What happened to the Kansas City Chiefs?

Heading into Thursday night’s suddenly fascinating battle with the Broncos in Denver (FOX/NFL Network, 8:20 p.m. ET), the perpetually favored Chiefs have failed to cover three straight point spreads while losing two games in a row outright.

Injuries have been a well-publicized factor. There’s enough parity in the league that using backups takes away your margin for error. Betting markets have been slow to reflect K.C.’s sudden collapse.

K.C. impressed when healthy in its first two games, winning at Jacksonville 40-26 while laying -3.5 points, then raiding Oakland to the tune of

28-10 while laying -6.5 points. That’s two double-digit road covers against opponents that have turned out to be feisty.

K.C. looked more vulnerable in a 33-28 shootout win over Baltimore that still covered a 4-point spread. This is the same Ravens squad that lost badly at home to Cleveland.

K.C. was lucky to get past the Detroit Lions, winning 34-30 as a 7-point road favorite despite getting outgained. A fumble-return TD helped put the Chiefs over the top.

K.C. at its unhealthiest was bullied by the Indianapolis Colts 19-13. Indy was an 11-point underdog yet controlled the point of attack from start to finish, winning rushing yards 180-36.

K.C. returned a few bodies for a big home game against Houston but lost outright again 31-24. Again, the Chiefs were blown off the point of attack. Houston won rushing yards 192-53 on the way to a 472-309 yardage rout.

Not hard to visualize the market trend. The Chiefs earned two double-digit covers … then played two games close to the line … then suffered two double-digit non-covers.

Does that mean Denver is going to win outright Thursday night by at least a touchdown? Not out of the question, because the recent Broncos fit K.C.’s kryptonite prototype.

Last week Denver outrushed Tennessee 103-39. The week before it was a 191-35 emasculation of the Los Angeles Chargers. Back in Week 3 it was a 149-77 rushing win at Green Bay.

The Broncos don’t always do that or they wouldn’t be 2-4, But they know what needs to be done and may now be more comfortable with new head coach Vic Fangio’s preferred smash-mouth approach.

Picking the winner of Chiefs/Broncos (Denver will likely close at -3 or -3.5) will likely come down to these factors:

Can the Denver defense disrupt Patrick Mahomes?

Fangio tends to play “safe and tough” on defense. The Broncos recorded zero sacks in four of their six games. If Mahomes is given too much time to work his magic, the Broncos will be taken way out of their comfort zone. Denver did break character with seven sacks of Tennessee quarterbacks last week.

Will the Chiefs wear down at altitude? This team could really use a bye right now after two shootouts and two physical wrestling matches.

K.C. won’t get one until late November.

This game could blow up in either direction, depending on how those questions are ultimately answered.

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