DENVER – The last time the Broncos beat the Chiefs, Taylor Swift topped the billboard charts with “Shake it Off” and “The Equalizer” was packing theatres.
That was Sept. 14, 2014.
Flash forward to Sunday. Swift will not be in Denver to see Travis Kelce, “Equalizer 3” is available on demand and snow has decided to take center stage. Denver received several inches Saturday night and temperatures figure to settle in the 20s during the game with flurries up until the 2:25 p.m. kickoff.
It’s not like Broncos Country could feel more cold and bitter watching their team vs. the defending champion Chiefs. Kansas City owns a 16-game winning streak vs. Denver, the third longest streak vs. an opponent in NFL history (Miami owns the record at 20 games vs. the Bills).
Denver boasts a 2-5 record with the trade deadline looming at 2 p.m. on Tuesday. Would a victory reframe expectations and make the Broncos reluctant to deal? They have been open for business – general manager George Paton takes and makes as many calls as anyone – but have high demands for players like Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton, Josey Jewell, and Justin Simmons.
The Broncos held firm to wanting a first rounder for Jeudy last October and this spring. There’s no way they get that back now, but would they take a third and a fifth? And Sutton might net a fourth or fifth – his contract is problematic – and is that enough to surrender the team’s best red zone threat? Moving Jewell would create playing time for rookie Drew Sanders. And a Jeudy trade would facilitate more snaps for explosive receiver Marvin Mims Jr.
The Broncos are not moving cornerback Patrick Surtain II unless a team wants to surrender multiple first-round picks and more (think of the Jalen Ramsey trade to the Rams from the Jaguars). It is increasing likely Denver makes at trade – Von Miller and Bradley Chubb were shipped out at the deadline the last few years. This team needs to hit the reset button and add more young talent. But the Broncos are not conducting on a yard sale, needing real draft cache, not a gaggle of sixth and seventh-round picks. All that said, a win vs. the Chiefs would soothe lingering wounds even if doesn’t mean anything at the end of the season.
My Denver7 keys to victory:
Run it back
The Broncos rank fourth in yards per attempt (5.1) and 24th in carries. The math does not add up. It’s time for the Broncos to run it back. And run it more. The Chiefs defense has never been better during the Patrick Mahomes’ time in Kansas City, saying something since he has topped Denver 12 straight times, while going 29-3 in the AFC West. Mahomes was added to the injury report on Sunday morning with the flu, but was warming up as normal in pregame. The Chiefs are just OK vs. ground attacks, allowing 105.7 yards per game. Javonte Williams posted a season-high 82 yards last week. He is getting stronger and faster. Feed him and Jaleel McLaughlin (6.9 yards per attempt).
Control the clock
Winning time of possession never hurts against the Chiefs. Typically, NFL teams want big strikes, variety. But the 10 play, 75-yard drives are a methodical way of staying within reach of the Chiefs by playing keepaway from Mahomes. Denver has rushed 46 percent of the time the past two weeks. Don’t be afraid to make it 50 percent on Sunday.
Take it away, now
The easiest way to know if a team wins an NFL game: check the turnover battle. Win in takeaways and win on Sunday. That is the formula. And Denver has not followed it. The Broncos are -4 in turnover margin, ranking 26th. The Chiefs are even at zero. The Chiefs don’t fumble, but Mahomes will put the ball in harm’s way vs. Denver. His nine interceptions against the Broncos are his most against any opponent.
Plan for Kelce
Mahomes is the master at manipulating zones. He is so instinctive that it feels like he is synchronized with his receivers. Travis Kelce embodies this. In his option routes, he is a unicorn, stopping in places where no one does, sprinting to spaces no one goes. It’s time to try something different. Hall of Famer Steve Atwater told me he wants Denver to try to be more physical with Kelce at the line of scrimmage and mix in man matchups, perhaps even with Patrick Surtain II or Fabian Moreau.
Play clean in Snow
The easiest way to lose to good teams: stub your toe. The Broncos have committed 48 penalties, ranking 29th. There’s no chance of beating Kansas City without a clean game – like three or four penalties, and none on third down to end or extend drives.
Go deep, Mims
The funny thing about snow is that offenses usually have the advantage. The offensive players know where they are going, while defensive players are reacting. If the Broncos run as they hope, it will open play-action strikes. A 50-yarder to Marvin Mims Jr. could change the game. He has been a ghost the past three weeks – he has one catch for four yards on two targets – and that cannot continue if the Broncos want to pull off the upset.
Where there is a Wil
Wil Lutz has converted 12 straight kicks since missing in the opener against the Raiders. Before the game, the Broncos need to figure out his range in the wind and snow. But wouldn’t it be something if he nailed a 50-yarder to put a stick in the Kansas City curse?
Troy’s prediction: Chiefs 26, Broncos 20