In My Opinion

Greg Cote: Matchups take center stage again in NFL

 

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

The NFL has had a schedule slump the past few weeks, with little on top of the marquee that stood out as real Game of the Week material except by default. Perhaps this recent void of on-field excitement was the Petri dish that enabled the Dolphins’ Bullygate scandal to unfortunately ferment and become such a national story.

Thankfully, Week 11 delivers the return of anticipation, of exciting football — and a welcome diversion from Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin.

Most weeks, Sunday’s 49ers at Saints game or Monday’s Patriots at red-hot Panthers game might merit top billing.

This week, it’s about Chiefs at Broncos in the Game of the Year so far. Heck, it’s game of the decades based on math.

The combined 17-1 record and .944 winning percentage of Kansas City (9-0) and Denver (8-1) makes this game the best combined record this late in a season in 44 years, since Dec. 7, 1969, when the 11-0 Los Angeles Rams and 10-1 Vikings together were 21-1 for a .955 percentage. The closest recently was in 2007, when the Packers and Cowboys each was 10-1 for a combined 20-2 record/.909 percentage.

Chiefs at Broncos sells as special for more than just the won-lost records, though.

First, it is the classic contrast of offense versus defense.

Denver’s 371 points are the most ever in a team’s first nine games, besting the previous mark of 358 by the 1950 L.A. Rams. Oppositely, the Chiefs have given up the fewest points in the NFL and are the first team since 1934 to be 9-0 and not allow any opponent to score more than 17 in a game.

More interestingly, for me, it’s the contrast of style, of how the Chiefs and Broncos win.

Denver personifies the modern, throw-first philosophy, with Peyton Manning’s 3,249 passing yards the most ever through nine games. Kansas City goes Old School, rooted in strong running and defense. The Chiefs are built around back Jamaal Charles. Game-managing QB Alex Smith ranks only 20th in yards and 21st in passer rating, and it matters not.

For NFL trend students who marvel at how dominantly pass-first the league has become, Chiefs-Broncos isn’t just the Game of the Year or a fight for the AFC West lead. It is a result that will underline King Sport’s air-borne direction and imperative to have an elite, franchise quarterback. Or it will remind us there continues to be another way.

Scatter-shooting

• Updated playoff likelihood entering Week 11, via makenflplayoffs.com computers: AFC — Chiefs 99.6, Broncos 96.6, Patriots 90.1, Colts 83.1, Bengals 62.9 and Jets 37.8. (Dolphins stand 10th at 17.1). NFC — Seahawks 98.7, Saints 88.2, Panthers 70.9, Lions 69.2, 49ers 61.7 and Cowboys 53.4.

• Here is the historical uphill climb Miami faces. Only 18 times in 23 years under the current playoff format has a team with a losing record after nine games made the playoffs. That’s 14 4-5 teams and four 3-6 teams.

• Rams rookie Tavon Austin last week became only the third player 22 or younger to score three TDs of 50-plus yards in one game, after Gale Sayers in 1965 and Randy Moss in 1998.

• Eagle Nick Foles is third QB ever with 16 TD passes before his first interception. Milt Plum also reached 16 in 1960, and Peyton Manning was at 20 TDs this season before his first pick.

• Manning and Drew Brees surpassed 3,000 yards in their ninth games. Only previous QB to do it in nine was Tom Brady in 2011.

• Five teams (Chiefs, Lions, Eagles, Saints, Cardinals) already have equaled or exceeded last year’s win total. The Browns and Jets could join that list this week.

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