DENVER — Coach Vic Fangio's future features more interest than the Chiefs game.
That captures what has gone wrong this season, a sixth straight without the playoffs and a fifth without a winning record.
This wasn't supposed to happen. At 7-6, the Broncos held everything in their hands. Hope returned. Optimism peeked its head above the covers.
Then, just like that, the Broncos dissolved before our eyes, losing three straight to the Bengals, Raiders and Chiefs. It ruined everything, leaving Fangio with an average of 10 losses per season and back-to-back AFC West last-place finishes.
Going 5-12 in the division, 1-10 against the Chiefs and Raiders and 4-9 over the final 13 games this season is an indictment of the lack of progress.
Of the 13 first-time head coaches who began their career with three straight losing seasons, eight were fired, and the five who kept their spots never posted a winning season with that team in year four or five.
Against this backdrop, the Broncos will play for pride on Denver7 at 2:30 p.m. against a Chiefs team that has beaten them 12 straight times. My keys to an upset, which will also be discussed as part of our 12:30 p.m. pregame show:
Run it up
With Drew Lock at quarterback, opponents are showing no respect for the passing game. As such, they are stacking the box and jumping snap counts and expiring play clocks. Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams have rushed 38 times for 81 yards the past two games. If Denver doesn't eclipse 100 yards on the ground, this game will be a rout.
Protect the ball
A common thread in the 12 losses is the turnover margin. The Broncos consistently lose it. Teddy Bridgewater threw a pick-six in the game earlier this season. Lock has shown improvement in protecting the ball. However, the Broncos must let him attempt to make plays. You can't win by scoring 12 points a game vs. the Chiefs.
Corner the market
The Broncos' cornerback position is depleted with Pat Surtain II (calf), Ronald Darby (shoulder) and Nate Hairston (COVID) out. That means Bryce Callahan, Michael Ojemudia and Mike Ford will have to play perfectly to give Denver a chance. It would be a lot easier if the trio wasn't facing Patrick Mahomes.
Force a mistake
The Broncos play two high safeties against Kansas City, testing Mahomes' patience. Justin Simmons will pair with Caden Sterns, who is playing for veteran Kareem Jackson. Mahomes steered his season on track over the last nine games. The Chiefs have gone 8-1 and he has thrown 17 touchdowns with four interceptions. He had nine picks in his previous seven games. Mahomes is 8-0 against the Broncos and 12-0 in AFC West road games.
Special teams fix
This is the type of game that could change with a special teams boost. Who am I kidding? The Broncos' special teams coverage units sabotage weekly performances. They have allowed two scoring returns of over 100 yards this season. They have muffed multiple punts. And, well, you get the picture.
Draw it up
Lock believes he is an NFL starting quarterback. It appears unlikely it will be in Denver after this season. Lock has shown progress in his two starts, but the third-down issues remain — 4-for-21 the past two games. It would make sense to let Lock loose. The Broncos are a 10.5-point underdog. Regardless if Fangio comes back, there's no chance offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur returns. Might as well give Lock a few deep shots.
Play for pride
Playing spoiler in a 17th game is an awful place to be. The key will be keeping the game close early. In my experience, these types of mismatches get out of hand if not competitive in the first 15 minutes.
TROY'S PREDICTION: Chiefs 31, Broncos 15