Analysis Necessary Roughness

Necessary Roughness: If the Chiefs beat the Falcons, should they rest their starters in week 17?

With the Steelers dropping another game, the Chiefs are one win away from clinching the one-seed in the playoffs and a first-round bye. If they get that bye, would it be smart to rest the starters in week 17 against the Chargers and give them a full two weeks off?

The Chiefs pulled off another road victory against a solid New Orleans Saints team on Sunday. A victory that I did not predict on the Kingdom Rewind podcast that I host alongside my buddy Chad Goforth. On the show, I stated that the injuries on the offensive line and the Saints’ stellar defense were going to be a problem for Patrick Mahomes, who was coming off of a three-interception performance the previous week.

I was truly concerned for the safety of the Chiefs’ star quarterback and I felt that this game was going to be too much to overcome. I faced a ton of scrutiny from my co-host on the podcast to the point where I was verbally assaulted. Though his words were harsh, he was right and if you knew Chad and I’s relationship, you’d know that admitting that is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do.

It’s true though. I should’ve never doubted Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, and the Kansas City Chiefs. They pulled it off. It was another close one, but it’s still a win and with that win, Kansas City stayed firmly in the top spot to claim the one-seed in the playoffs. They have completed the greatest road stretch in NFL history according to FS1’s Nick Wright.

On Monday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers losing to the lowly Cincinnati Bengals made the top seed almost a certainty. Now the Chiefs will only need to win one of the next two games to officially claim the top seed in the playoffs.

The Chiefs will square off against the Atlanta Falcons this Sunday to cement their place in the playoff bracket. This game couldn’t be any more lopsided as far as rankings go. Atlanta ranks 31st in the NFL in pass defense while the Chiefs are the top-ranked passing offense. With the one seed on the line and Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill vying for the top spot in receiving yards, I would expect a huge passing attack from Patrick Mahomes and hopefully an easy victory.

Before the Steelers lost to the Bengals on Monday, the Falcons game was going to be one of those weird meaningless week 16 games, and everything would ride on the week 17 Chargers game. They had a similar situation in 2018 against the Seahawks. However now, they can win one or the other, and if it’s a win in week 16 the question needs to be asked: Do the Chiefs sit their starters against the Chargers?

This seems to be a back-and-forth debate among most Chiefs fans. Many people see the rest as an opportunity to get as healthy as possible and be full strength going into the playoffs. Others view the time off as a risk of getting rusty and coming out of the gate flat. I tend to be on the ladder side of the discussion. I think two full weeks off is a long time away from the game and could cause Patrick Mahomes to stumble and fall out of sync.

This is a similar situation that the Ravens fell into last year. The Ravens were 13-2 and had already clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs. Head coach John Harbaugh announced that he would sit five starters for the week 17 game against the Steelers, including quarterback Lamar Jackson.

They would win the game against the Steelers, but two weeks later they would lose handily at home to the sixth-seed Tennessee Titans. Lamar Jackson threw two picks in the game and the Ravens could only manage 12 points. They scored at least 20 points in every game during the regular season.

Last year’s Ravens squad wasn’t the only team that failed to benefit from resting their starters. The 2011 Green Bay Packers finished the season with a 15-1 record and their only loss was to the Chiefs. Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson, Greg Jennings, and Clay Matthews were all inactive for their week 17 battle against the Lions.

They won in week 17 but, after a two-week hiatus like the Ravens, they fell short in the divisional round of the playoffs. Packers’ receivers dropped nine total passes, which were more than they did in any of their regular-season games. They also committed a season-high four turnovers in the game. Uncharacteristic of the Packers, but very characteristic of a team that would be out of sync due to too much rest.

This type of thing has actually happened to Andy Reid as well. In 2010, Reid sat a total of 13 starters for the Philadelphia Eagles including quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy. They lost the week 17 game to the Cowboys and they also lost the playoff game to the Packers the following week. They surrendered three Aaron Rodgers touchdowns and gave up 138 yards on the ground.

Honestly, with all of the injuries on the offensive line, the Chiefs probably could use the rest and if they were playing Wild Card weekend then I would be all for it. However, they are already going to get a bye. Week 17 should be treated as a third preseason game. Play the starters in a vanilla scheme on both sides of the ball, then pull them in the fourth quarter. They don’t need to win the game; they just need to make sure to get in some reps and keep things sharp for when the playoffs start.

Obviously, the Chiefs need to beat Atlanta first. Nothing is guaranteed in the NFL, but I think the Chiefs should be heavily favored. I predicted that they would lose last week, so what do I know? If Andy Reid wants to bench Mahomes and the gang for two straight weeks, then all we can do is trust him. He’s at least earned that from us. I know I won’t question him again.

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