The Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs have one of the NFL’s more storied rivalries, but with the Chiefs coming off of a Super Bowl victory, the stakes will be even higher for both teams as they compete for the AFC West division title.
Looking back, Kansas City owns the advantage in the all-time season series against Denver, winning 65 of their 120 contests. The Chiefs, however, are gaining distance as they are riding on a current nine-game win streak against the Broncos. Denver has struggled against the Chiefs as of late, being outscored 53-9 in both matchups combined in 2019. The last Broncos victory over the Chiefs came in Week 2 of the 2015 season when they capped off their previous seven-game winning streak over them with a 31-24 win in Kansas City.
Could 2020 bring change for the Broncos and Chiefs rivalry? With Patrick Mahomes inking a record-breaking ten year, up to $503 million deal and coming off of a Super Bowl victory, will the Chiefs have extra motivation this season? The Broncos will undoubtedly have motivation with quarterback Drew Lock heading into his second season and first year as the full-time starter in Denver.
As these teams head into the 2020 season, both head-to-head matchups will have a lot at stake as the Broncos and Chiefs continue their rivalry.
How the off-season additions improved the AFC West
Throughout free agency and the NFL Draft, both the Chiefs and Broncos improved their rosters in critical areas to ensure their rivalry remains strong going into the 2020 season. Even though the Broncos lost both games to the Chiefs in 2019, Denver will look to improve upon their rough performances against the Chiefs.
How does the Broncos defense matchup against the Chiefs offense?
Any game that features Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill is going to include some explosive plays downfield. In both games last season, Kelce totaled 17 receptions for 186 yards while Hill contributed 8 catches, 141 yards, and 3 touchdowns. After letting Chris Harris, Jr. walk in free agency, the Broncos added high-profile cornerback A.J. Bouye via trade with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Denver also drafted Iowa cornerback Michael Ojemudia in an attempt to strengthen the secondary.
Despite the Broncos adding talent to boost the defense, the Chiefs offense features a variety of explosive playmakers that will make the Broncos job even more difficult in 2020. Second-year receiver Mecole Hardman projects to have a breakout season and the Chiefs gave their rushing offense a big boost when they selected LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire in the first round of the NFL Draft.
The Chiefs didn’t necessarily lose any significant contributors on offense, so the Broncos defense must be prepared to counter the high-powered attack run by Mahomes and stellar head coach Andy Reid.
Can the Broncos defense keep up with the explosive Chiefs offense?
Containing the Chiefs offense is never an easy task. With so many weapons at their disposal and a potential future Hall of Fame quarterback, the Chiefs appear very difficult to stop. However, in 2020, the Broncos defense looks to counter the offensive attack of the Chiefs.
General manager John Elway made some strong moves in the offseason to improve the Broncos defense, including stealing perennial Pro Bowler Jurrell Casey away from the Tennessee Titans. With the addition of Casey and the return of Bradley Chubb, the Broncos defensive front could create a formula that will put more pressure on Mahomes in the pocket.
While Casey missed the Titans’ regular-season matchup with the Chiefs, he was available during their AFC Championship Game duel. Casey tallied half of a sack and 1 quarterback hit against Mahomes, which might not seem like much, but considering the rarity of Mahomes being hit, it’s worth mentioning. With Casey, Von Miller, and Chubb being in a position to put pressure on Mahomes, Denver may finally be able to match up well against the Chiefs star quarterback.
How does the Broncos offense match up against the Chiefs’ defense?
For QB Drew Lock, his first game home in his return to Missouri didn’t go as expected as the Broncos lost 23-3 in blizzard-like conditions. In the 2020 season, the Broncos are looking to respond with more of a complete and competitive offense than what they displayed in both matchups in 2019.
After adding crucial offensive players in free agency like running back Melvin Gordon and offensive guard Graham Glasgow, the Broncos aim to improve on what was the 28th ranked offense in the NFL in 2019. New offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will likely create a gameplan around Lock attacking the Chiefs shaky secondary that will rely heavily upon Tyrann Mathieu and second-year safety Juan Thornhill.
