NFL Preview - Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs

Tight end Julius Thomas #80 of the Denver Broncos has a touchdown reception under coverage by strong safety Eric Berry #29 of the Kansas City Chiefs in the first quarter of a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 14, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (September 13, 2014, Source: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images North America)

The Denver Broncos (8-3) are heading to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs (7-4). This game is important in terms of supremacy in the AFC West. Since the Broncos won the first encounter in week 2 a win would give them a three-game lead over their opponent and almost certainly guarantee that they’ll finish ahead of the Chiefs.

The Broncos are showing signs of vulnerability on the road, having lost two games in November (at New England and St. Louis). They are 2-3 away from home this season.

The Chiefs were on a five-game winning streak before they ran into trouble at the winless Oakland Raiders last week and lost 24-20.

Both teams met 108 times in the regular season with the Chiefs leading the series 56-52. The Broncos, however, won the last five encounters with Kansas City.

Denver’s QB Peyton Manning is once again operating at the highest level. On the season he is 301-of-442 for 3558 yards, 34 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a passer rating of 109.5. He leads the league in touchdown passes, trails only Indianapolis’ QB Andrew Luck in passing yards and is 5th with a completion percentage of 68.1%.

WR Demaryius Thomas (82 receptions for 1192 yards and 9 touchdowns) and WR Emanuel Sanders (78 receptions for 1079 yards and 7 touchdowns) are Peyton Manning’s favorite targets. Both are in the top of the league regarding receptions and yardage. Thomas even leads the NFL in receiving yards.

TE Julius Thomas (12 touchdowns) and WR Wes Welker are also dangerous weapons in Denver’s arsenal of receivers.

Denver’s passing offense is currently the 2nd best in the league with 316.3 yards per game.

On the other hand, Kansas’ passing offense is the 2nd worst in the league, averaging 189.5 yards per game. QB Alex Smith, in his second year with the Chiefs, has an improved but unspectacular season. He is completing 65.1% of his passes for 2211 yards (6.8 yards per attempt). He has thrown 13 touchdowns and 4 interceptions for a passer rating of 92.7. WR Dwayne Bowe and TE Travis Kelce are Kansas’ primary receivers with RB Jamaal Charles and TE Anthony Fasano as next best options. Given Dwayne Bowe’s immense talent it is surprising that the 30-year old hasn’t found the end zone this season. WR Donnie Avery is likely to return and start after missing the previous seven games with a groin injury. Recently signed WR Jason Avant, who was released by the Carolina Panthers, is expected to see playing time as the slot receiver.

Denver’s rushing offense ranks 20th in the NFL with 100.0 yards per game. They will miss RB Ronnie Hillman (foot) and RB Montee Ball (groin). RB C.J. Anderson will be the primary ball carrier with RB Juwan Thompson backing him up. Anderson and Thompson are doing an admirable job, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and 4.4 yards, respectively.

The Chiefs, however, have one of the best running back in the game: RB Jamaal Charles. The 27-year old is on pace for his third consecutive 1,000+ rushing yards season. In 10 games he ran for 772 yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, and scored 8 touchdowns. RB Knile Davis (3.7 yards per carry) will also see some handoffs. Unsurprisingly, Kansas City’s rushing offense ranks 4th in the league with an average of 137.1 yards per game.

The offensive line is protecting Peyton Manning extraordinarily well, allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL with 12. You can rely on the unit to do their blocking job on 3rd and short and the running backs rarely get tackled behind the line of scrimmage. LG Orlando Franklin’s move from right tackle to left guard is paying off nicely.

Kansas City’s offensive line surrendered 27 sacks this season, ranking 18th in the NFL. They are efficient run blockers on 3rd and short and usually get the running back past the line of scrimmage. LT Eric Fisher has not been able to replace LT Branden Albert but C Rodney Hudson’s experience has been most valuable to the unit.

Denver’s defensive line has got to be one of the best in the NFL. 50% of the time they will prevent another 1st down on 3rd and short and every 4th opposing run play results in a takedown behind the line of scrimmage.

