A juicy Sunday nighter thanks to flex: Chiefs-Broncos
NBC was facing an awful Sunday night game between the Patriots and Jets before the NFL stepped in and flexed the Chiefs-Broncos AFC West matchup to prime time.
So the biggest treat of Thanksgiving weekend just might be the latest installment of this terrific rivalry.
The winner can set its sights on pursuing a division crown, while the loser might have to scramble for a wild card.
Both teams enter the game in Denver at 7-3. The Broncos, coming off a bye, had won seven in a row in the series that dates back to when the Chiefs were the Dallas Texans in the old AFL.
Kansas City marched into Denver and took the most recent meeting last November.
“To be 7-3, we’re in a great position,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. says. “We’re in a same position that we’ve been in the past five years. It’s on us. We have a chance to win it and we have to go and take it.
“We hold our own destiny. It’s been like that every year since I’ve been here. It’s always been a tight race, so it’s going to come down to the wire.”
Kansas City’s misstep last week, a home loss to Tampa Bay, was filled with miscues. It was unusual for a team that is a plus-13 in turnover margin.
“I think you need to learn from your mistakes is what you need to do, whether it’s me, the coaches, the players, you better focus in and be real with that and don’t sugarcoat that one bit,” coach Andy Reid says.
“You get in and then you go work on it, get those things straightened out when you have an opportunity out in practice to do that. That’s what’s real.”
The action began on Thanksgiving, with NFL-leading Dallas beating Washington 31-26, Detroit edging Minnesota 16-13, and Pittsburgh topping Indianapolis 28-7.
Dak Prescott accounted for two TDs, fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott ran for a pair of scores and Dallas (10-1) won its 10th straight to extend the franchise regular-season record. Kirk Cousins threw for 449 yards for the visiting Redskins (6-4-1).
In Detroit, Matt Prater kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired after Darius Slay returned an interception 13 yards with 30 seconds left, giving Detroit (7-4) sole possession of the NFC North lead. The Vikings (6-5) have lost five of six.
In Indianapolis, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown hooked up for three touchdowns for Pittsburgh (6-5). Quarterback Andrew Luck missed the game for the Colts (5-6) because he hadn’t been cleared from the concussion protocol.
Seattle (7-2-1) at Tampa Bay (5-5)
They’re beginning to mention the P-word (playoffs) in Tampa Bay if the Bucs can keep things going. That’s a major challenge, especially against a Seahawks squad that has recently begun to resemble the team that won the NFC in 2013 and ’14.
Trouble is, Seattle can’t keep its running backs healthy. The bright side is Russell Wilson is having an MVP-caliber season and his favorite targets, Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham, are looking like All-Pros.
The Bucs have forced a league-leading 15 turnovers (six interceptions, nine fumbles) since Week 5.
Arizona (4-5-1) at Atlanta (6-4)
The ever-perplexing Cardinals haven’t played up to their talent level all season, and now is desperation time. They are 1-3 on the road, the win at hapless San Francisco.
Thankfully, coach Bruce Arians is back with the team after a brief hospitalization. A series of tests showed no major issues, clearing him to be on the sideline Sunday.
Atlanta’s offense has been strong all season, but this could be a difficult matchup. The Cardinals have the top-ranked pass defense and could make things difficult for Julio Jones. Then again, it’s usually Jones who is making things difficult for the opposition.
Cincinnati (3-6-1) at Baltimore (5-5)
A huge game for Baltimore, which entered the week tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North and has a tough schedule ahead: Miami, New England, Philadelphia and the Steelers.
One big edge for Baltimore is in the kicking game. While Cincinnati’s Mike Nugent struggles, Justin Tucker is the only kicker in the NFL not to miss. He’s 23 for 23 on FGs and perfect on 14 conversions.
Cincinnati has won the past five games in this series, but these are not the same Bengals. They lost RB Giovani Bernard (knee, lost for season) and standout WR A.J. Green (hamstring) last week in a defeat at home to Buffalo.
San Diego (4-6) at Houston (6-4)
The Texans should have a laser-like focus — sorry, we couldn’t resist — as they return from that wild night of defeat in Mexico City against Oakland.
QB Brock Osweiler, who had a laser pointed at his eyes during some plays in Azteca Stadium, is 5-0 at home this season, and 2-0 against San Diego in his career, both wins with Denver.
His counterpart, Philip Rivers, has 11 touchdowns and two interceptions in the past three games against Houston.
Chargers’ second-year RB Melvin Gordon has 377 yards rushing and a touchdown in the past three games and is tied for third in the NFL with 11 touchdowns.
