Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Humbled top two go at it again

Broncos, Chiefs back together after losses

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs are stumbling home to Arrowhead Stadium off two straight losses. The Denver Broncos are hobbling in off a disheartening letdown in New England.

Much has changed in the two weeks since they played at Mile High Stadium. Much has stayed the same, too.

The Broncos and Chiefs are 9-2 and tied atop the AFC West, so it's still a two-team race to the finish. But the Chiefs are no longer the NFL's lone undefeated team -- in fact, they're the first to start with nine straight wins and then lose two in a row -- while the Broncos squandered a chance to create some separation with their overtime loss to the Patriots last weekend.

"I think just playing is the best medicine," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said, "but no question, when you're playing for your division, it raises the focus for sure."

The Broncos would have the tiebreaker over Kansas City and a two-game lead with a win and four games to go. The Chiefs would put themselves in position to win the division for just the second time in a decade, not to mention take a step toward home-field advantage in the playoffs.

So it's an easy argument that there's even more on the line than the first time they met.

"You have to study them just as hard as you did the first time around... They are such a diverse team scheme-wise and they have such good players," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said.

The Chiefs could be without two of their best players. Leading pass rusher Justin Houston, who dislocated his elbow in a gruesome fall during the Chiefs' 41-38 loss to the Chargers last week, will likely watch from the sideline. His running mate, Tamba Hali, hopes to play despite spraining his right ankle against San Diego.

Even with their top two pass rushers, the Chiefs failed to get pressure on Manning in their first go-round. Manning threw for 323 yards and a touchdown without an interception or taking a sack, and the result was a reasonably comfortable 27-17 victory.

"We don't take anything for granted," Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said. "Again, it's basically approaching it very similarly," Del Rio added. "The difference is that we just did this a couple weeks ago."

Here are five things to keep in mind as they play Round 2:

MORENO'S FLAT TIRE: Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno, who had career high 224 yards rushing against the Patriots, missed practice time this week with an ankle injury. Moreno hopes to play against Kansas City, but it's uncertain how effective he'll be.

BATTERED DBS: The Chiefs' defensive backs were humbled last week by Philip Rivers, who threw for nearly 400 yards against them. Now, they face the prospect of Manning and his plethora of wide receivers.

VICKERSON'S VALUE: Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson landed on injured reserve with a hip injury, so it will be up to Sylvester Williams to step in and help slow down Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.

BEWARE THE PICKS: Denver excels at running crossing routes that inadvertently (wink, wink) cause picks in the secondary. Demaryius Thomas may catch the ball five yards downfield, but he ends up gaining 20.

CHIEFS LEARNING: Chiefs coach Andy Reid wouldn't reveal particulars, but he said there were things he learned from the way New England dominated Denver in the second half last Sunday.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2013 B11

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