Chiefs aim to tighten AFC West race, host Broncos

(SportsNetwork.com) - The Denver Broncos have a chance to extend their lead atop the AFC West standings on Sunday when they visit the Kansas City Chiefs in an important divisional matchup at Arrowhead Stadium.

Denver nearly lost for the third time in four weeks on Sunday to Miami, but it rallied late, as Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes, three to Demaryius Thomas and two during a fourth-quarter rally that lifted the Broncos to a hard-earned 39-36 win.

The Broncos trailed a gritty Dolphins team for most of the game and were down 28-17 after three quarters, then erupted for 22 unanswered points in the fourth to regain sole possession of first place in the AFC West and bounce back from Week 11's startling 22-7 loss at St. Louis.

Manning hit Thomas and Wes Welker for touchdowns during the stretch, while C.J. Anderson had a go-ahead touchdown run with 5:01 left to highlight a career-high 167-yard, 27-carry performance.

"You have to earn them all. We definitely earned a victory against a good football team today," said Manning.

Thomas amassed 10 catches totaling 87 yards and Emmanuel Sanders snared nine Manning passes for 125 yards in the Broncos' eighth straight home victory. Manning finished a sharp 28-of-35 for 257 yards for Denver, which holds a one- game edge on both the San Diego Chargers and Chiefs.

Manning may once again be without one of his favorite targets this week, as tight end Julius Thomas is questionable with an ankle injury that caused him to miss the Miami game. Thomas leads the NFL with 12 receiving TDs.

Now the Broncos hit the road where they are just 2-3 this season. Making that mark even less impressive is the fact that their two road wins have come against the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders, teams that have combined to go 3-19 this season.

Kansas City has won four of its five home games this season and is traditionally one of the harder places in the league to play.

"It's one of the loudest places to play, in my opinion, in the NFL," Manning said of Arrowhead. "They are playing really well at home. It's a night game and the place is going to be rocking so it is a challenge. The communications is the challenge, all 11 guys hearing the call, hearing the possible audible, knowing exactly what to do, not nine guys doing one thing two guys doing another."

Just 16 of the Broncos' 50 first-quarter points this season have come on the road. During their five road games, the Broncos have been the first team to score just once (Week 6 against the Jets).

"We just didn't come out to play, plain and simple," Chris Harris Jr. said. "In all our road games, we kind of woke up when it was too late. That accounted for our losses."

Kansas City certainly didn't help its cause any in Week 12, as it became the first victim this season of the Oakland Raiders, as it had a five-game winning streak stopped in a 24-20 setback.

Alex Smith completed 20-of-36 passes for 234 yards with two touchdowns and Jamaal Charles ran 19 times for 80 yards while also adding a receiving score in the loss.

"We gotta handle this the right way. We gotta build from it," said Smith. "We can regroup and get it together. We still have a lot of time in front of us."

Kansas City might have a little something extra to play for this week after placing safety Eric Berry on the non-football injury list Monday with what may be lymphoma.

"I understand that right now I have to concentrate on a new opponent," the All-Pro safety said. "I have great confidence in the doctors and the plan they are going to put in place for me to win this fight. I believe that I am in God's hands and I have great peace in that."

The Chiefs are 56-52 all-time versus the Broncos but haven't been able to do much with Denver since Manning arrived.

The Broncos edged the Chiefs, 24-17, in Week 2 and are 5-0 against Kansas City with Manning at the controls. The All-Pro threw three touchdowns in the early season matchup and has thrown 14 touchdown passes in those five games against the Chiefs.

The five-game winning streak versus the Chiefs is Denver's longest since winning eight straight from Oct. 24, 1976-Oct. 28, 1979.

Since John Fox arrived in Denver in 2011, the Broncos haven't lost to the Chiefs on the road. In fact, Fox's Broncos are 6-1 against the Chiefs with their only loss being a 7-3 defeat at Sports Authority Field where Tim Tebow went 6-of-22 for 60 yards.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Manning has thrown for over 300 yards in six of his last nine games, but has struggled on the road, where he has thrown seven of his nine interceptions on the year.

To make matters worse for Manning, Kansas City has limited opponents to a league-low 198.9 yards per game. And the Chiefs haven't allowed a 300-yard passer in 13 straight regular-season contests.

The Broncos, though, may have unearthed a gem in the win over Miami, as Anderson spearheaded the 201 yard rushing attack and is averaging a team-best 5.6 yards per carry and 157.7 scrimmage yards over his last three games.

"Obviously, we would rather be running it than passing it, but we have a guy that can pass it pretty good," center Will Montgomery said. "So, to be effective in the long run we need to do both, and we can do both."

That might be bad news for a Chiefs team that has looked vulnerable on the ground the past few weeks. They gave up 179 yards rushing and their first two rushing touchdowns of the season against the Raiders and surrendered 383 yards on the ground over their past two games.

"We weren't playing our gaps and it's like a high school football game," linebacker Tamba Hali said.

Denver will also have a new kicker this week, as it signed kicker Connor Barth on Tuesday after waiving Brandon McManus, who missed a 33-yard field goal against the Dolphins to fall to 9-for-13 on the season.

Barth beat out Jay Feely in a competition this past week, but hasn't played since 2012 after tearing his right Achilles tendon.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

We can analyze this game from all angles to the cows come home. It simply comes down to this. Denver has not looked good on the road this season and Kansas City is traditionally a tough place to play. Plus you add in the fact that Chiefs might be an inspired group following the Berry news earlier in the week and you may have all the makings of an upset.

Sometimes it's just that easy.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Chiefs 28, Broncos 17