Chiefs’ postseason goals murky without victory over long-time nemesis Broncos

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Captain Ahab led his sailors on the whaling ship Pequod in a revenge voyage to kill the great white whale in the Herman Melville classic, Moby Dick.

Sept. 17, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in action against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

Sept. 17, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in action against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

This coming Sunday, the Chiefs sail into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to try once again to overcome their version of the white beast, the Denver Broncos.

Ahab would understand the pain felt by Andy Reid and those who came before him like Marty Schottenheimer, Dick Vermeil, Todd Haley or Romeo Crennel.

All those Chiefs head coaches tried and failed to land their great white whale in Denver. Only Gunther Cunningham’s teams consistently beat the Broncos, going 4-0 in his two seasons (1999-2000) as the team’s top man.

No opponent in recent Chiefs history has broken the hopes and dreams of the franchise more than the Broncos. So many times in the last 40-plus years, the guys from the mile-high city have reached into the chest of the Chiefs and ripped their collective heart out, snatching a victory from the grasp of the guys in red and gold.

Whether it was John Elway or Peyton Manning leading the team, the Broncos have been the hurdle between the Chiefs and the top of the AFC West for several decades.

The Chiefs arrive for this game at Sports Authority Field in Denver at a crossroads in the 2015 season. With a 3-5 record, they would seem to be out of the picture for the AFC playoffs. That’s not the case, as the last wildcard spot is currently held by Pittsburgh with a 5-4 record; to seriously challenge for the postseason, they must win the majority of their final eight games, especially those in their own division.

That starts with the Broncos on Sunday.

“You’ve got to be able to beat them to take charge of the AFC West,” Reid admitted. “That’s how it rolls; that’s what’s real. The important part on our side is we take care of our business, study them, respect them – but get ready to play them and play a good football game against them for four quarters of a game.”

Sunday’s game is the first of what will be four games in the next five weeks against AFC West opponents: Road trips to Denver, San Diego and Oakland, and then they host the Chargers on December 13. A home game against Buffalo is thrown in as well.

In recent seasons, the Chiefs had trouble beating Denver and San Diego in their twice yearly games. They have a winning record in the division only against Oakland.

“These division games are huge with where we’re at,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “We kind of dug ourselves a hole. We all understand it, this is huge. Certainly these guys have been the division champs the last few years, I think everybody knows that.”

The Chiefs are well aware of Denver’s penchant for first place in the AFC West, having watched the Broncos grab five titles in the last 15 seasons, including the last four. In comparison, the Chiefs won just two division titles (2003, 2010), San Diego grabbed five and Oakland picked up three.

In those 15 years, only one team won the AFC West title with a losing record in division games – the 2010 Chiefs were 2-4 in the west but finished 10-6 and finished in first place. The other 14 winners averaged a 5-1 record against AFC West teams.

That’s the value of the division games. “You’ve got six of those and you’ve got to make sure you do well in those six,” Reid said.

Kansas City has lost seven straight to the Broncos, without a victory since the final game of the 2011 season. That was also the last time they won a game in Denver.

It’s been painful for Reid, who is 0-5 as the Chiefs head coach against Denver, and 1-8 against Manning.

That’s not nearly as bad as the 1-14 record the Hunt family franchise has posted against Manning in his years with the Colts and Broncos. The last time they beat Manning was in 2004. Schottenheimer had an 8-13 record with the Chiefs against Denver and Vermeil (4-6), Edwards (2-4), Haley (2-3) and Crennel (1-2) couldn’t find a way to consistently beat the Broncos.

In the last 15 NFL seasons, the Chiefs are 11-19 when playing Denver, a .367 winning percentage. That’s the lowest rate of victory in the division for K.C. – they were 16-14 (.533) against Oakland and 13-17 (.433) when playing San Diego.

There is no question Denver is the biggest hurdle in front of the Chiefs. They thought they had the Broncos on Sept. 17 at Arrowhead Stadium when they jumped to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter and later held a seven-point lead with just 2:27 to play in the game after an 8-yard run for a touchdown by Knile Davis.

But once again, Manning tore the heart out of the Chiefs chest. He led the Broncos on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in 111 seconds, connecting on five of 10 throws before finding wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a 19-yard touchdown play.

That tied the score with 36 seconds to play and Denver won the game when Jamaal Charles fumbled and the ball was picked up by Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby and returned 21 yards for the winning touchdown.

It was a gut-wrenching defeat that sent the Chiefs into a five-game hangover spin, losing to Green Bay, Cincinnati, Chicago and Minnesota.

“I didn’t think there was, but there might have been (a hangover),” said Reid. “You probably could argue that; to say that there was a bit. But I haven’t looked at it that way.”

There is really no other way to look at the situation. The chance to catch the great white whale slipped through their fingers and the disappointment was more than the Chiefs could handle.

Now, they have a chance to dispatch the biggest pain in their football behind and keep alive dreams of the postseason.

“Every close battle we’ve been in with these guys, these guys have come out on the right end these last few years,” said Smith, who has a 1-5 record starting against the Broncos while with San Francisco and the Chiefs. “We get another opportunity … it’s a big, big game.”

Big, like Moby Dick big.

*****

AFC West team records 2000-14

Team

Regular

Season

Win

%

Playoffs

Record

AFC West

Record

Win

%

Div.

Titles

Seasons in

Playoffs

Denver

132-108 .550 4-6 59-35 .628 5

8

San Diego

127-113 .529 3-6 50-44 .532 5

6

Chiefs

109-131 .454 0-4 43-51 .457 2

4

Oakland

89-151 .371 4-3 36-58 .383 3

3

Chiefs vs. Broncos 11-19 (.367); vs. Chargers 13-17 (.433); vs. Raiders 16-14 (.533); vs. Seahawks 3-1, (.750).

Seattle spent 2000-01 in the AFC West before moving to the NFC West in realignment in 2002.

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Bob Gretz is the senior editor for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @BobGretzcom.

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