Take Denver to claim control of the AFC West tonight, advises Romilly Evans ahead of this big divisional battle...
"Andy Reid is the avuncular disciplinarian, blending care with concern and personal respect with professional duty."
Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos
Live on Channel 4
Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos square up to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs in the game of the weekend. It's the perfectionist versus the perfect team and a battle of competing belief systems - Denver's free-scoring style versus Kansas' tight-fisted tactics. Long story short, something's gotta give.
If the Broncos have their tails up after beating San Diego on the road last Sunday, the Chiefs are relaxed, recharged and ready to roll following their bye week. A week's rest in this physical league is usually to be recommended but it also runs the risk of taking a team out of its competitive flow. Just don't tell that to Kansas supremo, Andy Reid, who is a career 13-1 coming off a bye week. The Chiefs will accordingly be confident they can claim their first 10-0 start in franchise history.
The reversal of fortunes at Arrowhead is a stark as it gets. Indeed, Kansas are already the first side in NFL annals to have started 9-0, having registered the poorest results in the league the previous year.
Reid, of course, will take much of the credit. He has proven the tie that binds an apathetic locker room with a unity of purpose. This Reid has achieved via his role as the avuncular disciplinarian, blending care with concern and personal respect with professional duty. It's a fine balancing act, but this veteran coach is at its fulcrum.
Trouble is Reid now faces the most destabilizing offense in the game, headed by a master quarterback and a Fantastic Four receivers. Manning has been at the height of his computational powers this term, deconstructing defenses with precision rather than power. Yet make no mistake, despite a painful right ankle, he can still make the deep downfield plays which characterized his early career.
Not that he'll necessarily need to tonight. While most quarterbacks are happy with one reliable go-to guy (how Andrew Luck will miss Reggie Wayne at Indy, for example), Manning the conductor has a pitch-perfect quartet under his command.
Wideout Demaryius Thomas has been snaffling the highest praise so far (another career day against the Bolts with three TDs). However, when you factor in tight end Julius Thomas (a revelation in the red zone), the towering Eric Decker and the weaving shorter lanes of Wes Welker, Manning has a receiving corps with that dream combination of attributes: variety, power, mobility and height. Linebackers and safeties don't know where to go.
Kansas, who have conceded the fewest points per game (12.3 - and never more than 17), could be the only team with the personnel to stop them. In Sean Smith's imposing frame, they may even possess a cornerback who can cut Thomas and Decker down to size. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Aside from bringing the blitz and getting to Manning's dodgy ankle (Kansas have a league-leading 36 sacks), slowing rather than stopping this Denver juggernaut will be pivotal to success. You simply can't count on turnovers and picks against one of the game's greatest.
One of the all-time greats Alex Smith certainly ain't. But since 2011, the Chiefs' QB is a stunning is 28-5-1 under center, the second best across the league during that period. While he can't take even half the credit for that record, Smith seems to have a knack for surrounding himself with good people who trust and perform for him.
Perhaps that's because he makes so few bad decisions (only four interceptions this season), choosing discretion as the better part of valour. Sure, Smith seldom torpedoes a TD (only 1.2% of his passes have found the end zone in the past five weeks), but he can extend a play with some pacey paws and looks after the pigskin. His defense, it seems, never need worry about taking over near the goal-line.
Running back Jamaal Charles has instead proved the tops for Kansas, averaging a whopping 124 yards per game this term. Denver's star rusher Knowshon Moreno hasn't fared quite as well by comparison, but 95 yards per match in a team with productive passing lanes isn't too shabby.
And therein lies the rub for Chiefs' supporters. They may have enjoyed success in running the ball, but it's only been in running the ball. Denver know what's coming. Kansas don't. Manning has too many options at his disposal (even two further "sleeper" RBs). The offensive burden will soon weigh heavy on Charles, too. And in any case the Denver D have been unfairly maligned. Ignore erroneous weeks at Dallas and Indy and Von Miller's boys yield just over 21 points each encounter.
So expect the Broncos to pass this litmus test of their Super Bowl credentials with flying colours. They mean even snatch the winning-streak mantle from Kansas and ride it all the way to the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Back Denver Broncos (-7) to beat Kansas City Chiefs on Match Handicap @ 1.84/5 or better
Back Denver Broncos (-3.5) to beat Kansas City Chiefs on First Half Handicap @ 1.834/5 or better
Back Under 20.5 Kansas City Chiefs Total Points @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back J. Thomas to be First Touchdown Scorer @ 8.07/1 or better