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Burning Questions: Broncos at Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's been a while.

The last time the Broncos beat the Chiefs, Peyton Manning was under center for Denver, DeMarcus Ware lined up opposite Von Miller and the "No-Fly Zone" was still intact.

It's been more than four years since the Broncos stunned the Chiefs in Arrowhead in Week 2 of the 2015 season, and Denver desperately wants to snap the streak.

"Every divisional game is important, and we've struggled against the Chiefs the past eight times," wide receiver Courtland Sutton said Wednesday. "If we go in and — not 'if' — when we go in and take care of business in Kansas City, it's going to definitely shake up the division a little bit. People are going to start to put us in that conversation of a team that can win the division. Like you said, the Chiefs have been running it for a while and it's upon us to start the wave. Why not this next game?"

The Broncos' chances will depend largely on rookie quarterback Drew Lock, who aims to become just the fourth Denver quarterback to win a game at Arrowhead in December. Only Manning, John Elway and Kyle Orton have accomplished the feat, and the Broncos are 3-14 in Arrowhead in December since the stadium opened.

Of course, not everything will be decided by the rookie quarterback who is headed home to Missouri.

These are the questions that will help determine a winner as the Broncos aim to keep their slight playoff chances alive:

HOW DOES DREW LOCK HANDLE HIS HOMECOMING?

A week ago, Drew Lock became the first rookie to throw for 300 yards and three touchdowns in his first road start — and he improved his record to 2-0 as a starter.

But all eyes are on this weekend, as Lock attempts to become the first Broncos rookie quarterback to start his career 3-0. He'll do it in his hometown stadium, and he may need another near perfect performance.

There are reasons to suggest Lock can put one together. When he entered the lineup, the Broncos' offense was averaging just 15.9 points per game and was converting 27.7 percent of their third downs. In two starts, Lock has bumped the season numbers up to 18.2 points per game and 31.1 percent of their third downs. That's not an insignificant difference, and he's done it by leading the Broncos to an average of 30.5 points per game and converting 52.3 percent of the time on third down.

If he can match that stat line, it would be more than impressive against a Chiefs passing defense that ranks 12th in the league.

"They do a lot of different things both from a pressure standpoint and a coverage standpoint," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Wednesday. "He's going to have to make some tough and correct reads, figure out where to go with the ball quickly and be able to decipher the pressures from the non-pressures and then the different coverages."

One note: Lock has won in Arrowhead before. In college, he led Missouri to a 20-16 win over BYU. He'll look to add another win to his resume on Sunday.

HOW DO THE BRONCOS' DEFENSIVE INJURIES IMPACT THE MATCHUP?

The Chiefs' running game ranks just 27th in the league, but a slew of injuries to the Broncos' defensive line could impact the matchup. Adam Gotsis and DeMarcus Walker have both been ruled out, and Dre'Mont Jones is listed as questionable. The Broncos signed Kyle Peko and elevated Deyon Sizer to the active roster to counteract the losses, and Jonathan Harris will also be active for the Broncos.

The Broncos used just two down linemen at times against the Texans, but if they have to dedicate more resources to stop the run, it could hurt their chances against the Chiefs' passing offense. Patrick Mahomes hasn't played at quite the same level he reached during his MVP season in 2018, but the Chiefs still rank fourth in scoring offense and passing yards.

The Chiefs have allowed just 21 sacks, and the Broncos' defensive line injuries could prove costly in that realm, as well. When healthy, Derek Wolfe recorded seven sacks on the season, and Dre'Mont Jones began to show pass-rush potential, as well. With a depleted line, the onus may fall on Von Miller to make a game-changing play.

If the Broncos can keep the Chiefs one-dimensional while devoting resources to their passing defense, they could find a way to slow Kansas City down and keep the game close.

IS THERE A REVENGE FACTOR?

The Broncos entered their first meeting with the Chiefs this season with a two-game winning streak and hopes of re-entering the division race. With a win on "Thursday Night Football" in Week 7, Denver would have moved within a game of the division lead, rebounded from their 0-4 start and made a statement that the AFC West no longer belonged solely to the Chiefs.

Unfortunately, none of that materialized. The Chiefs — despite playing a half without Mahomes — stonewalled the Broncos' offense and earned a 30-6 win that sent Denver to 2-5 and effectively ended the team's hopes at a division title.

There isn't much to say about the Broncos' performance that evening.

"We got our butts whooped," Phillip Lindsay said Wednesday. "Period. They came out there and they handled business and we didn't. The fact is, we weren't prepared mentally and physically, and we didn't go out with the game plan like we were supposed to. We didn't execute. At the end of the day, there was a run that I probably could have busted for 75 yards and I got stopped for seven. Things like that, but now you go back, and you know what you have to do. You have to execute, and we have to be aggressive. We have to be physical. It's a hard-hitting game. The Chiefs are going to come out and they're going to be who they are. For us, we have to go out there and play ball. They're going to punch and we're going to have to punch back. It's going to be a dogfight."

The Broncos are clearly tired of hearing about the Chiefs' run in the division and the eight-game winning streak that Kansas City holds over Denver.

Can the Broncos channel some of the anger from the first loss toward pulling the upset in Kansas City?

Never underestimate the power of motivation in a rivalry game.

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