Thursday Night Preview: Broncos vs. Chiefs

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Updated: September 17, 2015
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It didn’t come easy for the Denver Broncos in their season opener Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, but they were able to get the win nonetheless.

Peyton Manning didn’t go in record-breaking mode this time, he instead had a solid outing and led his team to yet another victory. But many across the NFL are anxiously awaiting the moment to call Manning too old, finished or washed up.

He completed 24-of-40 passes for 175 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception against the Ravens. Not spectacular numbers, and not what we’re accustomed to seeing from Peyton, but it doesn’t mean he’s no longer a productive quarterback in the NFL.

Thursday, he’ll meet a Chiefs defense that kept the Houston Texans in check Sunday, and one that includes highly-paid linebacker Justin Houston — who excels at getting after the quarterback — and his running mate, Tamba Hali. The Chiefs jumped out to an early lead on the Texans, and never allowed them to get back into the game. They even caused Texans coach Bill O’Brien to bench his starting quarterback — Brian Hoyer — and bring in Ryan Mallett to finish the contest. Mallett is now expected to be the signal-caller for Houston in Week 2 against the Carolina Panthers.

I don’t think the Chiefs will force Gary Kubiak to bench Manning, unless it was injury related, but they can apply heavy pressure on the aging, 39-year-old quarterback. They sacked the Texans’ quarterbacks five times Sunday.

The Broncos have dominated the Chiefs since Manning arrived in 2012, as he’s gone 6-0 against Kansas City, while throwing 16 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. Not only has Denver had the Chiefs’ number, but they’ve won the AFC West in four straight seasons — including 2011, when Tim Tebow was at the helm during the latter part of the year.

But this is a primetime game at Arrowhead Stadium, a very tough environment for the Broncos to be in. Manning will need to be on top of his game, and he’ll need his weapons — including his favorite target, Demaryius Thomas — to play up to par.

Thomas had seven catches Sunday, but wasn’t able to get into the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders caught eight passes of his own, but also failed to score. At least in Week 1, it seems Manning will really miss tight end Julius Thomas, who was a safety blanket for him at times. Owen Daniels, who’s now the starting tight end for the Broncos, finished the game Sunday with just two catches for five yards — and zero fantasy points, for all you fantasy gurus out there.

In Kubiak’s offense, the Broncos are expected to run the ball more and put less pressure on Manning. But if they aren’t able to produce more than the 2.8 yards per carry that they finished with Sunday, Manning will soon get back to his old ways — calling his own plays and throwing the ball 40-plus times per contest.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, were very productive offensively against a pretty good Texans defense. Alex Smith completed 67 percent of his passes (22-of-33), while throwing for 243 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

It was another outing where Smith didn’t find a wide receiver for a touchdown pass, making it 20 regular-season games in a row, but does it really matter at this point? He found tight end Travis Kelce, who’s a receiver in his own right, for two touchdowns against the Texans, one going for 10 yards and the other going for 42. He also found the most dynamic player on the Chiefs’ roster for a touchdown pass, in Jamaal Charles. And just for good measure, he hooked up with newly acquired wideout Jeremy Maclin five times for 52 yards.

When the Chiefs are clicking on all cylinders, they can be a very tough team to beat — just ask the New England Patriots, as they were dismantled 41-14 on Monday Night Football in Week 4 of last season. The Chiefs beat both the Seattle Seahawks and the Patriots last year, the two teams who wound up facing one another in the Super Bowl.

The Broncos’ defense isn’t too shabby itself, however, as they shut the Ravens down Sunday, limiting them to just six points offensively. This may actually be the one season where the Broncos are more complete defensively than they are on offense.

So expect this to be a hard-hitting, physical affair between two AFC West rivals. The Chiefs will look to give the Broncos a heavy dosage of Charles to offset the pass rush from Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and that vicious front seven of Denver’s. The Broncos will hope to get their ground game going themselves, with both C.J. Anderson — who will play despite a toe injury — and Ronnie Hillman, who combined for just 70 yards rushing Sunday.

It’s early in the season, and this isn’t a make or break game, but both teams would love to start their year with a 2-0 record and give themselves momentum moving forward. Will Manning have one of those historic type nights? Or will the Chiefs get after him and leave the world wondering if Manning is literally on his last legs? We will find out very soon.

Josiah Turner

Josiah Turner

Josiah is the founder and editor-in-chief at Sideline Sports Report. He is a writer for ESPN, and has written for Rant Sports and FanSided covering the Washington Redskins. He's also covered high school basketball for Virginia Preps (Rivals.com). Josiah is from Chesapeake, VA and a college graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University.

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