KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Old Saint Nicholas cannot leave under the tree what the Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid wants for Christmas – a 10th-straight win against AFC West opponents, a playoff bid and a shot at a division title can only be unwrapped on the field at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas night against the Denver Broncos.
“It’s exciting, it’s a great time, great opportunity for both teams to have a chance to play each other at Christmas,” Reid said.
The late season tilt between two old foes carries significant importance for both teams. The Chiefs (10-4) need a win or a Baltimore loss Sunday afternoon to clinch a playoff spot. But the team also must win to keep alive its hopes for a division title, which carries with it a first-round bye and a home playoff game.
The Broncos (8-6) must win just to extend their slim playoff chances to the final week of the season. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr., a former standout at Kansas, says the team understands the stakes.
“It’s do or die for us,” Harris said. “We know we have to win this game to have a chance to make it to the playoffs. You have to win to get in, so we know how big of a game this is for us.”
If Christmas night proves as thrilling as Thanksgiving weekend, then fans should expect an instant classic. The Chiefs eked out a dramatic 30-27 overtime win in Denver just four weeks ago.
History stands written by the victors, however, and what stands legendary in Kansas City, Denver coach Gary Kubiak dismisses out of hand.
“We really don’t talk about that one too much, we can’t do anything about it,” Kubiak said. “We had opportunities to make plays and get it done and you guys got it done and we didn’t. We let it go, we move on.”
But the Chiefs cannot rest too much on their laurels from the victory, either. The Broncos outgained Kansas City by nearly 200 yards. Only three sacks and a safety from linebacker Justin Houston along with a kick return touchdown by Tyreek Hill kept the Chiefs in the ball game.
The Broncos, however, have sustained more offensive losses since that game. The Broncos lost to injury another running back, Kapri Bibbs. That leaves the backfield down to rookie Devontae Booker and free agent Justin Forsett, now on his third team this season.
Denver rushed for just 76 combined over the last two games in losses at the Tennessee Titans and at home to the New England Patriots.
The Chiefs have their own run-game issues, however. The defense yielded 227 yards rushing in the last six quarters since linebacker Derrick Johnson for season with a torn Achilles tendon.
Reserve linebacker D.J. Alexander filled in for Johnson last week. The special teams crackerjack received all of seven defensive snaps this season before taking 41 snaps last week against Tennessee.
Alexander said he learned much from his performance against the Titans he plans to put in use against Denver.
“You can film study and anticipate what’s going to happen, but until you’re actually in the game and see the situations, you don’t know for sure,” Alexander said.
The last matchup between the two teams started as a field-position battle before the offenses broke loose. Reid does not know what to expect this time around.
“Every time we play, it’s quite a show, so our guys are going to prepare themselves playing against a heck of a football team in front of a great crowd,” Reid said.
Alexander expects the rematch against the Broncos to be just as grueling as the last meeting.
“I think it’s going to be another another dogfight,” Alexander said. “We just got to play hard and continue until the very end.”