The Kansas City Chiefs maybe the hottest team going into the playoffs this year with stars all over the team that have made a huge impact in one way or another throughout the season. But which Chiefs step up in a big way when they need it the most? Which Chiefs fail to make an impact or make a negative impact during the same span?
After a season of massive lows and franchise defining highs, the Kansas City Chiefs have not only secured a place in the NFL Playoffs, but a first round bye and home divisional game to go with it.
After a season plagued by injuries, including to 2018 MVP Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs also found themselves dealing with a plethora of other issues including inconsistent offensive line play, a long span of games before a bye, and an international trip to Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
On the other side of the spectrum, the few shortcomings the Chiefs have shown over the last few weeks have been at the hands of a few select players. If it was not for the leadership of the coaches and on field standouts this team would not find itself in preparation for a divisional round matchup come Sunday.
The NFL playoffs are without a doubt a completely different season than the regular season. Although the Chiefs performed amazingly well the last 7 weeks, even the most staunch optimists understand that things can change very quickly in the playoffs, e.g. the Saint’s loss to the Vikings on wildcard weekend. With the way the Chiefs’ players were able to step up and lead the team to the position of “League’s hottest team” one has to ask, who can step up over the next few weeks to help lead Kansas City to Miami come February? Conversely, what players will be detriments to Kansas City’s run for Super Bowl title?
(Note: Patrick Mahomes was excluded from this because he is Patrick Mahomes and will obviously play well.)
Standout: Tyrann Mathieu
The voice of the defense, the honey badger, the biggest Pro Bowl snub of the year, and the clear front runner for Defensive Player of the Year. The Landlord has been playing at a level unmatched by any other player in the NFL right now, and January’s rent just came due.
No one is on Tyrann Mathieu’s level right now, and that level will only increase after a bye. In the Chiefs first game back from the bye during the regular season, the Honey Badger grabbed one interception and allowed 0 completions against Derek Carr and the Raiders. In an intense matchup with the New England Patriots, despite not having his equipment until 2 hours before the game, Mathieu was locked in, grabbing six tackles, pressuring Tom Brady multiple times, and giving the Chiefs’ defense the lift it needed to slay some demons.
In the playoffs, the intensity only picks up, and the Honey Badger is about to look like Ezekiel Elliot with the way he will be eating.
Thornhill’s injury potentially could leave the Chiefs exposed at the FS position but the Chiefs have done an above average job at overcoming injuries all season. KC showed in the Chicago matchup that Mathieu’s presence allows for players completely untrained at the position like Kendall Fuller to be able to handle the spot.
Prediction: Tyrann Mathieu is going to pick up 3 interceptions over the course of the divisional and conference championship games. Add in another 5 pass defenses and Mathieu maybe solidifies a much bigger contract for himself coming 2021 or 2022.
Bust: Mecole Hardman
This maybe a hot take, but let’s talk about it: Mecole Hardman did not deserve his Pro Bowl spot until after week 17. Hardman’s most memorable moments up until that point ended up being negative for the team more often then positive: his poor decision making when choosing when and where to return as well as his fumble and near fumble against Houston.
Was Hardman a decent receiver when he got the snaps? Sure, but what does that have to do with his ability as a return specialist? That is without mentioning that much of Hardman’s greatest moments at receiver came from the absence of Tyreek Hill or the brilliance of Patrick Mahomes.
Teams that make it to the playoffs do not do so without a decent special teams unit. Hardman is going to find it extremely difficult to make much of a difference in the return game come January, and thus will not have much impact on the game at all.
Maybe Hardman can prove us wrong by playing extra hard during returns, especially late in games in order to make a massive impact on the scoreboard. Even getting additional offensive snaps will help Hardman make a bigger impact on the game, giving defenses a hard time trying to cover both Hardman and Hill.
Standout: Damien Williams
Damien Williams has been the difference maker for the Chiefs over the last few weeks, continuing his trend of showing up big in the later weeks of the season. Last season, it started during the divisional round game against the Indianapolis Colts, racking up 129 yards and 1 touchdown. This season it started big in week 17 where Damien Williams had 124 yards and 2 touchdowns.
When the Chiefs have an effective run game, opponents can no longer have their safeties line up so deep in the defensive backfield as effectively as before. This opens up the deep passes to Hill and Hardman that the Chiefs capitalized on last season and help the Chiefs offense operate at the high octane level that fans and analysts expect.
If the defenses refuse to adjust the safeties to stop the run, they will bring in the linebackers to try and fill the gaps and gain the corner early. This opens up the middle of the field for Travis Kelce and Demarcus Robinson to find space and gain yards after the catch.
Prediction: Over the the 2 AFC Playoff games, Damien Williams will rack up over 200 yards on the ground and over 125 yards receiving, putting everything together for 5 touchdowns overall.
Bust: Lesean Mccoy
The other side of having one very successful running back is that the other running backs are going to have limited snaps. Maybe that could help the veteran Shady Mccoy, but it likely means a lack of any production.
Lesean Mccoy has struggled all season long to have any major impact on the field for the Chiefs. His most memorable moments, much like Hardman, have been the ones that negatively effect the Chiefs. Ill timed fumbles, being unable to make anything of swing passes and routes to the flat.
Yes, Mccoy has had two weeks off, one inactive and one active, and a bye week will give Mccoy three weeks rest. Yes, Mccoy has helped get Andy Reid through the playoffs before. But it is almost a decade later and Mccoy is not nearly the same player he was before.
Maybe Mccoy can prove us wrong, using those limited snaps to stay rested and run hard every down. Maybe finally having a healthy line in front of him will allow for Mccoy to be more aggresive, getting behind Eric Fisher and Andrew Wylie to drive the defense back and get some momentum going.