By Chad Jensen

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4)– The Denver Broncos will travel to take on the San Francisco 49ers this week. Its a matchup that hearkens back to January of 2017 when the Broncos were in search of their next head coach to replace Gary Kubiak.

The Broncos interviewed just three coaches for the job. Two of them will go head-to-head this week in San Fran.

Vance Joseph had caught Denver’s eye from two seasons prior, when Kubiak initially tried to hire him to be his defensive coordinator. At the time, Joseph was Cincinnati’s DBs coach, and the Bengals blocked the move.

So Kubiak instead hired Wade Phillips and the rest is history. But the Broncos liked what Joseph brought to the table.

The other guy Denver really liked was Kyle Shanahan, who at the time was fresh off a Super Bowl appearance with the Atlanta Falcons as offensive coordinator. Hiring Kyle, the son of the winningest head coach in Broncos’ history — Mike Shanahan — was storybook and almost made too much sense.

Denver went with Joseph, while Shanahan was later hired by new Niners’ GM John Lynch to be head coach. Both coaches received the enormous opportunity to be a head coach, but from there, their paths have diverged.

Shanahan took over a reeling roster devoid of talent, and after the team acquired Jimmy Garoppolo via trade, was able to finish the 2017 season strong with five-consecutive wins. With a franchise QB now in tow, the future looked bright for Shanahan’s Niners.

But alas, the injury bug struck Garoppolo, who tore his ACL early this season. Subsequently, San Fran has won just two games this year, amid other roster shenanigans like the Reuben Foster drama.

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gettyimages 1067697750 Vance Joseph & Kyle Shanahan Get To Settle The Score In Week 14

Head coach Vance Joseph of the Denver Broncos watches as his players take on the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter at Paul Brown Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Joseph led the Broncos to a 5-11 finish in year one, which was worse than Shanahan — but Joseph didn’t have a franchise-caliber QB and he still doesn’t.

But Joseph’s got the Broncos playing a winning brand of football with the epitome of a middle-of-the-road QB in Case Keenum. Denver sits at 6-6 on the season, winners of three-straight, while the Niners sit at 2-10, losers of three-straight.

“I mean Kyle is a great coach,” Joseph said on Monday. “His team’s fighting. You watch his team last night, they’re down 20-0 and they’re fighting. They’re making plays and the sideline’s engaged. They’ve been in some tough losses. I can understand where he’s at. His team is playing hard. That speaks to his coaching style and his coaching abilities. As a playcaller, he’s a really good playcaller. He’s a really good schemer of the game play. We’ve got to be strong to play and beat Kyle this weekend.”

gettyimages 4897998121 Vance Joseph & Kyle Shanahan Get To Settle The Score In Week 14

Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

Both Joseph and Shanahan are acquainted, having spent time together under Gary Kubiak in Houston. The two will be forever linked, because of the Broncos job, and GM John Elway‘s fateful decision to go with Joseph instead of Mike Shanahan’s heir-apparent.

I pounded the table for Denver to hire Kyle. But I’ll admit, Joseph has impressed me over the last quarter of a season, turning Denver’s fortunes around amid enormous pressure.

The Broncos are the superior team, from top to bottom. But if Kyle is anything like his father, you can believe Shanahan’s going to take a little extra motivation into this game. Denver can’t sleep on the Niners.

I believe Joseph’s Broncos will go into Santa Clara, CA and handle their business. For those worried that Denver would play down to their competition, last week’s road win over the Bengals should be an encouraging sign that they’ll handle the Niners this week.

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