After the Chiefs beat the Falcons to lock up the number one seed in the AFC playoffs, many wondered whether the starters would see any time this weekend against the Chargers. Andy Reid confirmed Wednesday morning that Chad Henne will start in place of Patrick Mahomes on Sunday.
Patrick Mahomes third regular season as a starter is complete. He will finish with a 14-1 record, 4,740 yards, 38 touchdowns, and only six interceptions. He will likely finish as a top-three MVP finalist alongside Aaron Rodgers and Josh Allen.
As for Henne and the Chiefs, this will be Henne’s first start since week 3 of the 2014 season, when he was on the Jaguars. In his career, Henne is 18-35 as a starter. The 35-year-old saw time in blowout wins versus the Broncos and Jets earlier in the year, even registering a rushing touchdown in Denver.
Coach Reid also noted that Matt Moore will likely be called up from the practice squad to back up Henne. Moore played in three games last season, going 2-1 in relief of Mahomes when he was rehabbing a knee injury.
Andy Reid has a history of resting his starters in week 17 matchups where his team is locked into a playoff spot. In his time in Kansas City, he rested his starters in both 2013 and 2017. Chase Daniel started a 27-24 OT loss to the then San Diego Chargers in 2013, and Patrick Mahomes made his NFL debut in a 27-24 win in Denver at the end of the 2017 campaign.
The difference between those two campaigns and the 2020 season? Kansas City didn’t have the bye either of those two seasons, instead having to play Wild Card weekend. They lost Wild Card weekend both times.
When looking at the prior two seasons, the Chiefs also had a first-round bye, but they had to win both week 17 matchups to secure the bye in each of those seasons, not giving the starters an opportunity to rest.
Some fans are concerned about the team getting too much rest heading into the divisional round matchup, as it will be either 20 or 21 days between meaningful snaps, whether the game is on Saturday the 16th or Sunday the 17th.
This seemed to happen last year with the Baltimore Ravens, who were 13-2 entering week 17 with the top seed locked up. They rested many key players, including MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. They beat the Steelers 28-10, but then came out flat two weeks later, falling behind 28-6 to the 9-7 Tennessee Titans. They never found a rhythm and were bounced 28-12.
The 2011 Packers also rested their starters in week 17, heading into their matchup with Detroit 14-1. Matt Flynn led the green and gold to a 45-41 victory, but the heavily-favored Pack fell to the 9-7 Giants 37-20 in their divisional round matchup. The Giants went on to win Super Bowl XLVI.
While those are two examples of teams that might’ve benefited from getting some week 17 action, it is hard to justify putting the stars of the team at risk right before the postseason. With key players like Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Sammy Watkins already facing injuries, there is no reason to put other pillars of the offense at risk.
Hopefully this team has learned a thing or two about avoiding slow starts from last postseason, where they fell behind 24-0 and 17-7 in the two home playoff games last January.
No matter what, Reid, Mahomes and the rest of the Chiefs have earned the benefit of the doubt over the last two seasons, and they will be ready to roll the weekend of January 16th.
The Henne-led Chiefs will take on the 6-9 Chargers this Sunday at Arrowhead at 3:25 CT. Los Angeles is a 3.5 point favorite (as of Thursday morning).