Tale of the Tape: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
There's no mistaking the marquee matchup of the week as the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs face their toughest test to date - a showdown with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Kansas City is the lone remaining undefeated team thanks to a relentless defense and formidable ground game. Manning has the Broncos right behind the Chiefs in the AFC West as he continues his record-breaking pace into the later stages of the season.
Here's the breakdown in our betting tale of the tape:
Kansas City's amazing start is made even more incredible by the fact that the Chiefs rank a pedestrian 24th in the NFL in total yards per game (317.3). Alex Smith has proven to be a capable quarterback most games, but lacks big-play ability and leads a Kansas City attack that has compiled the fifth-fewest passing yards in the league. The running game has been more effective, ranked 12th overall at 119 yards per game while racking up seven touchdowns.
The Chiefs haven't seen an offense as explosive as the one led by Manning. The Broncos lead the NFL with 3,181 passing yards - a whopping 257 more than the next closest team - and also tops the league in passing touchdowns (33) and total QB rating (120.6) while sitting second in fewest sacks against (13). The success of the passing game has opened things up on the ground, where Denver has recorded 11 scores despite averaging just 105.2 yards per game.
While the Denver offense presents a unique challenge for Kansas City, the Chiefs' defense should have the same impact on the Broncos. Kansas City has surrendered the sixth-fewest passing yards in the NFL (1,875) while limiting the opposition to nine touchdowns and snagging 12 interceptions. The Chiefs have compiled a league-best 36 sacks - 20 from Justin Houston and Tamba Hali - and have given up just two rushing touchdowns through the first 10 games.
If the Broncos struggle en route to a berth in the Super Bowl, it will probably be due to an inconsistent and underperforming defense. Denver has surrendered the third-most passing yards to date, while allowing 16 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. The Broncos have been successful at getting to the quarterback - piling up 26 sacks through 10 games - but have given up nine rushing touchdowns despite limiting foes to just 87 yards per game on the ground.
Edge: Kansas City
The Chiefs have thrived in the return game, averaging 25.8 yards per kickoff return attempt and 10.5 yards per punt return. Kansas City has been strong defending returns, as well, allowing 24.9 yards per kick return and just 7.3 yards per punt return. Placekicker Ryan Succop has been mostly solid - converting 18-of-21 field goal attempts - but has connected just once in four tries from 50 yards or longer.
It isn't enough for the Broncos to excel in the passing and running games - they've also been productive on special teams, joining Minnesota as the only clubs with both a kick return and a punt return touchdown. Denver is surrendering 24.6 yards per kickoff return and 10.9 yards per punt return, ranking in the lower half of the league in both categories. Kicker Matt Prater hasn't been busy but he has been effective, making all 12 of his field-goal attempts.
"It's frustrating. You work hard, you work hard, sometimes you win the first battle, and the second one, but there's not much to do about it because the ball is out. We know he doesn't hold the ball. If he buys time, it's rare you don't see the pass completed. For us to put pressure on the quarterback is huge." - Chiefs LB Hali on Manning
"It's great whether you're a player, assistant strength coach, head coach or fan. It's exciting to be involved in games that take on extra meaning. It's one game, and that's how we're going to approach it, but clearly there will be more excitement in the stands, and the juices will be flowing a little more in a game like this." - Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio