NFL Handicapping: Chiefs Only Playoff Team With No Motivation
by Trevor Whenham - 12/24/2013
It has seemed to be a particularly wide-open NFL season this year, and Week 17 is proof of that. Most years we see a handful of teams in Week 17, and even a few in Week 16, that are just waiting for the postseason to start. This year, though, we have just one playoff team that can’t change their fate regardless of what happens, and that team is the Kansas City Chiefs. They are the fifth seed in the AFC, and win or lose that can’t change. That means they will be opening on the road in the wild-card round. Their opponent in that game is still uncertain, but that is completely beyond Kansas City’s control.
Normally we have to work hard to look at the teams that don’t have anything left to play for until the playoffs. Will they be motivated and still play near their best, or will they rest their starters, strip all but the basics out of their playbook, and essentially throw the game away? With just one team this year, though, we have the luxury of focusing all our attention on getting into the heads of the Chiefs. What can we expect from them? Here are six factors to consider:
Need to prove themselves against good teams: A knock against this team — a fair one — is that they have not performed well against good teams for the most part this year. Though they have 11 wins, only one has come against a playoff team — they beat both Philadelphia and Dallas, so they are guaranteed to have a win over the NFC East champ. On the other hand, they have wins over some really lousy teams — Jacksonville, the Giants, Titans, Raiders Twice, Texans, Browns, Bills and Redskins. In their last six games they have lost four times — twice to division champs Denver, once to division champ Indianapolis, and once to potential playoff contender San Diego. Though winning here isn’t going to change the schedule questions or prove anything, it would be a start. For some teams that would matter.
Do you believe in momentum?: In a sense, this is an extension of the last point. The last game the Chiefs played was just plain lousy. They never seemed involved as they lost to the Colts at home. A lousy game plus a game off is not the way a team wants to head into the playoffs — especially a team with a lot of players short on playoff experience. If momentum matters, they could be looking to put forth a good effort to gain some here.
Can’t afford injuries to Charles or Smith: More than many teams, this is an offense that relies very heavily on two players. Without Alex Smith, and especially without Jamaal Charles, this team would be nowhere. They don’t have a guy who can effectively step in for either guy. If this team went out and got either of those players hurt in a meaningless game next week, it would be a devastating blow.
Strong on the road: This is a team that is a very strong 6-1 on the road, with their only road loss coming in Denver. They are going to be comfortable here regardless of the circumstances. They also know that they are facing at least two road games in a row in the playoffs, so they might want to use this as a way to get further prepared.
Reid’s tendency: Reid found himself in this situation several times in Philadelphia — playing a meaningless game in Week 17. Each time he chose to rest players regardless of what other factors may have been involved. In some ways Reid is a different guy than he was in his former role, but it seems likely he won’t have wavered too much in this area.
Uncertain San Diego motivation: Perhaps the biggest challenge in handicapping this game is that we won’t know until close to game time just what San Diego’s mindset may be. In order to make it into the playoffs, San Diego either needs to win and have both Miami and Baltimore lose and tie, or tie and have Miami and Baltimore both lose. In other words, they need help, but their chances are real. The problem is, though, that this game kicks off at 4:25 p.m. ET, while the Dolphins and Ravens both play at 1 p.m. ET. That means that the Chargers will know if they are still alive before they kickoff here. They will either control their own destiny or they will be eliminated. The mindset of the Chargers will have a big impact on the tone of the game and perhaps on how the Chiefs perform.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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