Denver One team is going for the first seed in the AFC playoffs. The other is in line for the first pick in next year’s NFL Draft.
Yes, today’s game featuring Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos against Jamaal Charles and the Kansas City Chiefs shows every sign of being one of those routine Week 17 blowouts. Denver is a 16-point favorite.
But if the Chiefs (2-13) are playing like a team that’s packed it in for the season, those 352 yards rushing they amassed last week against Indianapolis certainly don’t show it.
And if the Broncos (12-3) are thinking more about their Super Bowl aspirations than their AFC West rivals, they certainly aren’t telegraphing that.
“We’re all pretty focused here,” receiver Brandon Stokley said. “Just concerned about the Chiefs and trying to play a good game this weekend.”
With a victory, the Broncos would secure at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC and the first-round bye in the playoffs that goes with it. A win, combined with a Houston loss to Indianapolis in a game that ends around the time the Broncos kick off, would make the Broncos the top-seeded team in the conference. The only airplane flight on their potential road to the title would be a trip to Manning’s home town, the Super Bowl city of New Orleans.
Might that compel the Denver quarterback to check the out-of-town scores today?
“No,” he said.
But, he concedes, he’s glad there is something on the line in this game — with a loss and a New England win, Denver could actually fall to the third seed and lose the bye — unlike many final-week scenarios he faced in Indianapolis, where the Colts often had nothing to play for come the last game.
“Another chance to work on something,” said Manning, who insists he is nowhere near the comfort level he’d like to reach with his new team, despite a season in which he has thrown for 4,355 yards and 34 touchdowns. “It’s been such a fast-break year. It’s a great opportunity for us and I think we’re facing a tough challenge.”
Making it even less likely the Broncos will overlook the Chiefs are the memories of the season’s first meeting, five weeks ago in Kansas City.
Denver’s 17-9 victory was a four-quarter struggle and marked the only time during its 10-game winning streak that it has been held under 20 points.