Kansas City’s defensive line may be porous at times but they stop the opposing runner on 3rd and short more often than not and rank in the middle of the pack in tackles for a loss of yardage.

This game will feature some of the best pass rushers in the NFL. The Broncos may rank only 11th in the league with 28.0 sacks but SLB Von Miller (10.0 sacks) and RDE DeMarcus Ware (9.0 sacks) rank in the top 10 individually.

LOLB Justin Houston leads the league with 13.0 sacks. ROLB Tamba Hall (5.0 sacks), NT Dontari Poe (5.0 sacks) and RDE Allen Bailey (4.0 sacks) provide additional pressure. The Chiefs rank 4th in the NFL with 31.0 sacks.

The Denver Broncos have the 2nd best rushing defense in the league, allowing just 75.5 yards per game. WLB Brandon Marshall leads the team with 94 total tackles and Von Miller has 43 total tackles to his name. LB Nate Irving’s season-ending injury has been a big blow to Denver’s defense and saw increased playing time for MLB Steven Johnson.

Kansas City’s entire linebacker corps is primary involved in stopping the run because opposing running backs often manage to get past the first line of defense. LILB Josh Mauga leads the unit with 76 total tackles, followed by Justin Houston (45 total tackles), RILB James-Michael Johnson (44 total tackles) and ROLB Tamba Hall (40 total tackles). The Chiefs give up 129.4 yards per game and rank 26th in the NFL.

Denver’s passing defense ranks 15th in the NFL with 240.5 yards per game and 11th with 11 interceptions. FS Rahim Moore leads the defensive backfield with 3 pick-offs, followed by LCB Aqib Talib, SS T.J. Ward, RCB Chris Harris Jr. and CB Bradley Roby with 2 interceptions each. It is apparent that the entire secondary is capable of making big plays.

The Kansas City Chiefs have the best passing defense in the league, surrendering just 198.9 yards per game. Ironically, they’ve only accounted for 4 interceptions, ranking 30th in the league. LCB Sean Smith, FS Husain Abdullah, SS Ron Parker and SS Kurt Coleman account for on pick-off each.

Denver’s Keys to Success

Establish a running game

Put pressure on Alex Smith

Win the battle in the trenches

Kansas City’s Keys to Success

Make the offense two-dimensional

Stop the run

Get to Peyton Manning

Prediction:

Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs 24-27

NFL Preview - New England Patriots @ Indianapolis Colts

Tom Brady (R) #12 of the New England Patriots shakes hands with Andrew Luck (L) #12 of the Indianapolis Colts after their AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 43 to 22. (January 10, 2014, Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)

Tonight the New England Patriots (7-2) will face the Indianapolis Colts (6-3) at Lucas Oil Stadium. Both teams are playoff bound and lead their respective divisions. The Patriots won their last five games and averaged 40.2 points over this stretch. The Colts won six of their last seven games after a 0-2 start to the season. Both teams met 73 times in the regular season, with the Patriots leading the series 45-28. QB Andrew Luck has yet to lead the Colts to victory over the Patriots.

New England’s QB Tom Brady is still every bit as good as usual. He has only thrown 3 interceptions this season. During the current 5-game winning streak Brady was picked off only once. He has completed 64.1% of his passes for 2392 yards, 22 touchdowns and a passer rating of 103.5. His primary targets are WR Julian Edelman (54 reception, 556 yards, 2 touchdowns) and TE Rob Gronkowski (49 receptions, 663 yards, 8 touchdowns), who is on pace for 1,000+ receiving yards for the second time in his career. WR Brandon LaFell (36 receptions, 514 yards, 5 touchdowns) and RB Shane Vereen (31 receptions, 246 yards, 3 touchdowns) are Tom Brady’s next best options. Any other receiver has not played a significant role thus far. New England’s passing offense ranks 8th in the league, averaging 265.8 yards per game.

