DENVER --When the Chiefs visited Sports Authority Field at Mile High last year, they roared into the game refreshed after a bye, capitalized off Peyton Manning's struggles because of a foot injury, and pounced. By the time the Broncos finally scored to avert what would have been their first shutout loss since 1992, the Chiefs had 29 points on the scoreboard and Broncos fans were headed for the exits early.
Two weeks earlier, the Broncos hosted the undefeated Green Bay Packers when they came off their bye. They responded with their most complete performance of the season, a 29-10 dismantling that stamped themselves as bona-fide contenders for the Super Bowl they would win three months later.
The bye can regenerate a team. It has done so many times for the Broncos, who have a 21-6 record after byes -- including a 15-3 mark at home -- and it can do so again for a team that will have their entire season-opening defense from Weeks 1 and 2 intact and available for the first time since then.
Injuries robbed the Broncos of OLB DeMarcus Ware, CB Aqib Talib, ILB Brandon Marshall and DE Derek Wolfe at various points in the last eight games. Now, with Talib and Wolfe set to come back from their recent injuries, the band is back together -- and their collective return could help the Broncos avoid the most common bugaboo of the post-bye team: rust.
"Them being out and now that excitement coming back, it helped us from a defensive standpoint and an offensive standpoint," Ware said. "It's been really good and guys are ready, so there's no rust at all."
Being fresh has helped the Broncos in the past. But Sunday's game will be decided by other factors, as well.
- PROTECT THE FOOTBALL**
The Chiefs are 18-4 in their last 22 games, including postseason, since a 1-5 start to open the 2015 campaign. The biggest reason why? Takeaways. Kansas City averages a league-best 2.32 takeaways per game, with an NFL-best 35 interceptions.
"The difference between good secondaries and great secondaries [is that] great secondaries, when they get their hands on the ball, they make you pay," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "Good secondaries knock balls down and you go to the next play. Well, this team makes you pay."
The Chiefs also avoid giveaways; only eight teams have fewer turnovers than Kansas City's 10.
"They're a very good football team and they don't beat themselves," Kubiak said.
- CONTAIN TRAVIS KELCE**
Kelce leads the Chiefs in receptions (49) and receiving yardage (574).
But it's not simply the numbers for Kelce. Rather, it's how he accomplishes them -- by lining up everywhere: inside, outside, in the slot, at H-back. Defending the Chiefs' emerging tight end is a team task, because at any point, coverage responsibilities for Kelce could belong to Brandon Marshall, Todd Davis, Corey Nelson, T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, Will Parks, Justin Simmons, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby ... and even Von Miller.
"He's like their No. 1 guy. He's the guy that they go to," Ware said. "He's the quarterback's escape [valve]. Making big plays, he's playing really well and he's what's making that offense run. They're running the ball really well, but their passing game -- he's a key component in that."
- FINISH THE JOB IN THE FOURTH QUARTER**
The Broncos remain the league's best fourth-quarter team, with a plus-76 scoring margin (116-40) that is 27 points better than the next-best team ... Kansas City. A pair of comebacks from 14- and 17-point fourth-quarter deficits to the Chargers and Panthers provided most of the fuel for Kansas City's plus-49 point differential.
This is typical for the Chiefs under Andy Reid -- and, in fact, the plus-49 margin is only the third-best fourth-quarter margin in Reid's four seasons as Kansas City's head coach; they had plus-57 and plus-58 fourth-quarter margins in their first 10 games of the 2013 and 2014 seasons. All three of those recent figures are the Chiefs' best through 10 games since the AFL-NFL merger.
Most of the Chiefs' late-game dominance comes from their defense; only the Arizona Cardinals have allowed fewer fourth-quarter points so far this season than the Chiefs, with 37. Kansas City's 86 fourth-quarter points rank seventh in the league.
If the Broncos are to come away with a win on Sunday night, they may need to gain the advantage in these five matchups. (Photos by AP).