Can Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos overcome the Kansas City Chiefs on the road in Week 2? SI's Don Banks makes his pick for Thursday Night Football.
• Last week: 11–5; Season: 11–5 (.688).
• Best pick in Week 1: Green Bay 31, Chicago 22 (actual score: Packers 31–23).
• Worst pick in Week 1: Minnesota 34, San Francisco 17 (actual score: 49ers 20–3).
As noted here on Wednesday, a short-week trip to Kansas City’s raucous Arrowhead Stadium represents the wrong place and the wrong time for any 39-year-old quarterback, let alone Denver’s Peyton Manning, with his limited mobility, questionable arm strength and a rebuilt offensive line that has replaced four starters from 2014. The Broncos’ transitioning offense is searching for its identity this September, and Arrowhead is far from the best place to find it.
The Chiefs’ fearsome pass rush dropped Houston quarterbacks five times in an impressive season-opening road win on Sunday, one sack more than Manning absorbed at home against Baltimore. Manning threw for just 175 yards, the third time in six games he’s been held under 200 yards, and counting his preseason work, Denver’s first-team offense has now been touchdown-less in 21 possessions this year. Manning calls the Broncos offense “a work in progress,” but so far there has been little progress to show for Denver’s work.
Manning has owned the Chiefs over the course of his long career, going 13–1 against them, including in the playoffs, and beating them a Kansas City-record tying eight times in a row dating to 2007. He’s 6–0 against Kansas City with Denver, with the Broncos going 17–1 in AFC West games since Manning joined them in 2012, including a 9–0 mark on the road in the division. But that was then, and this is now, and the Chiefs seem primed for payback.
Kansas City has an athletically gifted defense that speeds up a quarterback’s decision-making and creates a series of dirty pass pockets to contend with. And that’s where the slow-moving Manning will have his hands full with the Chiefs speed rush. Opponents had better be able to hit some big plays against K.C., because long, methodical, mistake-free drives aren’t likely to unfold. And once the crowd noise is factored in, an opponent’s offensive execution grows even more difficult.
On offense, Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith has never had more weapons to work with as a Chief, and his three-touchdown-pass showing in the first half—two to tight end Travis Kelce and one to running back Jamaal Charles—against Houston displayed the explosiveness that has been missing his first two seasons in town. Both of these defenses could be top-five material this season, but for a change, the Chiefs have the higher ceiling on offense, and the better overall team. This is Kansas City’s best chance to beat Manning in more than a decade, and the time finally feels right.