Broncos need not apologize for a road win. Ever. The Broncos defense held the Patriots to their lowest home point total since 2016.
The Chiefs are operating on short rest after bullying the Bills on Monday night. OK, they aren't starting pitchers working on their third third day, but it is a slight schedule disruption. The Chiefs also are employing a revamped offensive line. Can it help? It can't hurt the Broncos.
The Broncos defense has undergone personality bypass surgery. Over the last two games, the Broncos have become aggressive with blitzes and pressure. Fangio dialed up the perfect game plan against the Patriots, as frenetic defenders posted four sacks and three takeaways. Denver has 8.5 sacks in their wins. Malik Reed posted a breakthrough game with two sacks and three quarterback hits against the Patriots. Can the Broncos reach Patrick Mahomes twice in big moments, especially in the snow? He has only been sacked seven times in six games.
After the injuries to Von Miller and Jurrell Casey, the defense has finally settled with the pieces falling into place. The return of cornerback A.J. Bouye should bolster a rapidly ascending secondary.
The Broncos are getting healthy, a juxtaposition to the endless talk of MRIs during the season's first three weeks. Tight end Noah Fant (high ankle sprain) and receiver K.J. Hamler (hamstring) are trending toward returning Sunday. Bouye should start, and defensive linemen Dre'Mont Jones (knee) and DeMarcus Walker (calf) could return.
In the same Orbit
Fangio called the Chiefs offense a "Star Wars" attack. They are so versatile that they can punish opponents through the air -- Mahomes boasts 15 touchdowns with one interception -- and ground -- they rushed for 245 yards on 46 attempts against the Bills, both tops in coach Andy Reid's tenure in Kansas City. The Chiefs are ridiculously talented, and have more weapons now than when they outscored Denver 53-9 last season. Tight end Travis Kelce has 37 catches for 470 yards and five touchdowns. He is the most reliable weapon, and crushes Denver (72 catches, 948 yards, four TDs in 11 games). If looking for reasons the Chiefs could rout Broncos again, it starts with Kelce.
But for the first time since 2015, the Broncos have weapons to counter. It's ambitious to think an offense that ranks 29th in scoring (20.0) and third down conversions and 30th in red zone touchdown percentage will suddenly blossom. The difference this year is that Denver has a puncher's chance because of the added talent of Jerry Jeudy, Hamler and Albert Okwuegbunam, and a Chiefs defense that is more vulnerable than when the teams played last December.
Other things to consider. The Chiefs will welcome Le'Veon Bell, whose initial value could be as a receiver out of the backfield. Yes, the Chiefs have more talent. But if the Broncos defense can stop the run, can they make it a game where the weather could play a factor? Maybe.
The final reason for the Broncos standing a chance? Reverse logic. Covering the Rockies years ago, I asked manager Clint Hurdle why he used a specific reliever to face Mike Piazza in a critical moment of a 4-3 victory. Piazza was like 9-for-11 off the certain right-hander, so pretty anyone else was a better option. So why the choice? "He was due."