(AP) — While the AFC’s other top teams have stumbled recently, the Denver Broncos look to keep rolling into the postseason.
By earning an 11th straight victory in Sunday’s regular-season finale, the Broncos can wrap up a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs and ensure the visiting Kansas City Chiefs land the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
After passing New England for the No. 2 seed on Dec. 16, Denver (12-3) beat Cleveland 34-12 last week to put itself in position to earn a week off during the league’s wild-card weekend. While a win against the Chiefs will be enough to do that, a victory plus a Houston loss at Indianapolis would give the Broncos home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
“I think it’s real important that we win this week against Kansas City – all our focus will be on that,” coach John Fox said. “Whatever that brings, we’ll react to.”
The Broncos’ 10-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest in team history, behind only a 13-game run during their 1998 Super Bowl season.
Six of Denver’s wins during its current run have been by double digits – including the last three by a combined 52 points – but it didn’t have an easy time last month at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs held a second-half lead on Nov. 25 before Peyton Manning led a pair of long second-half scoring drives to give the Broncos a 17-9 victory.
Denver ranks second in the NFL in scoring (29.5 points per game), but has only totaled 43 points in its last four games against Kansas City.
“Some teams you match up against better than others,” Fox said. “We had a tough game with these guys last time we played at their place.”
Manning hasn’t had it very tough in his career versus Kansas City. He completed 22 of 37 passes for 285 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the first meeting to improve to 8-1 against the Chiefs.
The four-time MVP had a season-high 339 yards and three touchdowns against Cleveland to tie Brett Favre’s NFL record with 72 games with at least three touchdown passes.
Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker combined for 15 catches, 167 yards and three TDs against the Browns. Decker needs 12 yards to join Thomas with 1,000 and give the Broncos their first duo to hit that mark since Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie in 2004.
Despite outgaining playoff-bound Indianapolis 507-288 last week, the Chiefs fell 20-13 and moved within one loss of their second 2-14 campaign in five seasons. They’ll also be guaranteed the top pick in the 2013 NFL draft should they fall in Denver.
Jamaal Charles will try to build on his big day after rushing for 226 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries against the Colts. Peyton Hills added 101 on 15 carries as Kansas City rushed for 352 yards – its most since 1966.
Charles leads the AFC in rushing with 1,456 yards and needs just 12 to surpass his career high set in 2010, the year before he tore his left ACL.
“He’s super-fast, he’s tough. He’s a scary sight for a defensive guy,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said of his teammate. “He opens up a lot of things for the offense. He’s a key player.”
Charles, who rushed for 107 yards on 23 carries in the first meeting, will try to join Larry Johnson and Priest Holmes as the only Chiefs to hit the 1,500-yard mark, but he’ll have to do it against the NFL’s third-best rush defense (91.0 yards per game).
Charles also has to hope he’s feeling better. He was one of three Chiefs, along with linebacker Tamba Hali and left tackle Donald Stephenson, to be sent home from Wednesday’s practice due to illness.
It’s not like Kansas City has an effective passing game to fall back on. Brady Quinn has averaged 156.8 yards in his last five starts, and committed two turnovers in the red zone against the Colts to give him a 40.2 passer rating inside the opponents’ 20 – the worst mark of the 38 QBs with more than 10 attempts.
The Chiefs have totaled three offensive touchdowns and 43 points during a five-game road skid, and Quinn has been sacked a total of nine times in his last two starts away from Arrowhead. That’s bad news against Denver linebacker Von Miller, whose two sacks last week gave him the single-season franchise record with 17 1/2.
Miller had one of the Broncos’ two sacks of Quinn last month.
Kansas City has won two of three in Denver after a 7-3 victory there last season.