Perfect as coach Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs have been — well, record-wise, anyway, at 9-0 — they are well aware that the offense has been mediocre and the schedule has been forgiving.
Good as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are, as their 7-1 record attests, they've also faced some weak foes, including the Jaguars, Giants and Raiders, and some generous pass defenses, including the Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins. The only opponent so far that's truly a playoff-caliber team, the Indianapolis Colts, gave Denver its only loss.
Now things get a little more interesting.
The Chiefs have a bye this week, then resume with a game at AFC West rival Denver. Two weeks later, they play again in Kansas City.
"Every guy in this locker room, in the back of their head this whole week, will be thinking about Denver," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. "Big game ahead of us."
Here's a Pick 6 of every "big game" in the second half:
CHIEFS AT BRONCOS, NOV. 17, AND BRONCOS AT CHIEFS, DEC. 1: The only thing that seems to rattle Manning is a little roughing-up, and no NFL pair does that sort of thing better than Kansas City's Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, who have combined for 20 sacks. The Chiefs are the first team since Atlanta in 1977 to allow 17 points or fewer in each of its first nine games. Denver, meanwhile, pretty much seems to score at will, with Manning already at 29 touchdown passes, spreading throws around to Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas.
COLTS AT CARDINALS, NOV. 24: While Andrew Luck and Indianapolis will be widely expected to outscore Carson Palmer and Arizona, this game features a can't-miss reunion. Early last season, when Colts coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, one of his assistants, Bruce Arians, took over and wound up becoming the first interim coach to win NFL Coach of the Year honors. Now Arians is in charge of the Cardinals, and hosts his former boss and team.
BRONCOS AT PATRIOTS, NOV. 24: Because there are those who still harbor doubts about the Chiefs, plenty of folks figure this will be a preview of the AFC championship game. Manning (one Super Bowl title) and Tom Brady (three) engaged in so many terrific head-to-head Colts vs. Patriots matchups, and the rivalry between the two best QBs of their generation — and the two best so far this season — is as good as it gets.
PACKERS AT LIONS, NOV. 28: What's Thanksgiving without football? This 12:30 p.m. EST NFC North matchup shapes up as the most meaningful Turkey Day game this year, even if it might be a dud without injured Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. At least it's a chance to see unstoppable Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. Otherwise, the schedule has awful Oakland at so-so Dallas at 4:30 p.m. EST, and two out-of-contention has-beens facing each other when Pittsburgh plays at Baltimore at night. So get your football fix first, then head to the table.
SEAHAWKS AT 49ERS, DEC. 8: This presumed preview of the NFC championship game might very well be the best second-half regular-season game of all, featuring two dynamic young quarterbacks (Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick), two impressive running backs (Marshawn Lynch and Frank Gore), two stout defenses, and two coaches who have a bit of history (Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh). Plus, you think Harbaugh might figure out a way to fire up his players with a reference or two to Seattle's 29-3 victory over San Francisco in September? Two other key NFC matchups: 49ers-Saints on Nov. 17, and Saints-Seahawks on Dec. 2.
EAGLES AT COWBOYS, DEC. 29: Bad as the NFC East is, there's always something fun — in a rubbernecking sort of way — about watching Dallas quarterback Tony Romo try to come through in the clutch. The division could be settled by this game, and no one should be stunned if 7-9 or 8-8 is good enough to back into the title. So good in November (22-4, best of any QB in the Super Bowl era during that month), Romo has his problems in December, including three interceptions in a Week 17 loss at Washington last season that kept Dallas out of the playoffs for the third year in a row.
BONUS PAIR: JAGUARS AT COLTS, DEC. 29, AND BUCCANEERS AT SAINTS, DEC. 29: Jacksonville and Tampa Bay could both be on the verge of finishing 0-16.
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