Andrew Luck orchestrates the best passing offense in the league, which averages 337.4 yards per game. This is in no small part due to Luck’s further progress as a signal caller. He is completing 63.6% of his passes for 3085 yards and 26 touchdowns through 9 games. His 9 interceptions add up to a passer rating of 100.3. WR T.Y. Hilton and 35-year old veteran WR Reggie Wayne are Andrew Luck’s preferred targets but he distributes the ball much more evenly among his receivers (including tight ends and running backs) than his opponent. Hilton currently ranks third among receivers with 937 yards. Watch out for TE Dwayne Allen and RB Ahmad Bradshaw as the Colts enter the red zone.

RB Shane Vereen has become New England’s main ball carrier after RB Stevan Ridley’s season-ending knee surgery. He is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and is much more involved in the passing game than Ridley was. Vereen has 1 rushing touchdown and 3 passing touchdown to his name after 9 games. New England’s rushing offense ranks 19th in the NFL with 101.2 yards per game.

On the other hand, the Indianapolis Colts are using a one-two punch with RB Trent Richardson and RB Ahmad Bradshaw, leading them to 14th in the NFL with an average of 113.8 yards per game. Richardson gets more handoffs, though both average an almost equal amount of yards per game (48.9 yards vs. 46.8 yards). Bradshaw, however, averages 5.1 yards per carry, whereas Richardson manages only 3.6 yards per run. Both running backs scored 2 touchdowns on the ground but Bradshaw is far more successful as receiver. Richardson and Bradshaw tend to fumble the ball, as opposed to the Patriots who have yet to lose a fumble.

New England’s offensive line isn’t as good as in previous years but it no longer is as bad as people make it out to be. Things have been looking up since the benching of RG Jordan Devey. The Patriots surrendered only 16 sacks this season, ranking them 9th in the NFL, but you may want to credit Tom Brady’s awareness for this rather than pass protection. New England’s pass blocking struggles on 3rd and short as well as allowing too many tackles behind the line of scrimmage. RT Sebastian Vollmer has been New England’s standout lineman so far.

Indianapolis’ offensive line is a top ten unit. Like New England they struggle on 3rd and short run blocking but that’s about it. The run blocking in general has improved though, and Andrew Luck is well protected. The Colts surrendered 14 sacks this season and rank 6th in the NFL. LT Anthony Castonzo is still impressive at protecting the quarterback’s blind side.

New England’s pass rush accounted for 22 sacks this season, ranking 14th in the NFL. Leading pass rusher RDE Chandler Jones (4.5 sacks) has been ruled out with a hip injury. LDE Rob Ninkovich (4.0 sacks) and MLB Dont’a Hightower (3.5 sacks) are the current leading active players on the team.

The Colts have 24 sacks, ranking them 10th in the NFL. Their 3-4 system allows the linebackers to get more involved in the pass rush as opposed to New England’s 4-3 system. ROLB Bjoern Werner leads the unit with 4.0 sacks. LDE Cory Redding, LILB D’Qwell Jackson, LOLB Erik Walden, LOLB Jonathan Newsome and DT Zach Kerr follow with 3.0 sacks each.

New England’s rushing defense ranks 22nd in the NFL, allowing 120.0 yards per game. The loss of LB Jerod Mayo to a season-ending knee injury is a big blow for the Patriots. Any opposing running back getting past DT Vince Wilfork and DT Chris Jones will be welcomed by LOLB Jamie Collins (61 total tackles) and Dont’a Hightower (49 total tackles). New England’s front seven tends to get pushed around in 3rd and short situations and struggles to tackle the running backs behind the line of scrimmage.

Indianapolis’ rushing defense is holding opponents to 98.1 yards on the ground and ranks 9th in the league. The inside linebackers D’Qwell Jackson (70 total tackles) and Jerrell Freeman (43 total tackles) make sure that opposing ball carriers won’t get far. The front seven may have room for improvement on 3rd and short but tackles for a loss are no rarity.

New England’s passing defense allows 235.1 yards per game, ranking 13th in the NFL. They have also intercepted 10 passes which ties them for 7th in the league. CB Darrelle Revis leads the team with 2 picks but the entire secondary is capable of interceptions. SS Patrick Chung is 4th on the team with 46 total tackles. Andrew Luck needs to be aware of the defensive line as they like to pick off opposing quarterbacks as well.

