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Reason to fear: Chiefs' Mahomes in position to match Elway's long AFC West run

Patrick Mahomes just turned 23, is only in his second season, first as a starter, and is easily the NFL's most exciting player.
Credit: USA TODAY SPORTS

KUSA — In Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, the Broncos don’t have a problem for their week 8 game next Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

Mahomes may well put the Broncos in trouble for the next 15 years.

The AFC West had a similar Mahomes Factor once before. Only it was the Broncos who had the every two-generation quarterback whose talent package included mobility, a bazooka for an arm and a knack for pulling out games late.

He wore No. 7. John Elway.

Mahomes just turned 23, is only in his second season, first as a starter, and is easily the NFL’s most exciting player.

What kind of challenge are the Broncos confronting in Mahomes? Go back to Elway’s second season, when he was 24, became a full-time starter for the first time, and became a competent NFL quarterback. In the 15 seasons between Elway’s second season of 1984 and his last in 1998, the Broncos won seven AFC West titles and had two other wild-card berths in which they won 11 and 12 regular-season games.

No other AFC West team won more than three division titles. The Chiefs had three, the Raiders and Chargers each had two and the Seahawks had one.

While the Broncos settled in with Elway from 1984-1998, the rest of the division struggled to counter with their quarterback. They tried the aging passer in the second or third chapter of his career – the Chiefs’ Ron Jaworski, Steve DeBerg, Joe Montana, Elvis Grbac and Rich Gannon; the Seahawks’ Warren Moon; the Raiders’ Jeff Hostetler and Jeff George; the Chargers’ Jim McMahon and Stan Humphries.

And the AFC West tried drafting their quarterback to compete with Elway – the Chargers’ Ryan Leaf, Mark Vlasic and John Friesz; the Chiefs’ Mike Elkins (their pick after Derrick Thomas), Matt Blundin, Steve Stenstrom and Pat Barnes; the Raiders’ Rusty Hilger, Steve Beuerlein, Todd Marinovich and Billy Joe Hobert; the Seahawks’ Dan McGwire and Rick Mirer.

Elway didn’t always beat them but his record against AFC West teams in those 15 seasons was a combined 71-42.

The breakdown against his four AFC West opponents:

17-11 vs. Chiefs

13-13 vs. Raiders

21-9 vs. Chargers

20-9 vs. Seahawks (who were in the AFC West until switching to NFC West in 2002).

The Broncos made five Super Bowl appearances in that 15-year Elway run. The Super Bowl appearances in that time for the other AFC West teams: Chiefs, none; Raiders, none; Seahawks, none; and Chargers, one (in 1994).

Elway the Broncos’ present-day general manager will note there were eight seasons in his 15-year run when he wasn’t a division champion. But every year began with Elway and the Broncos as the team to beat in the AFC West.

This is what the Chiefs have now with Patrick Mahomes. And this time it may be the Broncos who are on the quarterback treadmill. They brought in Case Keenum to replace Trevor Siemian this year after first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch didn’t pan out. Keenum is on a two-year contract and it would surprise no one if Elway took a quarterback in the first round of next year’s draft.

Counting the final game of his rookie year last season, Mahomes has played the Broncos twice and beat them both times with late, fourth-quarter scoring drives. Sound familiar?

It’s been stated many times before but with Mahomes in his division, it’s more imperative than ever: Elway the GM must find the next Elway the QB.

Or these next 15 years could be a difficult cycle.

Taking on Elway

Here are the AFC West quarterbacks who started against Elway during the years of his nine postseason appearances:

Chiefs: Todd Blackledge, Bill Kenney, 35-somethings Ron Jaworski and Steve DeBerg, Steve Bono, Rich Gannon, Elvis Grbac.

Raiders: Marc Wilson, 37-year-old Jim Plunkett, Vince Evans, Jay Schroeder, Jeff Hostetler, Jeff George.

Seahawks: Dave Krieg, Kelly Stouffer, Jeff Kemp, Rick Mirer, 42-year-old Warren Moon, Jon Kitna.

Chargers: Dan Fouts, Ed Luther, Tom Flick (who won, 9-6), Mark Herrmann, Jim McMahon, Billy Joe Tolliver, John Friesz, Stan Humphries and Craig Whelihan.