DENVER – When the Broncos meet the Chiefs on Sunday, it will be a once-in-a-generation sort of matchup.
Their combined winning percentage of .944 is the best for two teams playing each other this deep in the season since 1969, when the Minnesota Vikings (10-1) met the Los Angeles Rams (11-0). The combined winning percentage of those teams was .954 coming into the game on Dec. 7 in the year before the AFL and NFL merged. The Purple People Eaters prevailed over the Fearsome Foursome, 20-13.
That it has taken 44 years for a repeat of something even close shows what a chance occurrence that sort of matchup really is.
Indeed, even had they played in the opening week, Denver (8-1) and Kansas City (9-0) might still be a combined 17-1 coming into this, Week 11 of the NFL schedule. But had that game come on opening day, nobody would've recognized it for what it was.
But here they are, getting ready to play twice in the span of three weeks over a stretch that will go far in determining who wins the AFC West and, quite possibly, who sets themselves up best for a run to the Super Bowl.
Here's a Pick 6 of other "Games of the Year" from seasons past. Requirement to make this list: Both teams had to be at least eight games into the season.
HOUSTON (7-1) at WASHINGTON (8-0), .938, 1991: Um, that would be the Houston Oilers, not the Texans, who didn't come along for another decade or so. These Oilers were coached by Jack Pardee and quarterbacked by Warren Moon. Moon cracked the 400-yard mark twice that season and the Oilers won the AFC Central for the first time since the merger. Houston drove 79 yards to tie this game late, then recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. But Ian Howfield, who had missed three extra points the week before, missed a 33-yard kick that would've won it and the Redskins, on their way to the Super Bowl title, took the game into overtime, where they won 16-13.
GREEN BAY (10-1) at DALLAS (10-1), .909, 2007: It was the latest of the many big games between these two teams. Brett Favre came into the game 0-8 in Texas Stadium and a loss would set up a good chance he'd have to return there in the playoffs. As it turned out, Favre didn't make it through the game, replaced by Aaron Rodgers because of injuries to his elbow and shoulder. Dallas won 37-27 behind 309 yards and four touchdowns from Tony Romo. But the Packers didn't have to return to Dallas. They fell to New York in the NFC title game the week after the Giants knocked Dallas out of the postseason, as well.
NEW YORK GIANTS (10-1) at SAN FRANCISCO (10-1), .909. 1990: Joe Montana and Phil Simms combined to put up 10 points. Hard to believe. But that's how good the defenses were. Montana threw for the game's only touchdown in San Francisco's 7-3 win — a Monday night game in front of what was, at the time, the biggest crowd to attend a game at Candlestick Park. Simms finished with 153 yards and Montana had 152. Ronnie Lott and Darryl Pollard broke up passes when the Giants reached the Niners 9 with about 4 minutes left and Bill Parcells chose to go for the touchdown on fourth down. The Giants got into field goal range again later but couldn't kick the winning points because they'd passed up the easy 3 earlier.
BALTIMORE (9-1) at DENVER (9-1), .900, 1977: The first year of the Orange Crush. But Baltimore, led by Bert Jones, came in as pick 'em in most sports books — based on a tough defense and much more proven squad than the Broncos had at the time. With the Colts driving and trailing 14-13, Tom Jackson stepped in front of a Jones pass and returned it 73 yards for a touchdown, then celebrated by tossing the ball in the stands. The Broncos won 27-13. Craig Morton completed only eight passes while Jones went 27 for 46.
INDIANAPOLIS (13-1) at SEATTLE (12-2), .893, 2005: This game came three days after Colts coach Tony Dungy's son took his life. The Colts had already clinched home-field advantage through the playoffs, so Peyton Manning played only a quarter and most of Indy's best players sat. After the game, the Colts traveled cross-country to Tampa, Fla., to be with Dungy. The Seahawks won 28-13 to clinch home-field in the NFC.
INDIANAPOLIS (9-0) at Cincinnati (7-2), .889, 2005: This one, played five weeks before the Colts faced the Seahawks, lived up to the hype. Manning threw for 365 yards in a 45-37 win. The first six possessions resulted in five touchdowns and a field goal and both quarterbacks — Manning and Carson Palmer — compiled perfect 158.3 passer ratings over that span. Palmer's only mistake, an interception in the fourth quarter, led to a field goal that gave Indy a 45-34 lead with 6:16 left. "You've got to be perfect," said Palmer, not the first or the last to talk about the strains of trying to match a Manning-led offense. "It's unbelievable what they do."
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