The Chiefs have beaten the Broncos in 13 straight games. After a much-ballyhooed offseason, do they have enough to break the streak or will the new boss be the same as the old boss?
It must be frustrating being a Broncos fan in 2022. After their Super Bowl 50 win riding an all-time defense and the slowly decaying husk of Peyton Manning, the Broncos have missed the postseason every year since. They have only one winning season in the span to go along with three head coaches, 11 different starting quarterbacks, and two general managers.
The Broncos believe that frustration is a thing of the past with the off-season acquisitions of Nathaniel Hackett at head coach and Russell Wilson as the quarterback to complement their stable of talented young pass catchers. The Broncos are hoping that this will finally be the group that dethrones the Chiefs. Let’s get into the three biggest matchups that will determine how this year will shake out.
How Do The Broncos Match Up With The Chiefs This Season?
Russell Wilson brings a boatload of hope and excitement to a team bereft of quarterback talent since the retirement of Peyton Manning. He also brings….this:
Wilson is also coming off of his worst season as a pro, posting a career low number in passing yards, his lowest completion percentage since 2017, as well as his second-lowest total of touchdowns. You may be able to blame that on a finger injury kept him out for three games and that he probably came back a bit too soon, but I do not see it that way. Wilson turns 34 this year and I believe you could see the wear and tear on his body show start to show up.
His third down play was especially grievous, completing only 51.5 percent on third down and was sacked 16 times. That Seattle Seahawks offensive line was bad, but Wilson has a tendency to hold on to the much longer than he needs to and he simply was not able to create as he had in the past. Wilson’s best years, great as they were, are now behind him.
Patrick Mahomes, on the other hand, had an up-and-down 2021 as well. He got off the worst start in his career, losing four of his first seven games and looking quite pedestrian in most of those games. After the Chiefs’ bye in Week 12, Mahomes and the offensive took off, winning five of their last six in the regular season and putting up 28+ points in all but one of those games. Mahomes had an outstanding postseason as well, having one of the most legendary performances in playoff history against the Buffalo Bills.
The AFC title game, however, was a much different story. You know that Cincinnati game, especially his horrendous second half performance, has stuck with him for the entire offseason. Coming into 2022, I believe Mahomes will take the lessons that he learned in the back half of last year along with the fire that’s been burning all off-season and return to his MVP form. Mahomes at his peak is the best quarterback in the entire league and if he reaches that point this year, there is nothing that any defense can do to stop him.
Wide Receivers And Tight Ends
The Broncos already thin wide receiver room took a hit this off-season when Tim Patrick tore his ACL during camp. KJ Hamler is working back from his own season-ending injury from last year so it is worth watching to see if he can return to being the downfield threat he projected to be prior to his injury. It is looking like Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Albert Okwuegbunam are going to get the bulk of the targets from Russell Wilson. Sutton is an absolute stud when he is healthy and is the undisputed number one target in the Broncos’ passing attack.
Former first-rounder Jerry Jeudy also has the talent, but it has yet to translate to consistent on-the-field results. Jeudy had a solid rookie campaign, but failed to build on that year in 2021, having missed seven games due to an ankle sprain and putting up so-so stats when he was on the field. Albert O will be the wild card for this pass catching group as he will be the number one option at tight end for the first time in his career.
The 6’5” 24 year old was in the same draft class as Jeudy, but had been blocked by Noah Fant until now. Albert O should be very familiar to Chiefs fan as a graduate from Mizzou, and it be interesting to see what he can do on the field.
The Chiefs completely overhauled their wide receiver room having shipped out Tyreek Hill to Miami for a boatload of draft picks. They are counting on a combination of newly acquired receivers Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and contract-year Mecole Hardman to replace that production. Hill’s presence and pure speed absolutely can not be duplicated, so the Chiefs are going the committee approach. Juju is coming off of another rough, injury-plagued season with the Steelers. He’s still only 25 and was having one of the best starts to a career in 2017 and 2018.
The Chiefs are hoping that talent can re-emerge by being the WR1 with Patrick Mahomes. “MVS” has also seen mixed results during his time with the Packers. A known speed demon in his own right, he needs to show more consistency in his route running and ball security if he is going to break out and take the Chiefs where they need to go.
Mecole Hardman is one of the most polarizing players on this team. I am all-in on Hardman to break out and the main reason is money. In the words of the late, great Terez Paylor, the contract year is undefeated. After seeing the record-breaking contracts being doled out this off-season, the Brinks truck is right there in front of Hardman to reach out and grab it if he performs.
Travis Kelce is simply the best right end in the game right now and there should not be anything stopping that wagon. Kelce may receive more attention from defenses now that Hill is gone, but Kelce is a matchup nightmare for anyone which leaves open more space for Juju, MVS, and Hardman to operate. If this unit can reach their potential, they be impossible to stop.
Nathaniel Hackett comes over from Green Bay after three years of being the offensive coordinator for one of the league’s most prolific offenses. He’s in the league for 14 years and now has his first shot at a head coaching gig and a chance to prove that it wasn’t just the greatness of Aaron Rodgers that has propelled him to this station.
The Broncos have needed an infusion of offense after the last six years of nothing less than ineptitude on that side of the ball. He has another potential Hall Of Famer at quarterback as well as talented young pass catchers to throw to so it will be very interesting to see how Hackett’s offensive game plans will work. He’s going to have a tough go of it in the toughest division in the league complete with a future Hall Of Famer roaming the sidelines for Kansas City.
Andy Reid has already cemented his legacy as one of the greatest coaches of this generation, but you can’t help but feel like that Cincinnati loss in the AFC Championship game has been haunting his nightmares. His Chiefs were on an absolute tear since the bye week last year and that is an Andy Reid special. Adjustments were made to the offense taking more of what defenses gave him as opposed to taking so many shots downfield.
Reid now has more depth at wide receiver, albeit without the top-end talent in Tyreek Hill, to really get creative with his new scheme. Andy Reid has been in this situation before and there is no reason to think that he can’t have the Chiefs back on top in 2022.
The Bottom Line
All in all, Denver has gotten better. There is a massive upgrade at QB, an offensive-minded coach, and a defense that can keep them in games. With all that being said, there is still a wide talent gap between them and the Chiefs. The Broncos may be more competitive this year and may flirt with stealing a game from Kansas City, but I just do not see how this offensive with their new toys can keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ high-powered offense. I believe the streak continues this year and the Broncos are going to have to try something else in order to knock the Chiefs from their perch atop the AFC West.