The Broncos offense will look drastically different from last season, while the Chiefs suffered one significant loss when they lost Kendall Fuller in free agency. With Gordon, Jerry Jeudy, and K.J. Hamler being added alongside the talent of Courtland Sutton and Phillip Lindsay, the Broncos will look to match the explosiveness of the Chiefs offense which will make the Broncos and Chiefs rivalry more competitive.
Can the new talent help the Broncos offense?
After managing to only put up 9 total points against the Chiefs in 2019, the Broncos front office set out to improve their offensive productivity by adding top-tier talent at key offensive positions in both free agency and the NFL Draft. By drafting Jeudy, the Broncos added a true, complete wide receiver opposite of Sutton, which was something they were missing after trading veteran WR Emmanuel Sanders to the San Francisco 49ers last season. Denver’s other addition of Hamler gives the Broncos a legitimate speed option at the slot receiver position that can help take the top off of the Chiefs secondary.
Without the added help, Sutton had 10 receptions for 166 yards in Denver’s two games against Kansas City last season. With Jeudy and Hamler on the field, it will allow Sutton to find more one-on-one opportunities without having a safety lurking over the top during key passing situations. If the Chiefs choose to focus on stopping Sutton, it will mean that both Hamler and Jeudy will have to step up and counter the Chiefs adjustment on Sutton in coverage. If Kansas City isn’t careful, tight end Noah Fant is another target that the Broncos offense can go to, as they did in their Week 15 matchup where he caught 2 receptions for 56 yards.
The Broncos will likely utilize their talented running back duo in their offensive attack as well. With Chris Jones staying in Kansas City under the franchise tag and linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson anchoring the middle of the front seven, Lindsay and Gordon will have to help the Broncos establish some offensive rhythm when attacking the NFL’s 26th ranked rushing defense from 2019.
Since the Chiefs didn’t necessarily take a step backward defensively, expect them to keep playing at the high level that got them to the Super Bowl. However, with the additions Denver had made with their roster and their coaching staff this off-season, there is hope the Broncos can score more than 9 points against the Chiefs in 2020. The Broncos and Chiefs rivalry could become a shootout.
How the Broncos can beat the Chiefs
The Broncos will need to accomplish several things in 2020 when they match up with the Chiefs to win these matchups head-to-head.
The Broncos offensive gameplan against the Chiefs defense
When it comes to the Broncos offense, it will be imperative for them to establish the run against the Chiefs defensive front to open up the passing game. Late in the season, the Chiefs defensive line group played reasonably well but gave up 141 yards in the Super Bowl to the 49ers after shutting down Tennessee Titans RB Derrick Henry in the AFC Championship game.
With Lindsay and Gordon likely splitting reps, they will need to properly attack the Chiefs defensive front that remains intact from last season. In two games against the Chiefs last season with the Chargers, Gordon rushed 28 times for 115 yards and 1 touchdown. Lindsay, on the other hand, rushed for 68 yards on 18 carries. If both Lindsay and Gordon can attack the Chiefs’ defense on the ground, it will force the Chiefs to dedicate more of their attention away from the Broncos’ talented receiving unit.
Despite Lock’s struggles against the Chiefs secondary in Week 15 of the 2019 season, the added talent around him could alleviate some of the pressure he may have felt when he forced several passes to Sutton and Fant last season. Once the Broncos get the running game established, it will allow for Lock and the Broncos receivers to attack the Chiefs secondary accordingly with the quick passing game. If Denver gameplans to attack the vertical seams with Fant and Hamler, it will allow for more open routes underneath for Sutton and Jeudy.
Jeudy’s route running and ability to create separation in his breaks will be crucial for the Broncos passing game, as he can attack the holes of Steve Spagnuolo’s hybrid 4-3 system. With so many options offensively, the Broncos on paper, have a “pick your poison” type of offense to attack the Chiefs.
