KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This game requires no filter. No tint. No sunset heart hands.
It stands alone as vibrant, bright, eye-opening. After five straight years with no playoffs, after four straight losing seasons, the Broncos sit on the doorstep of relevance. Will they politely knock and leave? Or kick the (bleeping) door down?
It's Broncos vs. Chiefs for first place in the AFC West in primetime on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
Football Night in America coverage begins at 5:00 p.m. on KOAA-TV with the kickoff to Broncos vs Chiefs at 6:20 p.m.
The Broncos own an 11-game losing skid against the Chiefs — "There's so much nonsense going on outside the building about the streak," left tackle Garett Bolles snorted — and haven't won in Kansas City since Peyton Manning refused to go gently into that deep night.
The only current Broncos player who has beaten the Chiefs is kicker Brandon McManus. Against the backdrop of this ugly history, Denver has found confidence. The Broncos are coming off an impressive mauling of the Chargers, have won three of four games, and "are more talented than in years past," coach Vic Fangio admitted.
So is it safe for Broncos' fans to peek their head above the covers or emerge from the fetal position under the kitchen table?
The keys to the Broncos pulling off the upset as a nine-point underdog:
Give the kid the rock
In Denver's six wins, they average 32 carries per game. This how the Broncos tripped Dallas. With Melvin Gordon (hip/shoulder) ruled out, rookie Javonte Williams will make his first start. He has lived up to the hype and type, a bowling ball on contact, rolling through defenders. Williams ranks 19th overall with 568 yards, while netting 4.9 a pop. Gordon has been more consistent, but with more carries can Williams deliver multiple angry runs? They will be needed.
Protect the ball
The Broncos have lost the turnover battle in nine of the 11 games during the streak and are minus-20 overall. Teddy Bridgewater has not turned the ball over in four straight games. The key Sunday? Can he take care of the ball and take chances? Bridgewater has only three touchdown passes over the last month. A couple of more splash plays will be required.
First and Long
The Broncos' first rounders must step up. They are not getting enough production from Bolles, Bradley Chubb, Noah Fant and Jerry Jeudy. Some of its related to injuries, but this is a no-excuse league. To beat the AFC bullies, Denver's most talented players have to play well.
The blueprint to beating Patrick Mahomes is set: play keep away. According to Andrew Mason of DNVR, Mahomes is 3-12 in his 65 starts when the opponent runs at least 49 percent of the time. However, it's not that simple. To stay committed to the run, it requires a lead or playing neutral. If the Broncos fall behind 7-0, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur can't go all "in case of emergency break glass" with his play calling.
Mahomes has thrown 11 picks this season, one shy of his single season high. But he's tightened it up recently with six touchdowns and one interception over his last three games. The Broncos have to confuse him. He has struggled this season against two high safety looks with man coverage deviations. It is imperative to cloud his head to prevent him from going through his progressions seamlessly.
High and Tight
All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce has averaged 130 yards receiving in the past five home wins against Denver. Can first-round standout Pat Surtain II provide the answer? It's worth exploring along with using safeties Justin Simmons and Caden Sterns. Surtain slowing Kelce could trigger the upset.
Splash on specials
The Broncos' special teams actually helped win the game last week with Sam Martin's punt game. Upsets require unlikely moments. A Diontae Spencer punt return for huge yards or a fumble recovery would qualify. I believe Fangio when he says this Denver team is better. If the Broncos were home, I would pick them. I just don't think they have enough yet to win in Kansas City, where they are 3-19 lifetime in December.
TROY'S PREDICTION: Chiefs 24, Broncos 20