Based off his illustrious career and legendary work ethic and determination, there has been little question as to whether Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will suit up against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.
But the health of the future Hall of Famer and MVP frontrunner before the huge AFC West clash remains in question. Eight sacks taken in the last three games have resulted in ankle injuries for Manning, and during the last week he slowly increased his reps during practice, sitting out Wednesday’s and fully participating on Friday.
Kansas City pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali hope to take advantage of a Denver offensive line missing All-Pro tackle Ryan Clady and right tackles Orlando Franklin and Winston Justice nursing finger and ankle injuries.
The Chiefs top-ranked defense has the unenviable task of shutting down the NFL’s most potent offense. They have allowed 12.3 points per game and ranks sixth in pass defense, while Denver’s blowing away the competition with 41.2 points and 353.4 passing yards per game.
Saturday’s winner at Mile High will control the AFC West, while the loser is expected to be the frontrunner for one of two wild card spots.
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Along with a punishing defense that also leads the NFL sacks, running back Jamaal Charles is a huge reason Kansas City is off to the best start of any team in the league since 2011. Charles has pasted together an MVP-caliber season leading the Chiefs in rushing and receptions, and has helped his team notch the NFL's best start since Green Bay began 13-0 two years ago.
Denver’s defense could once again miss top cornerback Champ Bailey due to a nagging foot injury that has hampered him all season. The all-pro was a limited participant in practice all week and is listed as doubtful, but while the Broncos secondary has given up huge chunks of passing yardage, it is still tied for a league best 13 interceptions without Bailey this season.
Third-year defenseive back Chris Harris has stepped up for three interceptions this season, filling in for Bailey at left corner, and leading tackler and second-year linebacker Danny Trevathan has dropped back into pass protection for three interceptions and eight passes defended.
Manning’s receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, a pair that’s combined for 1,514 yards and 12 touchdowns, will have to run perfect routes for their quarterback to get the ball out quickly and avoid any further damage. Thomas in particular has been on fire of late, snagging five touchdowns and 18 receptions in the last three games.
The bye week gave the Chiefs a chance to rest their secondary in preparation of Denver’s passing onslaught. Starting free safety Kendrick Lewis is off the squad’s injury list for the first time since Week Three, with his bad ankle apparently back to full strength. Reserve defensive back Ron Parker is also healthy, and could provide some relief for top right corner Sean Smith, who’s second on the team passes defended and interceptions.
Should Denver find a way to neutralize Charles with their No. 4 rush defense, Kansas City may ask more from quarterback Alex Smith. In the last three games, Smith has improved his accuracy by completing no less than 65 percent of his passes for 589 yards and two touchdowns to one interception.
Betting Odds: Denver favored by 8.5 points
Over/Under: 49.5 points
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Watch Online: SNF All Access
Prediction: Kansas City 20, Denver 17