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What to watch for during Broncos-Chiefs TNF game

The AFC West takes center stage Thursday night, as the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs square off for a 2-0 start and control of the division.

Two years removed from setting records as the highest-scoring offense in NFL history, the scales have shifted to the other side of the ball. While the Chiefs' offense is suddenly frisky with the addition of Jeremy Maclin to go with Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles, this figures to be a hard-hitting affair, featuring two of the NFL's swarming defensive fronts.

Here's what we're watching for as the Broncos travel to Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday night:

  1. The last seven games have been the worst stretch of Peyton Manning's career, resulting in averages of 6.45 yards per attempt, 59.8 completion rate, 6:7 TD-to-INT ratio and 75.0 passer rating. While Manning's "significantly diminished" arm strength has come under fire, the bigger problem last week was that he couldn't move well enough to escape pressure and set his feet behind a revamped offensive line. Manning managed just 18 yards on eight attempts from under center and completed just two of eight attempts over 10 yards last week. Blasphemy or not, the most prepared, most astute pre-snap quarterback in NFL history has devolved into a post-snap liability.
  1. While Manning has declined, it's fair to wonder if new coordinator Wade Phillips' defense is now pushing Seattle as the NFL's most stifling. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware terrorized Baltimore's offense line last week. Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan made Justin Forsett's life miserable. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris smothered the Ravens' wide receivers. This unit was the most impressive we saw in any Week 1 game.
  1. The Chiefs' defense isn't far behind. Justin Houston has been the league's most disruptive pass rusher over the past two years, and three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker Derrick Johnson was a hit in his first start since last September. Star safety Eric Berry also had a promising return from Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
  1. Bolstered by RB-WR-TE triplets that rival any quarterback's, Alex Smith displayed a newfound aggressiveness in a win over the Texans. That will be put to the test this week.
  1. Recent trends suggest the Chiefs will have to lean heavily on Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce because the matchup couldn't be more challenging for Jamaal Charles. The Broncos allowed just one run over 10 yards last week and have held Charles under 100 yards in each of their past four meetings.
  1. Broncos tailback C.J. Anderson is also under pressure after being outplayed by Ronnie Hillman in preseason action as well as the season opener. Anderson will suit up after initially being listed as "questionable" because of toe and ankle injuries.
  1. It's a shame the Chiefs' offensive line can't count on Eric Fisher against a high-end defensive front. The 2013 first-overall pick has come under fire this week after reportedly asking out of last week's matchup with J.J. Watt due to an ankle sprain. Whether the reports have merit or not, Fisher isn't practicing with the starters this week. It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out going forward.
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