The Broncos defensive approach against the Chiefs offense
Denver’s defensive gameplan against the Chiefs needs to remain simple: get to Mahomes. Von Miller recorded 1 sack, and defensive end Shelby Harris recorded 2 sacks against Mahomes in their Week 15 matchup, but it still wasn’t enough to stop the Chiefs offense. As previously stated, with the addition of Casey and the return of Chubb on the outside, the Broncos should have more success getting pressure on Mahomes.
Because Fangio runs primarily a zone coverage scheme, it allows players like Kelce and Hill to find the soft spots in coverage and make plays after the catch. With more pressure on Mahomes, Denver can potentially limit those big plays from Hill and Kelce that have haunted them in the past. We may see more of a man coverage mix this season from the Broncos with the addition of A.J. Bouye.
Mahomes’ ability to extend plays outside of the pocket is one of the key reasons he just received the biggest contract in NFL history. If Denver can contain the edge of the line of scrimmage and suffocate the pocket, Mahomes will be limited with his offensive options. However, the secondary must step up and do their part.
Bouye will likely be tasked with covering Hill with free safety Justin Simmons will likely provide coverage over the top unless Simmons is responsible for covering Kelce, something he did a lot in Week 15. Keeping Hill in front of the defense is no easy task, but look for Fangio and defensive coordinator Ed Donatell to put more pressure on the Chiefs receivers in 2020.
Matchups where the Chiefs have the advantage
The Broncos will find themselves tested with these matchups on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Chris Jones vs. rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III
Jones is one of the league’s top interior defensive linemen and poses a real threat to the Broncos offense. With rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry III projected to be the starting center, Jones will likely take advantage of the rookie’s inexperience. Look for the Broncos to double Jones with either Glasgow or left guard Dalton Risner to support the rookie.
Travis Kelce vs. the Broncos secondary
Having Mahomes at quarterback is enough of an advantage, so we’ll look at Kelce’s role in this matchup. Kelce had his way against Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom in 2019 and performed well against Simmons. Kelce is one of the more talented tight ends in the NFL and poses as a matchup problem for just about any defense, and has found that type of success consistently against the Broncos.
Mecole Hardman vs. the Broncos third cornerback
Both Watkins and Hill will grab the attention of the Broncos top two cornerbacks, leaving second-year receiver Mecole Hardman matched up against Denver’s third cornerback. Whether that CB is Ojemudia, De’Vante Bausby, or Yiadom, Hardman will likely be a tough coverage assignment for any of them. His ability to generate speed downfield and create separation will be a significant advantage for the Chiefs stellar offense.
Matchups where the Broncos have the advantage
Despite the Chiefs being the defending AFC West and Super Bowl champions, the Broncos still have some advantages in their head to head matchups.
Jurrell Casey vs. the Chiefs interior offensive line
As I’ve stated before, Casey will be an impact player in this rivalry. Casey has the skills to play just about any technique on the defensive front and still creates pressure by using multiple pass-rush moves and counters. Kansas City’s interior offensive line is not as dominant as their tackles, and Casey has plenty of recent experience against them.
Jerry Jeudy vs. cornerback Rashad Fenton
Jeudy was the best route runner in the 2020 NFL Draft class and will undoubtedly pose as a matchup threat for second-year cornerback Rashad Fenton. Jeudy’s ability to get off the line of scrimmage and gain separation at the top of his routes will force Fenton to have to play almost perfect coverage during every snap. With Fenton allowing a completion percentage of 47.1%, Jeudy may become a big target for Lock.
Melvin Gordon as a receiver vs. the Chiefs defense
One of the more evident reasons the Broncos added Gordon to their offense in 2020 was to add another receiving threat out of the backfield. In previous games against Kansas City in 2019, Gordon totaled 97 receiving yards on 9 receptions out of the backfield. If Denver can utilize his pass-catching ability, it will allow for the Broncos to find more open threats across the field.
In an extremely competitive AFC West division, the culmination of moves by the Broncos and Chiefs will create even deeper roots in their rivalry.