Published Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 1:01 am
football
Shatel: Ruud, Potter admire Chiefs — but pick Peyton

He was just there, in that stadium, on that field, watching that guy.

In fact, back on Aug. 24, Zach Potter caught a touchdown pass for the St. Louis Rams. They would lose to the Denver Broncos, and the guy named Peyton Manning, in a preseason game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.

Not long after that game, Potter would lose his job. He was cut by the Rams, after playing four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But Potter, ever the football fan, didn't leave Denver that night without soaking in the experience.'

“When I was with Jacksonville, we played Peyton Manning twice a year,” Potter said. “He's the best quarterback to ever play, in my opinion. My dad got to see Michael Jordan in his prime, and I've seen Manning in his.

“That night in Denver, I told the two rookie tight ends that when they were on the sideline, to watch Peyton Manning go through his checks and calls out there. Having that sideline seat is one of the coolest experiences I've had. You're watching the best.”

These days, Potter watches history grudgingly. So does Barrett Ruud.

The two former Huskers are out of work this season. Potter lives in Omaha, waiting for the birth of his first child next month. He wants the phone to ring. He's got football left in him.

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Ruud, the former Nebraska linebacker, is on the other end after eight productive years with Tampa Bay, Seattle, New Orleans and Houston. He's had four surgeries. He's OK with the idea that he's probably done.

“The way the NFL is going, it's tough to play beyond 30 years old,” Ruud said. “They start phasing you out.”

That gives them more time to watch. Funny, though, neither Potter nor Ruud says he watches a lot of pro football.

They'll watch Sunday night.

This is Kansas City, 9-0, at Denver, 8-1.

This is the Chiefs, a Cinderella story all season, suddenly trading the pumpkin for a target and now playing for big stakes.

This is the Broncos, who brought in Manning a year ago to win a Super Bowl quickly, trying to do that before Manning's body clock expires.

This is for a leg up on home field in January. And if you've been to Mile High or Arrowhead Stadium, you're aware these are the two best home fields in the league.

This one's for Nebraska. Last I checked, the western half of the state still wears red on Saturday and orange on Sunday. In Omaha and Lincoln and south to the Kansas border, you'll find Chiefs bumper stickers and official Chiefs hangouts, where they love Andy Reid and still curse Scott Pioli.

This one's for Ruud and Potter, who know these two teams well. Potter was in the same division as Manning when the quarterback was with Indianapolis. He also played for Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio at Jacksonville.

Ruud played against just about everyone in the league, and saw the Chiefs last year in New Orleans, on their way to a 2-14 season.

The game's a tough call. So I invited Ruud and Potter to make the call. It's their first work as NFL analysts. Sadly, they were not compensated.

But Chiefs fans are gonna love what Ruud said about their team.

“Every year in the NFL there are five or seven teams that play their best football at the right time,” Ruud said. “That seems to be the key to making the playoffs and doing well. That's what a team like the Baltimore Ravens (who won the Super Bowl last season) has done. They aren't necessarily the best all year, but they turn it on at the right time.

“To me, the Chiefs play a lot like the Ravens. Their quarterback isn't great, but he can be good. Their (K.C.'s) defense is good enough to win a Super Bowl. It's much better than the Ravens defense that won the Super Bowl last year. And they have a better offensive system with Andy Reid.”

Potter said: “The Chiefs obviously have something going on. They've done a complete 180 from last year. Give coach Reid a ton of credit; he's rejuvenated his career. But obviously Pioli drafted some talent. Their players and fans have been through a lot, with the losing last year and the player (Jovan Belcher) who committed suicide.”

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When I spoke to Ruud and Potter, they didn't know if Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe would play after his arrest on charges of possession of a controlled substance and speeding. He will.

At the time they assumed Manning, hobbled by a bum ankle he reinjured at San Diego last Sunday, would start. Manning didn't practice on Wednesday, but said he'll start. No shock there.

The other X factor is Del Rio, who was 68-71 in nine years as Jaguars head coach, with two playoff appearances. Potter calls Del Rio “a good coach who will do great” in this spotlight. Ruud isn't so sure it will matter.

“When Peyton Manning is your quarterback, it's like it's Peyton Manning's team,” Ruud said. “When Peyton's your quarterback, it makes coaching a lot easier.”

Both of our experts agreed this will come down to Kansas City's pass rush (K.C. leads the NFL with 36 sacks), led by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, against Manning. There isn't a blitz Manning can't sniff out. But the Chiefs might not have to blitz.

“They'll have their hands full with the Chiefs defense,” Ruud said. “That's a tough matchup for them. The Chiefs' defensive style is they just rush four. They've got good linebackers who can cover, and Eric Berry makes a lot of plays at safety. He reminds me of what Eric Hagg did at Nebraska.”

So who's your pick?

“It's hard to pick against Peyton Manning,” Potter said. “Even though they lost to Indy, there was so much emotion for him in that game. He's been in such a zone all year. And with all the weapons he has, it's hard to pick against him at home.”

“I think Denver will win,” Ruud said. “Peyton Manning has been playing so well all year, he's taken that offense to a new level, and their defense is good, especially at home.

“These are two of the best teams in the league. I think you always have to consider New England, even with their injuries this year, and the Colts have the most important win this season. But I think this (Chiefs-Broncos) will be the AFC championship game (in January).

“So this will be a fun one to watch.”

Even from their couch.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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