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Peyton Manning always seems to be the center of attention and that will again be the case - albeit for a different reason - when the Denver Broncos host the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night in a showdown for first place in the AFC West. Manning's health, and his ailing right ankle in particular, is the No. 1 storyline as the Broncos attempt to hand the Chiefs their first loss in the first of two meetings between the clubs in the next three games.
Manning and interim coach Jack Del Rio insist he will be ready to play despite not practicing Wednesday but his mobility is a huge concern against a defense that leads the league with 36 sacks and has surrendered an NFL-low 12.3 points per game. "We're definitely on high alert in wanting to protect our quarterback," said Del Rio, who is serving as head coach while John Fox recovers from heart valve surgery. The upstart Chiefs are coming off a bye with the knowledge that coach Andy Reid is 13-1 following a week off.
TV: 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC. LINE: Broncos -9.5. O/U: 49.
ABOUT THE CHIEFS (9-0): Despite its perfect record, Kansas City has been the target of criticism for a perceived soft schedule - none of its opponents currently have a winning record - and the fact that four of the last five wins came against teams playing a backup at quarterback. The Chiefs have had a string of close calls but their defense has yet to allow more than 17 points while scoring six defensive touchdowns and ranking sixth in passing yards allowed at 208.3 per game. Wideout Dwayne Bowe will start despite an arrest earlier in the week for an offense that relies on the efficiency of quarterback Alex Smith and the running of Jamaal Charles, who has 725 yards rushing and 47 receptions.
ABOUT THE BRONCOS (8-1): Manning tops the league in passing yards (3,249), touchdowns (33) and passer rating (121.0) while tossing only six interceptions in leading Denver's high-powered offense to a league-high 41.2 points per game. The Broncos were held under 30 points for the first time in last week's 28-20 win at San Diego as Manning threw for 330 yards and four TDs before aggravating a right ankle injury in the waning minutes. Wideouts Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas each have nine touchdown receptions while running back Knowshon Moreno has been a dual threat with eight rushing scores and 37 catches, including a season-high eight last week.
1. Manning is tied with New England's Tom Brady (2007) for the most TD passes (33) through the first nine games of a season.
2. The Chiefs, seeking the first 10-0 start in franchise history, are the first NFL team to open 9-0 after posting the worst record the previous season.
3. Manning is 8-0 against the AFC West since joining Denver and 9-1 in his career versus the Chiefs.
PREDICTION: Broncos 30, Chiefs 20