Chiefs hope to keep postseason dreams alive despite shaky start to season

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Don’t touch that dial Sunday afternoon because things could get very interesting in the AFC West.

That is, of course, provided the Chiefs (3-5) pull off a win against the Denver Broncos (7-1) when the two rivals clash at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Sept. 17, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (18) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Sept. 17, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (18) sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Despite a disappointing start to the season that featured a five-game losing streak, the Chiefs are miraculously just two games out of the wildcard race.

“We’re aware of that,” coach Andy Reid said. “Yeah, we’re aware of that part. We’re alive.”

The Chiefs certainly have a postseason pulse based on a two-game winning streak before the Week 9 bye, and have league history on their side.

At least one team with a .500 or worse record through eight games has qualified for the postseason in every season since 1987.

All that remains for the Chiefs to accomplish in the final eight games of the regular season surrounds taking care of business.

The schedule is favorable on paper, which features teams currently combining for a 22-28 record when factoring in the Buffalo Bills’ win Thursday night. The Chiefs can also make up ground in the division with four of the next five games against AFC West opponents.

Still, the road to a potential playoff berth starts against the division-leading Broncos, winners of seven straight games against the Chiefs.

And while the Chiefs know what is at stake, revenge won’t be a factor Sunday.

“It’s a division game and these division games are huge with where we’re at – we kind of dug ourselves a hole – it’s even bigger for us,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “I don’t know if there’s any more, I think we’ve capped how important this is. We all understand it, this is huge. Certainly, these guys have been the division champs the last few years, I think everybody knows that.”

Denver’s current reign of terror against the Chiefs includes Week 2’s stunning come-from-behind 31-24 win at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Broncos scored 14 unanswered points in the final minute after the Chiefs dominated the majority of the game.

The Broncos’ game-winning touchdown came with 27 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter when cornerback Bradley Roby scooped up a Jamaal Charles fumble and returned it 21 yards for the score.

Kansas City has played Denver close the past six contests, but some could make an argument the Broncos have the Chiefs’ number and a mental block exists.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce doesn’t buy that notion.

“I haven’t had much thought about it,” Kelce said. “You just lock in on this week’s game, the task at hand, and from there it’s just doing your job.”

Outside linebacker Justin Houston agreed, adding he and his teammates aren’t focused on what happened in past meetings against Denver.

Instead, Houston hopes the Chiefs learned from mistakes that cost potential victories.

“Just play our game,” Houston said. “Continue to focus on them and just know what they’re doing and know how to stop it, that’s the biggest thing and communication. I feel like the first game we beat ourselves, so as long as we fixed those problems, take care of turnovers, we give ourselves a great chance to win.”

The Chiefs catch the Broncos, owners of the No. 1 defense in the NFL, without starting outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (back) and starting cornerback Aqib Talib, who is serving a one-game suspension.

While the duo’s absence could offer an advantage to the Chiefs’ offense, Kelce points out it still comes down to execution.

“Whoever is in there, we don’t really care about who is in the game,” Kelce said. “Obviously, they have some great players that can’t play in the game. But from there, it’s just going out there executing the play and doing your job.”

Securing the win and not looking down the road for possible postseason scenarios is how the Chiefs want to attack Week 10’s showdown.

And Houston, one of the clear leaders on the team, offered his message to the locker room with a view to handle matters the Chiefs can control.

“I think the biggest thing is just focus and take it one game at a time and just communicate,” Houston said. “That’s my biggest thing and challenge to the defense is communicate when we’re on the field. So if we talk and everybody is on the same page, that will solve a lot of problems.”

TALE OF THE TAPE

OFFENSE

• The Chiefs rank 12th in rushing (118.8 yards per game) and 23rd in passing (226.6 yards per game).
• The Broncos rank 28th in rushing (88.1 yards per game) and 12th in passing (257.4 yards per game).

DEFENSE

• The Chiefs rank 11th against the run (100.6 yards allowed per game) and 22nd against the pass (255.9 yards allowed per game).
• The Broncos rank fifth against the run (93.1 yards allowed per game) and first against the pass (181 yards allowed per game).

THE LAST TIME

The Broncos defeated the Chiefs, 31-24, at Arrowhead Stadium in Week 2 and have reeled off seven straight wins against their AFC West rival.

Kansas City holds a 56-55 all-time advantage over Denver in the 111  previous meetings between the two teams, which includes 110 regular season and one postseason matchup.

The last time the Chiefs defeated the Broncos came in Week 17 of the 2011 season by a 7-3 score. Tim Tebow was the Denver quarterback.

CONNENCTIONS

• Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt and Broncos punter Britton Colquitt are brothers.
• Chiefs assistant strength & conditioning coach Brent Salazar spent was with the Broncos in 2005 as a strength & conditioning intern.
• Broncos quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Greg Knapp spent training camp with the Chiefs in 1986 as a quarterback.
• Broncos cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris played collegiately at Kansas.
• Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Harris and defensive lineman Vance Walker played for the Chiefs in 2014.
• Broncos rookie outside linebacker Shane Ray hails from Kansas City and attended Bishop Meige High School and the University of Missouri.

QUOTABLE

Chiefs coach Andy Reid on right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif’s intelligence (Duvernay-Tardif is four months shy of finishing requirements to become a medical doctor):

“I keep reminding his (offensive line) coach (Andy Heck) that someday he might be doing surgery on you, so you better keep it right.”

Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson joking when asked about having six different players on offense scoring a touchdown in Week 8 against the Detroit Lions:

“Well first of all, we’re coaches, we’ll find something wrong with that.”

Former Kansas Jayhawks cornerback, current Broncos cornerback Chris Harris on how far his alma mater’s football program, which is currently 0-9 under first-year coach David Beaty, has fallen:

“It’s definitely sad, but (former Kansas coach) Charlie Weis, he definitely messed up a lot of things in the program.”

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak on Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters:

“I think he’s a hell of a player.”

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Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.

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