Chiefs/Broncos game on TNF offers plenty of intrigue for Patriots

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 12: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos has a word with quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on November 12, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 12: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders #10 of the Denver Broncos has a word with quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots after a game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on November 12, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /

Thursday night’s clash between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Denver Broncos should be of interest to the New England Patriots for a number of reasons.

The New England Patriots want the Kansas City Chiefs to keep losing.

It might not be the nicest thing to say, but it makes a whole lot of sense, given just how tight the playoff seeding was for the American Football Conference last season. Only a game separated the No. 1 seed Chiefs from the No. 2 seed Patriots; in fact, the No. 6 seed Colts were only two games separated from the No. 1 seed Chiefs themselves.

The point of the matter is that every single game counts during the regular season. There are no such things as “moral victories,” and all those who want to add a qualifier or an asterisk to the Patriots being undefeated at 6-0 this season honestly have no idea what they’re talking about. A win’s a win, and it remains the hardest thing to attain on a weekly basis in professional football, no matter how bad or how good the two teams are entering the game against each another.

Any. Given. Sunday.

As such, the New England Patriots are undoubtedly thrilled that the team most people thought was their closest competition in the conference this season is already two games behind them. Bill Belichick would never say it out loud – nor would any of his players – but you’d better believe they’re all selfishly delighted up in Foxborough that the Chiefs dropped back-to-back home games against the Colts and the Texans these past two weeks.

Kansas City has a legitimate chance to lose three in a row on Thursday night. The 4-2 Chiefs are on the road against the 2-4 Denver Broncos, and while the talent gulf between these two teams is as wide as the disparity is between their current records, there’s also a good reason why K.C. is just a three-point favorite in this Thursday Night Football clash.

First and foremost, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is battling through a bum ankle. Apart from him, the Chiefs are also missing cornerback Kendall Fuller, defensive tackle Chris Jones, left tackle Eric Fisher, left guard Andrew Wylie, and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

Kansas City’s strength as a team this year (and last year) is very clearly their high-powered offense… so it’s significant that the Chiefs offensive line will be down two of their five usual starters, they’ll be missing their No. 2 wideout, and they’ll have a gimpy quarterback on the field. All of this against a talented Denver defense playing in front of their home crowd, no less.

The Broncos might not be nearly as good as the Chiefs are on offense, but they’re actually quite capable when it comes to their run game. Denver has the No. 12 rushing offense in the league behind a pair of talented up-and-coming runners in Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, whereas Kansas City has the second-worst rushing defense in the NFL this year.

If the Broncos can commit to their run game and earn chunk plays on the ground all night, they’ll not only move the chains and put up points – more importantly, they’ll keep Mahomes and the dangerous Chiefs offense on the sideline. The Colts and the Texans showed the rest of the world how to beat these Chiefs, and it all comes down to an effective ball-control offense built on the run game and playing keep-away with Mahomes.

While Patriots fans certainly don’t want to lose any games this season, it never hurts to have their closest competitors in the conference drop a few games here and there as extra added insurance, just in case New England does end up losing at some point.

The Pats will most likely be favored at home in their high-stakes Week 14 matchup with the Chiefs. Right now, it looks like they’ll most likely win that game too, because they’re presently a clearly-superior team to Kansas City overall. But should New England fall to K.C., any potential tiebreaker from that head-to-head victory would be a moot point in terms of postseason seeding if the Pats still had less total losses on the year than the Chiefs.

For those reasons, it makes a ton of sense for New England and their fans to do something tonight they’re not very accustomed to doing over the past couple decades: root for the Broncos to win a football game.

Speaking of Denver, that team also offers some interesting Patriots-related angles this season too, outside of just the fact that they’re facing the Chiefs on Thursday night.

Star Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is returning to action after leaving Denver’s Week 6 victory over the Titans with a sore knee. Now in his 10th NFL season (four with the Steelers and six with the Broncos), Sanders has long been considered one of Belichick’s most coveted players.

A free agent before the 2014 season, many believed Sanders would accept a deal to team up with Brady, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Rob Gronkowski. Instead, Sanders picked a Denver team that was just as offensively-stacked, thanks to a strong core of players that included Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, and C.J. Anderson.

It’s hard to blame Sanders for choosing the Broncos just a year after Manning had re-written the record books with his 55 passing touchdowns in a single season. Plus, Sanders won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in his second season with the team, so clearly his choice paid some major dividends for him.

But now, Sanders – much like the Broncos – finds himself at a potential crossroads.

Even though Denver GM John Elway has refused to turn his roster over to a full-rebuild, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Denver’s championship window long since came and went. Most of the terrific defensive players from those teams in the mid-2010s either signed elsewhere in free agency or are past their prime; the offense is even worse off as a shell of its former self, with Manning subbed for Joe Flacco and Sanders really the only established weapon with any kind of proven track record.

Sanders himself is 32 though, and he hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2016 because of a variety of injuries. His own window to claim another Super Bowl ring is closing fast, and if that’s something that still matters to him, you’d think now might be a great time to move on and join another team that’s currently contending.

He’s also in the final season of a three-year contract extension he signed back in 2016, so he’s ultimately headed for free agency anyway. If the Broncos fall to the Chiefs this evening, and/or if they continue to struggle on the season under first-year head coach Vic Fangio, it might be worth it to Belichick and the Patriots to inquire after Sanders’ availability before the October 29 trade deadline arrives.

Belichick and Elway don’t necessarily have a long history of working together as trading buddies, due in part to their teams’ rivalry over the past 20 years or so. The obvious obstacle to any kind of swap is whether or not Elway can even be persuaded that Denver isn’t going to contend this season, and thus doesn’t really need to hold onto Sanders.

Next. Fans may disagree, but Gronk is right to stay retired. dark

But if he can be pried away from the Mile High City, Sanders could represent the missing link in this Patriots offense… and it could be a win-win-win for all three sides.

New England would get a versatile playmaker that takes some of the pressure off Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon, Denver would get either draft picks for their future or perhaps even a talented pass-rusher to replace the injured Bradley Chubb (hello Michael Bennett??), and Sanders would get another significant chance at winning a second Super Bowl title.