Broncos, Chiefs have postseason hopes on line Sunday night
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) The Chiefs could have their playoff berth assured before kickoff against the Broncos on Sunday night, provided the Pittsburgh Steelers knock off the Baltimore Ravens earlier in the day.
That hardly diminishes the importance of the game.
Kansas City would need to beat its bitter AFC West rival to clinch its postseason spot if the Ravens win. But more importantly, the Chiefs (10-4) could move atop the AFC West, position themselves for a first-round bye and earn some level of home-field advantage if Oakland loses to Indianapolis on Saturday, and then they beat the Broncos (8-6) at what should be a festive Arrowhead Stadium.
Got all those scenarios straight?
If not, the Chiefs' Dontari Poe can help you out.
''We have to win. It's pretty much that simple,'' the big defensive tackle said. ''They're coming into our place and it's the Broncos. It's no more intense than that. We have to be ready.''
The Chiefs have won nine straight within the division, including their dramatic win in Denver last month. They scored on their final possession to force overtime that night, then got two field goals from Cairo Santos in overtime - the second ricocheting off the upright - to escape with a 30-27 victory that has proven to be massive in the playoff chase.
Without the win, the Chiefs would be in a much more dire situation Sunday night.
In other words, they would be in Denver's situation.
The Broncos' best chance of making the playoffs and defending their Super Bowl title is to beat Kansas City and Oakland in the final two weeks. If they split and finish 9-7, their chances of earning a wild card become slim, and would require help from a whole bunch of other teams.
''We have to win out,'' Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. ''We have to win out.''
So, both teams believe their divisional showdown is a must-win game. Here are some of the key points that will determine which team is successful:
WIN THE SECOND HALF: The Chiefs' offense has become anemic in the second half the last three weeks, averaging 124 yards over that span. They also haven't scored an offensive touchdown in any of those games, and that proved to be debilitating in a 19-17 loss to Tennessee last Sunday.
Tight end Travis Kelce blamed overly conservative play calling afterward, though he later backtracked. But he may have been right: The Chiefs rarely push downfield in the second half of games.
''I look at all of that,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid said when asked whether he needs to be more aggressive. ''I go through and look at all that.''
LOCKER ROOM RIFF: The Broncos downplayed disharmony in their locker room this week, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Their dynamics became a hot topic after last week's 16-3 loss to New England when squabbling began between cornerback Aqib Talib and left tackle Russell Okung.
That led to a shouting match between defensive players who have held some of the NFL's best offenses in check, and a line that's been blamed for the Broncos' ugly offense.
''There's no division. That's battling and that's part of football,'' Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. ''Defensively, we should feel really good about ourselves and how we played. Offensively, we should look at it and say, `We did some good things, but we should have scored some points.'''
TYREEK SHINES: The Broncos should remember well Tyreek Hill. The dynamic rookie wide receiver had touchdowns on the ground, through the air and on a kickoff return against them last month.
Turns out Hill has been at his best in three prime-time games, scoring six touchdowns.
''I guess it just feels like `Friday Night Lights,' going back to high school days,'' Hill said. ''I always think it's fun to play under the lights because that's when everyone is watching. It's the last game on TV. I know my mom is watching, so I got to show out for her.''
PRO BOWL PLAYERS: The Chiefs had four Pro Bowl selections in safety Eric Berry, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, cornerback Marcus Peters and tight end Travis Kelce. The Broncos had three selections in cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib and pass rusher Von Miller.
Four Pro Bowl defensive backs in one game? Good luck getting much going through the air.
DENVER'S DIVE: The Broncos saw their five-year run as AFC West champs come to an end mainly because of problems along the offensive and defensive lines. They are 27th in the league running the ball and 29th against the run. But because their pass defense remains top-notch, the most glaring weakness is their O-line and its inability to bore holes or keep the QB upright.
''The same thing I wanted to see from Day 1: consistency,'' Broncos offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said when asked what he wants to see down the stretch. ''We need to iron out a lot of things. ... We need to keep them off the quarterback and we need to find more holes.''
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL