Chiefs' key players should be well-rested for playoff run

DENVER -- The Kansas City Chiefs won't get a first-round playoff bye. Their stretch of six losses in seven games in the middle of the season saw to that.

Coach Andy Reid tried to make the final week of the regular season a bye week of sorts for many of the key Chiefs players. Many either didn't play or played little in Sunday's 27-24 win over the Denver Broncos, a victory that allowed the Chiefs to finish their season with a four-game winning streak and a 10-6 record.

As a result, the Chiefs should be in good shape for Saturday's wild-card playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium. Quarterback Alex Smith, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce and starting offensive linemen Eric Fisher, Zach Fulton and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif didn't play on offense. Rookie running back Kareem Hunt played long enough to score a 35-yard touchdown on his first carry and win the NFL rushing title with 1,327 yards.

Lineman Allen Bailey, linebackers Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Reggie Ragland and Frank Zombo, cornerback Marcus Peters and safeties Daniel Sorensen and Ron Parker did not play on defense.

"It was good to get a couple bumps and bruises healed up,'' Reid said. "I’ve done this before and it's worked out OK.''

Losing six of seven games in the middle of the season endangered the Chiefs' hold on a playoff spot, but they bounced back nicely with three double-digit wins and then Sunday's closer-than-it-should-have-been victory against the Broncos. The Chiefs believed their winning streak is evidence they are well-positioned to make a run in the playoffs.

"The middle of the season wasn’t great but we’ve turned things around,'' tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "We’ve showed that when all pieces of the team are working in tandem ... it’s a hard team to beat.''

As a bonus, the Chiefs were able to get rookie quarterback Patrick Mahomes II the first start of his NFL career. Mahomes' stats -- 22-of-35 for 284 yards, no touchdowns and one interception -- weren't bad considering the frigid weather and the fact he was playing mostly with other backups. He no doubt would like to have his interception back.

The pass sailed on him beyond the intended receiver, De'Anthony Thomas.

The Chiefs led 24-10 in the fourth quarter when Mahomes was pulled in favor of Tyler Bray. He went back in after the Broncos tied the game at 24. Mahomes then led the Chiefs to the game-winning, 30-yard field goal by Harrison Butker.

Mahomes was one of five rookies to make their first starts for the Chiefs, the others being wide receiver Jehu Chesson, linebackers Tanoh Kpassagnon and Ukeme Eligwe and safety Leon McQuay.