Green Bay (4-6) at Philadelphia (5-5), Monday night
It’s become difficult to watch the Packers, who are ravaged by injuries, particularly in the secondary, and can’t consistently protect Aaron Rodgers. Nor can they block for the running game.
So when they appear on “Monday Night Football” for a 24th straight season, second-longest streak behind Denver’s 25-year run, a fifth successive loss is highly possible.
Philly is more pleasant to observe, particularly near its end zone. Philadelphia’s red-zone defense is first in the NFL in scoring efficiency at 73.3 percent.
New York Giants (7-3) at Cleveland (0-11)
The woeful Browns try to avoid joining seven teams that have gone at least 0-12. They’ll do so against a New York squad that has won five in a row and is primed for a surge toward the playoffs as its defense has gotten on track.
The Giants have a major showdown next weekend against the Cowboys, so the old “trap game” questions have arisen.
“For us, we have to understand and be prepared for every game and situation,” Eli Manning says. “If you don’t go about and you don’t prepare, you’re going to lose. We have to have great preparation.
“It’s not a team we’ve played a whole lot. We have to get familiar with the personnel, their scheme, have a great practice, go into a tough environment and win a football game.”
New England (8-2) at New York Jets (3-7)
Tom Brady could achieve a few more milestones against one of his patsies. He could tie longtime rival Peyton Manning for most total wins by a quarterback with 200; Brady has 177 in the regular season and 22 in postseason. He is 21-6 in the regular season vs. the Jets as starter, and could join Brett Favre as the only QBs in NFL history with at least 22 wins against two teams. Brady has 26 victories vs. Buffalo.
He also needs 57 yards passing to become the fifth player in NFL history to reach 60,000 for a career, joining Manning (71,940), Favre (71,838), Drew Brees (64,180) and Dan Marino (61,361).
One more thing: With a victory, the Patriots would clinch their 16th straight season with a winning record and tie San Francisco (1983-98) and Dallas (1970-85) for the most consecutive winning years since the 1970 merger.
Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting after sitting out the previous game in favor of Bryce Petty because of a sprained left knee.
San Francisco (1-9) at Miami (6-4)
Miami isn’t likely to throw much against the reeling Niners, who have dropped nine in a row. The 49ers have never lost 10 straight.
San Francisco has the worst rushing defense in the league, while the Dolphins rank second at 4.8 yards per rush. Miami’s Jay Ajayi leads all running backs with an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and the Dolphins have won five in a row. The previous time they got to six consecutive victories was 2005.
Jacksonville (2-8) at Buffalo (5-5)
The Jaguars have lost five in a row as Blake Bortles throws picks — he’s tied with the Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick with an NFL-high 13 and has been intercepted in eight of 10 games this season. Jacksonville has the NFL’s fewest takeaways (seven) and most giveaways (22).
Buffalo, meanwhile, can get after the quarterback and is tied with Seattle for the NFL lead with 21 sacks. The Bills’ six giveaways are tied for the league low.
Tennessee (5-6) at Chicago (2-8)
Look for both teams to rely heavily on their running games. Tennessee’s DeMarco Murray leads the AFC with 1,000 yards rushing and has scored at least one TD in six straight games. Chicago’s Jordan Howard ranks second among NFL rookie running backs with 682 yards rushing, behind Ezekiel Elliott.
The Titans still think they can win the AFC South, so slippage here would be a major step backward.
Los Angeles (4-6) at New Orleans (4-6)
A mismatch offensively. The Saints rank first in yardage and Drew Brees is having a vintage year. Los Angeles is giving top overall draft choice Jared Goff his second start at quarterback.
L.A.’s best chance is to produce a strong pass rush — DT Dominique Easley had his first career multi-sack game with two last week and DE Robert Quinn has eight sacks and five forced fumbles in the past 11 games.
Brees has plenty of options to test that defense. Brandin Cooks has a TD in each of the past three games at home and fellow wideout Michael Thomas’ 56 catches for 681 yards and five TDs lead NFL rookies in all three categories.
Carolina (4-6) at Oakland (8-2)
Only the sixth meeting between these franchises, with Carolina leading 3-2.
Oakland has not had a winning record since making the Super Bowl in the 2002 season. A victory against the inconsistent Panthers will secure at least that, while keeping the Raiders atop the tough AFC West. They could win their fifth straight game, another achievement not reached since 2002.
Carolina, a winner of three of its past four outings, will stay in California an extra week to prepare for next week’s game at Seattle.