DENVER BRONCOS (3-3) AT KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (5-2)
SERIES HISTORY: 114th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 59-54. Kansas City owns a three-game winning streak, sweeping the Broncos last season thanks a 30-27 overtime thriller on the road and a 33-10 blowout at home Christmas night. The Broncos' last win came in Kansas City during Week 2 of the 2015 season.
KEYS TO THE GAME: Kansas City's high-rolling offense keeps the show going with Alex Smith distributing the ball among his three key playmakers -- running back Kareem Hunt, receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce.
The key rests with the defense, which must keep the Broncos' passing game in check. The Chiefs' secondary has struggled in recent weeks against premier quarterbacks and cannot let Trevor Siemian beat them.
The Broncos need to run the football, but they need to prove they can pass it consistently enough to force teams to stop stacking the box to counter their ground game. The first step in that process is avoiding the mistakes that have plagued the passing game; Denver has six turnovers on pass plays the last two weeks -- three fumbles and three interceptions. Siemian has thrown seven interceptions against eight touchdowns this season and, if he can't avoid giveaways, the Broncos will continue to struggle.
Defensively and on special teams, the Broncos must contain the Chiefs and ensure that moderate gains don't become long touchdowns as they did in their two games last year. Hill had three of the Chiefs' seven touchdowns against Denver last year, and two of his scores covered at least 70 yards. A Kelce touchdown catch was an 80-yarder. The Broncos can concede yards, but must ensure that drives result in field goals rather than touchdowns.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chiefs LT Eric Fisher vs. Broncos LB Von Miller. Miller ranks seventh in the league with sevens sacks and Fisher has allowed a sack in each of his last two games. Miller moves around in Denver's defensive scheme, and the opportunity to match Miller against Fisher should be tempting for Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods. Fisher struggled the last two games against Pittsburgh's James Harrison and Oakland's Khalil Mack. Fisher must step up his game, especially since the Chiefs lack a premium blocking tight end to provide help.
Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas vs. the Chiefs' secondary. Thomas leads the team with 30 catches for 389 yards, and the Chiefs rank 28th in passing yards allowed. The Chiefs hope reinforcements arrive this week with CB Steven Nelson returning from injured reserve. Kansas City's pass defensive struggled with the loss of Nelson and All-Pro safety Eric Berry. The return of Nelson injects an immediate upgrade, particularly in the slot where CB Phillip Gaines often seems overmatched. An ankle sprain continues to plague WR Emmanuel Sanders, making Thomas the key pass-catching threat for the Chiefs to contain.
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Chiefs K Harrison Butker. The rookie missed his first field goal attempt but now owns a streak of 13 makes, including a long of 53 yards. Butker made the winning kick over Washington in his first game, and the Chiefs expect to need Butker in more close games this season. Former Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos hit two overtime field goals last season in a 30-27 win over the Broncos, including the game-winner with 2 seconds remaining. Butker displays a mix of composure and confidence, and has quickly earned the trust of coaches and teammates.
FAST FACTS: Denver QB Trevor Siemian has passed for 551 yards (275.5 per game), three TDs and one INT in two starts vs. KC. He has eight passing TDs and four INTs in his past six division games. ... RB C.J. Anderson has 214 scrimmage yards (107 per game) and a TD catch in his past two at KC. ... RB Jamaal Charles rushed for a franchise-record 7,260 yards in nine seasons with KC (2008-16). In six games with Denver, he has 196 rushing yards (4.7 per carry) and one TD. ... WR Demaryius Thomas has 100 yards or a TD catch in four of the past five road meetings. Since 2012, he and Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown are the only players with 500 catches (Thomas has 522), 7,000 yards (7,259) and 45 TDs (46). ... LB Von Miller had two sacks last week. He has 18 multi-sack games since entering the league in 2011, fourth most in the NFL. He has seven sacks in a five-game sack streak and has eight sacks in his past six games vs. KC. ... Chiefs QB Alex Smith threw for 342 yards and three TDs, with no picks, last week and now has three games with 300 yards, three TDs and no INTs in 2017, tied for the most in NFL history in the first seven games. He is one of two QBs in NFL history with a TD pass and no INTs in each of the first seven games. He leads the NFL with a 72.4 completion percentage and 120.5 rating. ... RB Kareem Hunt had 117 scrimmage yards in Week 7, becoming the only rookie in NFL history with 100 scrimmage yards in each of the first seven games. He leads the NFL with 717 rushing yards and 1,002 scrimmage yards. He and Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson are the only rookies in NFL history with 1,000 scrimmage yards in the first seven contests. ... WR Tyreek Hill rushed for 95 yards, including a 70-yard TD, in the last meeting. In two career meetings, he has four TDs (two rushing, one receiving, one kick return). ... TE Travis Kelce had a TD catch in Week 7. In the last game vs. Denver, he had a career-high 11 catches and 160 yards, including an 80-yard TD. He has two straight 100-yard games vs. Denver.
PREDICTION: The Broncos are in a major slump, outscored 44-10 in consecutive losses to the Giants and Chargers. The Chiefs are better than both of those clubs.
OUR PICK: Chiefs, 31-13.