Indianapolis’ passing defense surrenders 263.6 yards per game, ranking 26th in the league. The secondary accounts for 6 interceptions, ranking 21st in the NFL. SS Mike Adams, CB Vontae Davis and CB Greg Toler are responsible for 2 picks each. Adams’ 44 total tackles are the second most on the team. .

Keys to Success

Contain Indianapolis’ passing offense

Indianapolis must establish a running game to set up a passing offense

Indianapolis must win the battle in the trenches

Prediction

New England @ Indianapolis Colts 28-27

NFL - Winners and Losers from Week 9

Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers drops back to pass during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field on November 2, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (November 1, 2014, Source: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images North America)

Mark Ingram

New Orleans’ RB Mark Ingram rushed for 100 or more yards for the second straight game on Thursday. At the Carolina Panthers he carried the ball 30 times for 100 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Jeremy Hill

Cincinnati’s rookie started in place of the injured RB Giovani Bernard. He ran for 154 yards on 24 carries and scored 2 touchdowns. Hill is averaging 4.7 yards per carry this season.

Arizona Cardinals Defense

I give the Cardinals credit for being the first team this season to limit Dallas’ RB DeMarco Murray to less than 100 rushing yards. That said, they also held the Cowboys to 174 passing yards.

Justin Houston

Kansas City’s outside linebacker had another multi-sack game, accounting for 2.0 sacks against the New York Jets. The league leading pass rusher now has 12.0 sacks on the season, 6 consecutive games with at least one sack and 4 games with multiple sacks.

Miami Dolphins

This was utter domination on all levels against the San Diego Chargers: 36:07 minutes vs. 23:53 minutes time of possession. 441 vs. 178 total yards (132 vs. 50 rushing yards and 309 vs. 128 passing yards). 28 vs. 10 first downs. The Dolphins had 4 sacks and didn’t surrender any. They had no turnovers as opposed to the Chargers who had 3 interceptions and 1 lost fumble. That’s almost a perfect game, right?

Jeremy Maclin

In a game in which the Philadelphia Eagles committed plenty of mistakes to make the Houston Texans look good, WR Jeremy Maclin stood out for all the right reasons. He caught 7 passes for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns. The 26-year old wideout is averaging an amazing 98.8 yards per game.

Julian Edelman

Not only did New England’s wide receiver catch 9 passes for 89 yards and 1 touchdown, he also returned a punt 84 yards for another score.

St. Louis Rams Pass Rush

St. Louis’ pass rush was basically non-existent all season long but had a field day at the San Francisco 49ers. They brought down QB Colin Kaepernick 8 times for a total loss of 54 yards. RDE Robert Quinn spearheaded the unit with 2.0 sacks.

Ben Roethlisberger

Big Ben threw 6 touchdown passes in two consecutive games and set a new NFL record. Against the Baltimore Ravens he completed 25 of 37 passes for 340 yards and a passer rating of 136.3.

Andrew Luck

Indianapolis’ signal caller led the Colts to a convincing 40-24 win at the New York Giants. He completed 25 of 46 passes for 354 yards, 4 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 108.4.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This was another game of missed opportunities for the Buccaneers. They limited the Cleveland Browns to 50 rushing yards (RB Ben Tate ran for only 3 yards!) but could not take advantage of Cleveland’s turnovers. Additionally, the Buccs had a 31-yard field goal attempt blocked and missed another attempt from 55 yards. In the end the Buccaneers fell to the Browns 22-17.

Washington Redskins

The Redskins should have beaten the Vikings but Robert Griffin III’s interception at the end of the first half gave Minnesota a lifeline; and they took it. The offensive line, who allowed 5 sacks, didn’t make RG3’s return to the line-up any easier.

Oakland Raiders

You cannot commit multiple turnovers and hope to get away with a result when you’re winless and travel to the reigning Super Bowl Champion. With no running game and a moderately effective passing offense those turnovers proved costly and enabled the Seahawks to get away with a 30-24 win.