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Chiefs seek top seed in AFC playoffs with finale against Raiders

Dec 24, 2022; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs for a touchdown against Seattle Seahawks linebacker Jordyn Brooks (56) during the second half at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs will be playing for a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the AFC when they kick off the final week of the NFL regular season Saturday against the host Las Vegas Raiders.

To cement their third No. 1 seed in five seasons, the Chiefs (13-3) need to beat the Raiders (6-10) and have the Buffalo Bills lose one game.

It’s unknown as of Wednesday whether the Bills’ Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals will be completed at a later date or abandoned due to Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest. Buffalo is scheduled to host the New England Patriots on Sunday.

“We’re gonna be the first game back,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said of Saturday’s Week 18 matchup coming off the Hamlin incident. “There’s a job you have to do. You put all this work in for months to try to go out there and play your best football. But when you get on the field, I’m sure it’ll be a little bit of a weird feeling because it was such a scary incident that was terrifying that I think everybody saw.”

The Chiefs have already locked up the AFC West for the seventh consecutive year, extending a franchise record. They’re one of just two teams, alongside San Francisco, currently 5-0 against division opponents, including a 30-29 home win over Las Vegas on “Monday Night Football” in Week 5.

That gave Kansas City its ninth win in the past 10 meetings with Las Vegas, most of which have been notably high-scoring affairs. In that span, the Chiefs have averaged a whopping 35.5 points per game and the Raiders have cleared 28 points four times.

The Raiders took a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter on Oct. 10, but Mahomes went 29-for-43 for 292 yards and tossed four touchdown passes to star tight end Travis Kelce to lead the winning comeback. Mahomes has a 26-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an 8-1 record against the Raiders for his career.

Coach Josh McDaniels said he feels both teams have changed some personnel and schemes since that last meeting.

“The second game of these division rivalries is always a little bit different because you’re gonna change some things, there’s no question about it,” McDaniels said. “Our focus is going to be on getting to know the team they have now, the way they’re playing now.”

One development since that game is the emergence of rookie Isiah Pacheco as Kansas City’s top rusher. The seventh-round pick was promoted over Clyde Edwards-Helaire between the first Raiders game and the Chiefs’ bye week. Since Week 10 he’s averaged 4.8 yards per carry and 71.1 yards per game with three touchdowns, though he was held to 31 yards in last week’s 27-24 escape over the Denver Broncos.

But the biggest personnel difference on either sideline is McDaniels’ quarterback.

The Raiders benched Derek Carr before last week’s 37-34 overtime loss to the 49ers, all but ensuring the longtime quarterback has played his last game in silver and black. Jarrett Stidham made his first career start and completed 23 of 34 passes for 365 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

It was Stidham’s first start since throwing for 371 yards in his college finale at Auburn in the 2018 Music City Bowl against Purdue.

Stidham was limited in practice Tuesday with an injury to his throwing elbow but participated fully Wednesday. McDaniels said he wasn’t “overly concerned” about Stidham’s availability. Carr is away from the team to mitigate distractions, so undrafted rookie Chase Garbers would be the next man up if Stidham can’t go.

NFL rushing leader Josh Jacobs (1,608 yards, 12 touchdowns) and star receiver Davante Adams (1,443 yards, 14 touchdowns) also appeared on the injury report for the Raiders. Jacobs was limited Tuesday with hip and oblique injuries and took a personal day Wednesday, while Adams (illness) was limited Tuesday before returning in full Wednesday.

The Chiefs activated wide receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) from injured reserve. He hasn’t played since Nov. 6 and was limited Wednesday. Kicker Harrison Butker sat out with back spasms, and guard Joe Thuney (ankle), cornerback L’Jarius Sneed (hip) and receiver Skyy Moore (hand) were limited.

–Field Level Media