KANSAS CITY, Mo. --With most of Week 16 complete, the Broncos' hopes of making the playoffs remain predicated as much on other results as their own.
But once the Dolphins completed their 34-31 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills on Saturday afternoon, the Broncos' die for Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium was cast: They must win to survive. A loss would eliminate them from postseason consideration with one game remaining.
So the Broncos are officially out of mulligans, and must win in a hostile environment to stay alive. Denver is 3-13 all-time at Arrowhead Stadium in December -- but has wins in that scenario in two of their last three games.
Kansas City also has losses in two of its last three games at home, and barely escaped in the game it won in that span, beating the Raiders 21-13 despite three turnovers.
But the Chiefs now have an explosiveness they often lacked in recent years, thanks to the emergence of returner/receiver Tyreek Hill, who is "a beast right now," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said.
Hill scored all three Chiefs touchdowns in their 30-27 win at Denver on Nov. 27 via an 86-yard free-kick return, a 3-yard run and a 3-yard pass from Alex Smith with 12 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Chiefs' ability to find opportunities for Hill whenever possible has given him six touchdowns in Kansas City's last four games, including three in the last two weeks via a reception and a punt return against Oakland and a 68-yard run on his only offensive touch in last Sunday's loss to the Titans.
"He's going to find a way to touch [the football]," Kubiak said. "Hopefully it's our job to do everything we can to limit those touches."
Hill is the first player since Cleveland's Josh Cribbs in 2009 to score at least one touchdown via reception, rush, kickoff return and punt return in the same season. That has only happened 19 times since 1940, according to pro-football-reference.com, including four times since 1978.
Hill has already reached the point where kickers and punters could justifiably be told to intentionally kick the football away from him.
"You're obviously trying to do everything you can to limit his ability to return balls," Kubiak said. "Now if a punter mis-hits a ball or something, there's nothing you can do about it, so you'd better practice covering and doing a good job about him. But he's very confident. He's going to field everything. He can reverse his field, those type of things."
Hill can reverse his field, making containment difficult. But the Broncos will have to do that if they are to reverse their recent slide and keep their playoff hopes alive for one more week.
What are the keys to Sunday's game?
Check out a behind-the-scenes look at the Broncos' trip to Kansas City before facing the Chiefs on Christmas night. (Photos by Eric Bakke, unless noted)
- WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE**
The Chiefs' 28 takeaways this season led the league through 15 weeks.
But it's not just about limiting giveaways -- the Broncos need to generate more takeaways. After forcing at least one turnover in 14 consecutive games dating back to Dec. 20 of last year, the Broncos have failed to generate a takeaway in four of their last six games.
Denver has lost seven consecutive games in which it did not force a turnover.
2. LIMIT HILL AND KELCE
This is easier said than done, of course. Hill has 10 total touchdowns -- including three against the Broncos that made him the first player to score on a rush, reception and a kickoff or punt return in the same game since Chicago's Gale Sayers on Dec. 12, 1965 against the 49ers. Six of Hill's 10 scores have come in the last four weeks.
But if you put too much focus on Hill, you risk being burned by tight end Travis Kelce. He led all players at his position coming into the week with 73 receptions, and his five 100-yard games are the most by a tight end this season.
"We can't have them having those explosive plays, taking the top off us," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.
3. PROTECT TREVOR SIEMIAN
The potential absence of outside linebacker Justin Houston from Sunday's game because of swelling in his knee would be a blow to the Chiefs' pass rush, particularly given his success against the Broncos. Houston has 11.5 sacks in 10 career games against the Broncos, including seven in the past three games in the series.
Dee Ford and Tamba Hali are still capable of causing problems, and the presence of nose tackle Dontari Poe sets up one-on-one matchups on the edge because of the attention Poe draws on the interior.
If the Broncos can't keep Siemian upright, the offense could fall into the same kind of rut it has endured since the bye, when it has just five touchdowns -- three of which came in a single half against the Chiefs.