The Chiefs (6-1) beat the Broncos 27-23 in Denver just four weeks ago. The Broncos (3-4) failed to win, but they held the Chiefs to their lowest scoring output of the season and limited Mahomes to just one touchdown pass and his second-lowest passing yardage total of the season.
He has a league-leading 22 touchdown passes for the season, including four in the 45-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday. The Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring offense, averaging 37.1 points per game.
“They know us and we kind of know them,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said. “Both sides will have their wrinkles that are put in and so there are adjustments to be made there. I think just the fact you know each other is probably the biggest challenge.”
The Broncos certainly should know Mahomes. This will be just his ninth NFL start, but it will be his third against Denver.
“You always get a little bit more familiar with a defense whenever you play them a lot,” Mahomes said. “Especially being able to play them this last game they threw a ton of stuff at me, a ton of different blitzes and coverages and stuff. Being able to look at the tape and see what mistakes I made as well as the things I did well is going to be something that I can kind of take going into this next game.”
The Broncos led the earlier meeting 20-13 after three quarters, but Mahomes then threw for 153 yards and a touchdown on 13-of-16 passing in the fourth-quarter rally.
“You’re plan has to be to trap and contain him and keep him where you want him to be,” Broncos head coach Vance Joseph said. “But you have no plan for when he breaks the pocket. That’s just going to be effort and that’s going to be want-to. He’s outrun most of our big guys and he’s shaken off most of our pass rushers. It’s no exact plan when he breaks the pocket but to grind and try to get him on the ground as quick as possible.”
Joseph is particularly concerned with Mahomes’ ability to make plays when he leaves the pocket, a skill few young quarterbacks master.
“It’s very rare,” he said. “Most of your young quarterbacks when they break the pocket, bad things happen. But with him, his eyes are down field, he’s not looking to run. He’s looking to throw the ball down field. He understands the pressures of when he breaks the pocket he can do damage.”
The Chiefs carry a six-game winning streak over the Broncos, and they also own a six-game winning streak against AFC West opponents.
Their biggest concern may be the offensive line. Guard Jordan Devey was placed on injured reserve this week with a torn pectoral muscle, leaving the injury-plagued offensive line another man short.
Three other Chiefs players are ever-present threats. Speedy wide receiver Tyreek Hill leads the league in touchdown catches with seven, tight end Travis Kelce averages 14.8 yards per reception and 80.4 receiving yards per game, and running back Kareem Hunt, last season’s rushing champ, is fifth in rushing this season, averaging 77.4 yards per game.
Joseph called Kelce “a matchup nightmare.”
The biggest matchup may be on the line where Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz will try to control Broncos linebacker Von Miller.
Miller is third in the league in sacks with 7.5. He did not get any in the first meeting with the Chiefs but he had two in Denver’s most recent game, an impressive 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in a Thursday night game.
The Broncos may need to score that many points again to beat the Chiefs.
“We have to put up enough,” Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said. “Put up more than they do. Obviously, they’re a great offense, but I have a lot of trust and a lot of faith in our defense.”
Keenum’s touchdown-to-interception ratio is not good, with more interceptions (nine) than touchdown passes (eight). He had one touchdown pass and one pick against the Cardinals.
Denver could use another big game by wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who had six catches for 102 yards and added a 28-yard pass completion against the Cardinals.
Running back Phillip Lindsay has been productive, averaging 5.8 yards per carry this season after rushing for 90 yards on 14 attempts against Arizona.
The running game will come in handy against Kansas City, which yields 5.2 yards per carry, third-worst in the league.
Broncos safety Justin Simmons is not hedging on how important the game is.
“It’s super important,” he said. “If anyone can beat the Chiefs and do it in a defensive fashion, it’s us. No one else is built defensively like we are to be able to beat the Chiefs, especially at home at their place. It’s a tall task. I think they have one of the best home records in like the past three years or something like that. It’s a tall task, but one that this defense is looking forward to, especially coming off a big win like we had last week.”