KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs are perhaps the most stable franchise in the NFL these days, led by a coach in Andy Reid who commands league-wide respect and a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes who is in the mix for a second MVP award.
So it's no surprise they have clinched the AFC West and are tied with Buffalo for the conference's best record.
Then there's the Denver Broncos (4-11), the Chiefs' opponent Sunday, who mortgaged much of their future to acquire struggling Russell Wilson from the Seahawks and just fired coach Nathaniel Hackett with two games left in his first year.
So it's also not surprising they'll be sitting out the playoffs for the seventh straight season.
“They played us tough this last one. They gave us everything that we could ask for,” said Mahomes, who nevertheless led the Chiefs (12-3) to a 34-28 victory in Denver three weeks ago. “We have to go out and play our best ball. If you look at the tape, you see the talent that they have and how hard they play.”
It will be up to 67-year-old Jerry Rosburg to finally get that talent playing at a high level.
The Broncos turned to the career assistant, who has 18 years of NFL coaching experience, to bridge the gap from Hackett's firing into next season. He was special teams coordinator in Baltimore for a decade with stops in Atlanta and Cleveland, and was hired by the Broncos in September to hire in-game management when Hackett struggled in his first two games.
“He actually worked for (Ravens coach) John Harbaugh for a number of years,” Reid said. “One of the top special teams coaches in the NFL and a good football coach, period. But a tremendous special teams coach. Good guy.”
Turns out the affection goes both ways.
“He’s a fine man. He’s been so gracious with my family over the years,” Rosburg said of Reid, who was Harbaugh's mentor in Philadelphia. “He’s a model for all coaches. We should all aspire to be like Andy Reid.”
While Wilson is suffering through the worst season of his career, Mahomes is on another tear for the Chiefs, putting himself in position to break the NFL record for yards passing in a season — albeit in a 17-game schedule rather than 16. And Rosburg has seen enough of Mahomes over the years that he's plenty impressed by him.
He's just not so excited about facing Mahomes in his first game running the show for Denver.
“I could list them, and you all know them,” Rosburg said of the Chiefs' playmakers. “Who would sign up for this? You get to coach in the National Football League? OK, here are the Kansas City Chiefs. Here I am, choose me.”
While the Chiefs are tied with the Bills for the AFC's best record, Buffalo would get the No. 1 seed and lone first-round bye because of its head-to-head win in October in Kansas City. So not only do the Chiefs need to beat Denver, and probably Las Vegas next week, they also need the Bengals or Patriots to beat the Bills down the stretch.
DOMINANCE OF DENVER
The Chiefs have won 14 straight against their longtime division rival, a franchise record for any opponent. It's the fifth-longest streak by any team against an opponent in NFL history, and one more would tie for the third longest. The last time the Broncos beat the Chiefs was a 31-24 victory on Sept. 17, 2015, in Kansas City.
The priority for the Broncos is fixing Wilson, who was brought in at a high cost (three players, four prime draft picks to Seattle) and signed to a five-year extension with about $165 million in guarantees. But this version of Wilson has been head-scratching: He’s on pace for career worsts in touchdowns, completion percentage and sacks.
“I believe in myself at the highest level,” Wilson said. “It’s not going to happen this year, but the mission is still the same and that’s to help bring Super Bowls to Denver. That’s the goal.”
Rosburg makes five different Broncos coaches for safety Justin Simmons since he was taken in the third-round of the 2016 draft. If owner and CEO Greg Penner wanted his opinion on, say, defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero getting a shot at the head coaching job, Simmons would gladly give it. Denver’s defense has been one of the best in the league until a clunker last weekend in a 51-14 loss to Baker Mayfield and the Los Angeles Rams.
“I just want to win,” Simmons said. “When stuff like this happens like with Coach Hackett, I think about what I could’ve done better to help keep his job stable. Whatever it is, whoever it is, I just want to win.”
The Chiefs expect to have wide receiver Mecole Hardman back for the first time since an abdominal injury in Week 9 put him on injured reserve. He practiced the last couple of weeks, but has not been inactive for games. He was on a tear before getting hurt, too, scoring five touchdowns in his last three games.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed to this report.
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Dave Skretta, The Associated Press