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What to watch for in Chiefs-Broncos on 'MNF'

Prime-time football has never shined brighter.

Recent Thursday nights have furnished fans with a thriller between the Browns and Jets before last week's offensive waterfall between the Vikings and Rams. Last Monday evening's punch-for-punch tussle between the Steelers and Bucs served as another reminder of this year's league-wide explosion through the air.

Through Sunday night, teams had combined for 227 passing touchdowns while entering the week completing 65.5 percent of their passes, both NFL highs since 1970.

The undefeated Chiefs have been poster boys for the air-based uptick and hope to keep the party going against the Broncos in Denver on Monday Night Football. Here's what we'll be watching for:

  1. Weekly football-viewers are familiar with the gaudy numbers of Patrick Mahomes. In brief: Kansas City's second-year quarterback has unfurled 13 passing touchdowns, an NFL record over the first three games of a season. Peyton Manning whipped 16 over four games in 2013, giving Mahomes something to shoot for against Kansas City's arch rival.
  1. What's more impressive about the scoring output is how Mahomes has distributed the wealth, registering scoring strikes to nine different targets, the most by a team over three games since the Patriots equaled the feat in 1997. Mahomes has looked brilliant doing it, too, with uncanny accuracy and one of the game's most explosive arms. Seen as a raw rookie last autumn, Kansas City's young whirlwind starter has bloomed into a burning fascination. Credit the quarterback, but not without bowing down to the next-level creativity of Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose trust in Mahomes -- enough to trade away Alex Smith -- looks simply genius today.
  1. Along the way, the Chiefs have become the only team this season yet to trail in a game, the lone club with opening-drive touchdowns in each of their contests and just the third team in NFL history to score 38-plus points in their first three tilts, putting them on par with Tom Brady's 2007 Patriots and a 1967 Colts squad led by Johnny Unitas. Both of those quarterbacks went on to nab MVP awards.
  1. The Chiefs house a pair of MVP candidates, though, with speed-demon wideout Tyreek Hill serving as a weekly raging headache for defensive coordinators. Hill leads the team in receiving yards (310), but it's more about how he pulls it off. With 11 catches of 40-plus yards since 2017 and an NFL-high 13 scores of 50-plus yards since, 2016 -- more than twice as many as the next guy on the list, Tyler Lockett -- Hill has emerged as a weapon unlike any other.
  1. Hill owns just one touchdown off 90 receiving yards in three games against the Broncos since 2016, but I'd be willing to throw out the history books: This Chiefs offense is a new creation with Mahomes at the controls, while Denver's secondary is no longer the bully it once was, ranking 26th in pass coverage, per Pro Football Focus. Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby and friends will have their hands full with Hill and Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce. The latter has been a Broncos killer in the past with seven-plus catches and 100-plus receiving yards in his previous three showdowns with Denver. Sammy Watkins, meanwhile, is two weeks removed from a 100-yard outing against Pittsburgh. If there's one player who could use a big night, it's second-year back Kareem Hunt, whose 168 rushing yards over three games is partly the result of a pass-happy, weapons-rich attack with many mouths to feed.
  1. The Broncos have the chance to play spoiler at home if Von Miller is appropriately unleashed. After piling up four sacks over the first two games of the year, Denver's chaos-wreaking pass rusher was shut out against the Ravens in Week 3. Teams have been pressuring Mahomes on 37.1 percent of his dropbacks -- the third-highest pressure rate in the NFL -- but that hasn't slowed the parade, with the young signal-caller throwing for 9.1 yards per toss with a 115.6 rating against the blitz. Nothing would help more than a prime-time breakout game from first-rounder Bradley Chubb, whose two rookie sacks have come amid flashes of brilliance.
  1. Broncos passer Case Keenum has shown toughness this season, but he's a bottom-10 starter right now due largely to his penchant for killer mistakes. His three touchdowns are paired with five picks, while Keenum owns the highest separation per target on incomplete passes, per PFF. Translation: He's missing wide-open receivers. Still, he's shown daring-do, bouncing back from his mistakes with a fearless willingness to come out firing. That mentality makes sense tonight against a Chiefs defense allowing the third-most points in the NFL.
  1. Look for a big game from Broncos wideout Emmanuel Sanders, who leads the team in receptions (19) and yards (269). Beyond the box score, he looks renewed to me, faster than he's been in years and a legitimate difference-maker for Denver. Fellow 31-year-old Demaryius Thomas has performed well, too, while rookie Courtland Sutton is due for a breakout tilt. Losing tight end Jake Butt to an ACL tear is no help, but Keenum and company should eclipse their 20.3 points per game against a wanting Chiefs defense that saw Ben Roethlisberger (452) and Philip Rivers (424) both cross the 400-yard barrier.
  1. Denver's committee backfield was reason for suspicion in the offseason, but the Broncos have found something in the form of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Lindsay is one of the league's juiciest stories, starring out of the gate by land and through the air after failing to receive an invite to the NFL Combine. At 5-foot-7 and 184 pounds, he's ultra-small for a back, but has the speed to beat defenders around the edge or right up the middle. The thickly built Freeman has served as a promising compliment, while Devontae Booker saw work last week after Lindsay was ejected against Baltimore for unleashing a punch.
  1. Chalk it up as the biggest game yet for Vance Joseph. Coming off last year's mostly disastrous, five-win debut, the Broncos coach has a chance to reshuffle the AFC West and pull even with the Chiefs at 3-1. Denver is simply a different team at home, but we've never seen a Kansas City offense of this nature -- and Reid has never coached with more confidence and flair. Prepare yourselves for a night to remember.
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