Saturday's matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos involves one team with playoff-related business still to attend to while the other gets ready to head into an offseason of uncertainty.
The Chiefs (11-5) still have a shot at the AFC's No. 1 seed, but after losing last week in Cincinnati 34-31 to snap their eight-game winning streak, KC is no longer in control of its own destiny. The Chiefs not only need to beat (or tie) Denver on Saturday but they also need Tennessee to lose to Houston (who beat the Titans in Nashville in Week 11) to secure home-field advantage and the coveted first-round bye.
The Chiefs and Broncos met in Week 12 with KC holding serve at home and winning 22-9. It wasn't Patrick Mahomes' best game, as he went 15-of-29 for 184 yards and an interception. Mahomes didn't throw for a touchdown but did run one in. Denver's Teddy Bridgewater, who is out for this game because of a concussion, tossed two interceptions in the loss.
Last week, the Chiefs' defense struggled against Cincinnati, as the combination of Joe Burrow (446 passing yards, 4 TDs) and Ja'Marr Chase (11 rec., 266 yds., 3 TDs) was unstoppable. Kansas City had little trouble moving the ball (414 yds., 7.1 per play) against the Bengals and led by 14 points on three different occasions, but got outscored 17-3 in the second half. Cincinnati did a good job containing Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, holding the duo to a combined 65 yards on 11 catches.
Denver (7-9) has lost three straight and four of its last six since a Week 11 bye. The biggest problem has been the offense, a unit that has scored 13 points or fewer in five of its last seven. In place of an injured Bridgewater, Drew Lock went 18-of-25 for 245 yards and one touchdown last week against the Los Angeles Chargers, but he didn't get much help from the ground game in the 34-13 loss. The Broncos' lack of success on the ground (83 yds. on 27 carries) was disappointing considering Los Angeles' struggles vs. the run this season. The defense held the Chargers to 341 yards but couldn't get to Justin Herbert or force any turnovers, allowing the home to jump out to a 17-0 lead at which point the game was over.
Kansas City (11-5) at Denver (7-9)
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 8 at 4:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Kansas City -10
Three Things to Watch
1. Denver's motivation
The Vegas oddsmakers are telling us all we need to know about motivation in this one. The Broncos have nothing to play for other than getting one more look at Lock to see if he's the potential future for Denver at quarterback. Last year in their final meaningless game of the season, Denver lost 32-31 to Vegas in one of Lock's best games of his career. Vic Fangio may also be coaching for his job, although I'm guessing a victory on Saturday won't change things.
2. Kansas City mirage
The Chiefs' defense was exposed last week, and it's a real question whether they are the unit that was gashed by the Bengals or the group that shut down the Cowboys and Packers earlier in the season. Kansas City had a very friendly schedule down the stretch, with six of nine games at home before Saturday's finale. Despite improvement, the Chiefs rank 26th in the league with 369.3 yards per game allowed. That number has gone up to 402 over the last three, which featured tilts with the Chargers, Steelers, and Bengals. But there's no reason why they can't limit the damage Denver's offense does on Saturday.
3. How long will Patrick Mahomes play?
Being realistic, Tennessee is not going to lose to Houston (again), so Kansas City won't be the No. 1 seed. So with a playoff game looming next weekend, how long will Andy Reid keep the starters in? Scoreboard watching isn't an option with the Titans-Texans playing on Sunday. It would make sense that the starters play a few series or into the second quarter but after that expect to see a different lineup on the field, especially if the Chiefs get out a decent lead early. Since throwing 10 interceptions over a seven-game stretch earlier in the year, Mahomes has just over his last seven starts. He's certainly picked up his play and will look to finish the regular season on the right foot. Just don't count on seeing him out on the field in the second half.
One team has something to play for, the other doesn't. Don't overcomplicate things here as the Chiefs take care of business in the Mile High City.
Prediction: Chiefs 31, Broncos 13
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.