ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — There's no denying the stakes of Sunday's game.
When "Sunday Night Football" kicks off in Kansas City, the Broncos will have a shot at first place in the AFC West. They'll also have the opportunity to end an 11-game losing streak to the Chiefs.
Over the last several seasons, the Broncos haven't played a game with as much on the line — and safety Justin Simmons didn't shy away from calling the Week 13 matchup the biggest game of his six-year career.
"Without a doubt," he said when asked if the matchup with the Chiefs came in at the top of the list.
Simmons said he knows that if the Broncos are to return to where they want to be — to division titles, home playoff games and Lombardi Trophies — it starts by knocking off a team that has had their number in recent years.
"There's no shying away from that," Simmons said. "Everyone knows if you want to be where the Broncos are used to being, you've got to beat Kansas City, and especially at Arrowhead. So, I'm really excited for Sunday night. What an opportunity — a big win this past Sunday and a chance to have a bid for first place in our division with a win."
The Broncos have just three wins at Arrowhead in December since the stadium opened in 1972, as Denver has gone 3-16 in those scenarios. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes is 7-1 at home in December, with his lone loss coming on "Thursday Night Football" to the Chargers in 2018. For the Broncos to earn a win, they'll need to be near their best.
On defense, that means slowing down a host of weapons that includes Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
"It's a difficult offense to defend by the design of it, like the things you alluded to [with] the motion," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "It's a spread-out offense. The guys running the offense are really, really fast. You have those ingredients and then put Mahomes in there. They run a similar offense that they ran when [former NFL QB] Alex Smith was there. Mahomes is Mahomes. That makes it a lot better."
And on offense, the Broncos will need to capitalize on their opportunities. Against the Chargers, the Broncos posted their best third-down output in at least 30 years as they were 8-of-11. Denver also scored touchdowns on all three of their red-zone trips. The Broncos may need to find similar success as they aim to keep pace with a dynamic offense.
"When you play a team like this, you have to get [touchdowns]," Bridgewater said. "You have to score seven [points at a time]. Three isn't enough. That's one of the things that stood out from last year."
A year ago, Bridgewater and the Panthers kept pace with the Chiefs, holding a 17-13 halftime lead and cutting the lead to two points twice in the fourth quarter. The Panthers eventually fell 33-31 — the Chiefs did not punt until their final possession of the game — but Bridgewater completed 36-of-49 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns.
The Broncos' quarterback said that he is not focused on the team's 11-game losing streak, but he did note the possibilities that await the Broncos in Kansas City.
"It's another opportunity that's not really promised to us," Bridgewater said. "It's an opportunity to do something great, of course. It's another opportunity to go out there and try to help this team win."
And as they approach the "Sunday Night Football" matchup, Fangio believes his team has the proper energy.
"I think it's good," Fangio said. "… Sunday night is the game [of the week], so players get amped up for it. I don't think we'll have an issue being emotionally ready, besides playing the Chiefs who have been the best team in football the last three years."
On Sunday night, for the first time in those three years and a bit longer, the Broncos will aim to prove they are back in the division hunt.