The Oakland Raiders enter Week 12 of the 2016 NFL season sitting atop the AFC West, but the upcoming “Sunday Night Football” game might ultimately determine the division winner. The Denver Broncos host the Kansas City Chiefs in a battle of two second-place teams.
Both the Chiefs and Broncos trail Oakland by one game in the division. They will likely make the playoffs even if they don’t win the AFC West since they currently hold wild-card berths, but winning the division could also mean earning a first-round postseason bye.
As 3.5-point favorites at home, Denver is considered to be the slightly better team. After winning Super Bowl 50, the Broncos’ defense is nearly as good as it was in their championship season, and quarterback Trevor Siemian has outperformed the 2015 version of Peyton Manning.
Kansas City, however, has put up similar numbers to their rivals on both sides of the ball in 2016. Having suffered some injuries, the Broncos are allowing 0.2 points per game more than the Chiefs, who are tied for fifth by surrendering 18.7 points per contest. The Broncos’ 23.9 points on offense puts them at 15th in the league, just four spots ahead of the Chiefs, who score 22.2 points per game.
The Chiefs can pull off the upset if they can force Denver's quarterback to make mistakes. That’s what they did in their last visit to Denver, defeating the Broncos by 16 points when Manning threw four interceptions. Siemian has thrown four interceptions in his last three games, and Kansas City leads the NFL with 13 interceptions.
Alex Smith could have an equally frustrating night. Denver’s defense will likely get help from a returning Derek Wolfe and Aqib Talib, who have been practicing all week. Wolfe has 4.5 sacks on the season, but he missed the team’s last game with an elbow injury. Talib hasn’t played since Oct. 24, but he might be the NFL’s best cornerback when healthy.
Because of injuries to Kansas City’s offense, the Chiefs have a limited number of playmakers. Running back Jamaal Charles went down for the season when he got hurt last month, and No. 1 wide receiver Jeremy Maclin hasn’t caught a pass since Oct. 30 because of a groin injury.
Between both team’s struggles on offense, the final score could finish below the over/under of 39.5. Denver has the edge at home with a now-healthy defense, but it could be a late-game field goal that ultimately decides the winner.
Prediction: Denver over Kansas City, 17-16