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Travis Kelce Could Be the Difference-Maker in Chiefs-Broncos on Monday Night Football

With the Chiefs at 5–2 and the Broncos at 3–3, this Monday Night Football game isn't quite the AFC West power matchup we anticipated a few weeks ago.

Football fatigue may be a real thing, but a thrilling Seahawks-Texans game followed by a Sunday Night Football tilt between the Steelers and Lions that came down to a fourth down, goal line attempt may convince some middle-of-the-road types to give Monday’s Chiefs-Broncos game a shot. In that case, let’s take a look…

This was a matchup that, back on Oct. 1, seemed like it could be an early indicator of AFC West supremacy. Since that time, the 3–1 Broncos dropped two straight, including a home game to the winless Giants and the Chargers, who, until beating those winless Giants, were also winless.

Kansas City (5–2) may be the second- or third-best team in the NFL—depending on how you view the Patriots and Eagles—thanks in large part to tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce is third among all tight ends in receiving yards and ahead of receivers like Stefon Diggs, Michael Crabtree, Alshon Jeffery, Amari Cooper and Davante Adams. His presence in the lineup tonight will be of particular interest to those who want to see defensive-minded Broncos head coach Vance Joseph try and wipe Kelce out of the game plan and force Alex Smith to utilize his much shorter targets like Albert Wilson and Tyreek Hill.

NFL’s Next Gen Stats has an interesting theory: On more than half Kelce’s snaps he’s in a non-traditional tight end placement (X, Y or Z spots) and has been more successful in those different spots than any tight end in football. Denver, as it turns out, is second-worst in the NFL against those types of tight ends (quarterbacks are completing about 75% of their passes to tight ends in the slot or out wide against Denver).

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Kelce’s ability to pace Andy Reid’s offense is not a secret: The Chiefs’ two losses happen to coincide with two of Kelce’s three worst games of the season. In both losses, Kelce had a combined eight catches for 70 yards and a touchdown. In their five wins? Twenty-nine catches, 353 yards and two touchdowns. With the Raiders struggling, there isn’t as much pressure on the Broncos as there should be at this point in the season, but letting Kelce run wild will certainly have long-term consequences for a team that is still good enough to make headway in the NFL’s toughest division.

BOLD PREDICTION: With Kelce and Hill the primary targets of Denver’s excellent secondary, look for this to be an Albert Wilson breakout game. The fan favorite has had two 63-yard games this season but tonight? He cracks 100 and scores a touchdown.

FINAL SCORE: 28-17, Chiefs. Andy Reid doesn’t lose coming off bye weeks, and while this wasn’t a traditional bye, he was given 11 days to prepare for a divisional opponent. I like Reid’s chances here.