NFL Preview – Kansas City (7-5) at Arizona (9-3) (ET)

By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) – All of a sudden, it’s become crisis time in Kansas City.

Coach Andy Reid and the Chiefs were riding high on a five-game win streak –
including a defeat of the defending Super Bowl champions – as they reached
late November, but the arrival of the holiday season has meant particularly
bad tidings when it comes to a would-be AFC playoff list.

First came an embarrassing loss to previously winless Oakland on a primetime
Thursday night, which was followed up by another national television misstep,
this time to the Denver Broncos last Sunday.

The result: Kansas City has dropped from first to third in the AFC West and
now finds itself among a gaggle of conference teams – six, to be precise –
with 7-5 records and postseason dreams.

“We didn’t finish the third quarter (of the season) the way that we wanted to.
We’ve got to go back to it and get that part fixed,” Reid said. “We’ve stalled
the last two weeks, so we’ve got to get this thing turned around and get us
straightened up.”

The Chiefs were in a 14-point hole against the Raiders before ultimately
dropping a four-point decision, then were down, 17-0, to the Broncos last
week. The offense generated just 120 yards in the opening 30 minutes in the
Oakland game and only 59 in that same timeframe against Denver.

Running back Jamaal Charles carried 10 times for 35 yards and caught four
passes for 24 yards last week, while quarterback Alex Smith was intercepted
for the first time since Week 5.

“Our defense was out on the field the majority of that first half. Couldn’t
help them out,” Smith said. “To start off the game with those three-and-outs
like that, you’re just not helping the team, and not getting into any rhythm
hurt us.”

Kansas City matched up reasonably well with Denver’s prolific passing attack
thanks to an aerial defense that’s the best in the league with an average of
196.8 yards allowed, but the Chiefs had few answers when the Broncos switched
gears and pounded them for 214 yards on the ground.

In fact, the team has allowed 4.93 yards per run, worst in the league.

This week’s opponent, Arizona, throws the ball on more than 60 percent of its
snaps and averages a league-worst 3.08 yards per attempt. The Cardinals ran
just 11 times last week against Atlanta.

“It’s disappointing,” Kansas City defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “But we
have a couple more games to play. It’s not like (the Denver game) was the last
one. We still have some stuff to fix. We’ll come out this next game and play
better.”

Arizona is trying to brandish the same confidence amid a raft of injuries.

Quarterback Carson Palmer was lost for the season with a knee injury during a
Week 10 victory over St. Louis, and his replacement, Drew Stanton, has lost
two of three starts as the Cardinals have tumbled from 9-1 and a clear No. 1
seed in the NFC to 9-3 with just a one-game division lead.

Safety Tyrann Mathieu will miss significant time, too, after fracturing his
left thumb. He was part of a ball-hawking defense that had forced eight
turnovers in a three-game stretch against Philadelphia, Dallas and St. Louis,
but that same unit has generated only two takeaways in the last three games.

“It’s a sense of urgency, because we have to play lights-out football,”
cornerback Patrick Peterson said. “We have all the confidence in the world in
(Stanton), but we are still playing with a backup quarterback and that changes
the dynamics of everything. As a defense, we have to do what got us here,
which was taking the ball away, and as an offense, protecting the ball.”

Stanton has thrown three touchdown passes and five interceptions since
becoming the starter, though he was without No. 1 receiver Larry Fitzgerald
for the losses to Seattle and Atlanta. Arizona now leads the Seahawks by one
game in the NFC West.

“When you stink, you stink. You point out how you stunk and get it corrected,”
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t throw chairs and holler and do all
that stuff that’s non-productive. That’s not teaching. You have to teach in
order to get things corrected. There’s two pictures – the two-game losing
streak and being 9-3. We have to get back to the things that got us to this
point.

“The next one is huge to maintain where we’re at. The sky has not fallen yet.
We’re still No. 1, and we need to stay there this week.”

Fitzgerald is labeled probable to face the Chiefs and help Arizona try to
maintain an unbeaten record at its University of Phoenix home. The Cardinals
have lost just once there in their last 11 games.

“We’ve played well at home, and this is a great opponent,” Arians said.
“Jamaal Charles is playing as well as any running back has in a while. He’s
always an unbelievable challenge.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

What Can Brown Do?

Rookie wide receiver John Brown has been a home-field phenomenon for the
Cardinals in 2014, making 25 of his 39 receptions and scoring all five of his
touchdowns there. Considering that Arizona’s leading rusher, Andre Ellington,
is listed as doubtful with a lingering hip injury, it’s likely that the third-
round pick from tiny Pittsburg State will become a go-to as Stanton continues
to seek offensive comfort.

Go Wide, Young Man

It’s a pretty remarkable stat that a quality team like the Chiefs – even after
12 games – has still not generated a single touchdown catch from a wide
receiver. Indeed, Smith’s 15 TD throws have been divvied up among tight ends
(eight) and running backs (seven), though Dwayne Bowe leads the team
with 46 catches. Arizona is just 27th in the league is pass defense, so the
drought could soon end.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

His teammates have said all the right things and his coach still insists that
teaching is the way to end the recent doldrums, but the reality is that the
Cardinals with Stanton at the helm are simply different than they’d been with
Palmer. He’s got to play nearly mistake-free to win football games, and
against a near-elite team like Kansas City, that’s a tough task to complete.
In fact, it says here that he won’t.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Chiefs 24, Cardinals 14