The 2011 season has been one of horrific losses and hard-to-believe victories for the Kansas City Chiefs. As poorly as the Chiefs have played in a season plagued by serious injuries to critical personnel, they were still improbably in the hunt for a playoff spot entering their final home game last week against longtime bitter rival Oakland.
Oh, what could have been, and how different Sunday's final regular-season contest at Denver would be if only Kansas City could have pulled off a home double-double and taken care of business against the Raiders. If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, right?
Even if the Chiefs (6-9) had prevailed against Oakland, however, they still needed a host of help from Denver and San Diego to have a chance to make the playoffs. And that's exactly what they got, as the Detroit Lions buried the 7-7 Chargers, 38-10, and Buffalo bulled over the 8-6 Broncos by a four-score margin on the eastern shores of Lake Erie.
If Kansas City had controlled what it could control out of the three things that had to happen in Week 16, we would have been looking at an AFC West Division race heading into the final week with Oakland, the Chiefs and San Diego all 7-8, one game back of
8-7 Denver. And with the Chiefs taking on Denver, it was all out in front for the taking for the guys in red and gold. The scenario was straight forward. If Romeo Crennel would have been able to work his magic against the hated Raiders like the Chiefs were able to do in pulling off the shocker of the NFL year in sending Green Bay to defeat for the first and likely only time in the regular season, only Tim Tebow and the Broncos would be standing between KC and a second consecutive divisional title.
None of this means the Chiefs would be able to beat the Broncos in Denver, but it sure would have made for one heck of a finish to a roller-coaster year that seemed doomed from the get go.
Why bring all of this up now? Because it is ironic that the Chiefs and Broncos both started out the season in the worst way, dropping four of their first four games, yet only a game winning overtime field goal prevented them from playing for the West division playoff spot in the season finale. Now about the only thing of any interest connected with this season-ending, New Year's Day matchup is the return to Denver of Chiefs' quarterback Kyle Orton, who began the season as the Bronco's starting QB, and the face off against Tebow, the man who replaced him at QB and the chief playmaker behind Denver's improbable turnaround this season. The Broncos have been 7-3 with Tebow at quarterback.
The sad irony is that Kansas City has a better chance of defeating Denver, I believe, now that they have nothing to lose. The pressure, as well as the stakes, would have been considerably higher had the Chiefs beaten Oakland last Sunday, and KC has shown that it doesn't do well when faced with a must-win situation, especially away from home.
Regarding the Orton vs. Tebow story line, it's natural for a player to want to play well against their former team, Crennel says. "He (Orton) would like to play (well)," Crennel said, "and I'm sure he would like to win the game. I told him, ‘Your job is to help your team win. It's not Kyle vs. the Broncos. It's the Chiefs vs. the Broncos.'"
I think the Chiefs will win this game - my crystal ball says 20-17 - which is good in that it could spoil the divisional championship celebration for the Broncos, but truly a sad outcome recognizing what could have been.