The Chiefs’ final matchup of the regular season against the Denver Broncos brought with it a slim chance at the #1-seed in the AFC but it also brought newfound injuries to key players like Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Byron Pringle and Darrel Williams
Welcome to a special Victory Sunday edition of Shawn’s Staturdays which looks at the Kansas City Chiefs statistics week by week and relates them to future games, broken records, game predictions, and more! Enjoy this week’s edition about the Chiefs’ win over Denver and what’s to come in the upcoming playoffs which could start as soon as next Saturday
Week eighteen of the Kansas City Chiefs regular season came down to a scoop-and-score touchdown by rookie linebacker Nick Bolton (below) for his first NFL score. Thanks to Bolton, and the huge hit by newly acquired defensive end Melvin Ingram, the Chiefs avoided a possible three-seed or four-seed situation in the playoffs next week.
As I write this the Tennessee Titans still hold the number one spot in the playoffs which gifts them a bye-week and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs–something Patrick Mahomes has had every year of his young career.
If the Titans defeat the Houston Texans Sunday then they end up with that number one seed over Andy Reid and the Chiefs but (thanks to Bolton and Ingram) if Tennessee loses than the bye-week would go to Kansas City. At the moment, Tennessee is favored (-10.5 points), but Houston has already beaten this same Titans team back on November 21st when they were starting veteran running back Adrian Peterson instead of their breakout star D’Onta Foreman (a former Houston Texan).
Since that week the Titans have gone 3-2 while the Chiefs have gone 5-1 with their only loss coming on a last-second field goal in Cincinnati after a bizarre final two minutes.
In those weeks the Chiefs have had a game without superstars Travis Kelce and Chris Jones for a game due to COVID protocols, they have missed 1st-round running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire due to multiple injuries, and they have succeeded through it all–even in the loss to Cincinnati.
Their winning streak was snapped last week but up until Saturday’s 28-24 win in Denver, the bulk of #ChiefsKingdom could still breathe a sigh of relief because their team was still the healthiest in the league by a good margin.
Then came Saturday’s game which saw now-starting running back Darrel Williams leave in the second quarter with a toe injury, Tyreek Hill limping throughout the game after injuring his heel during warm-ups, and Travis Kelce limping off the field after making the victory-securing catch on third-and-eight.
Now the Chiefs are praying for a Houston Texans upset over their divisional opponents so that these star players can have an extra week of rest before playing in one-and-done games.
Who has stepped up and who could be the next to step up?
Every game that has not featured one of Mahomes’ favorite targets–Hill or Kelce–there have been standout performances by many different players, some of whom are players who have flown under the radar.
For instance, in the Chiefs week sixteen 36-10 slaughter of the Steelers when Kelce was out due to COVID protocols it was Byron Pringle who rose to the occasion. Pringle had six catches for 75 yards (12.5 yards/catch) and two touchdowns, including a show stopping catch-and-run where he eluded three Pittsburgh defenders (below).
And in Saturday’s last hurrah when Hill was on the sidelines with a limp and Kelce was being doubled on almost every play it was up to the rest of the team to show what they can do, especially if they are asked to do the same again next week.
At the end of the day it was the defense and Mecole Hardman who put the team on their back and pulled them to victory. Hardman logged his first 100-yard receiving game of his career and had 99 of those 103 yards come from yards after the catch.
It’s been shown time and again that the Chiefs smaller role players can provide big plays without Hill or Kelce on the field, largely in part because Mahomes can seem to make something out of nothing easier than anybody in the league.
With the Chiefs posting a 6-2 record without Hill in the lineup, and a 1-1 record without Kelce since Mahomes has been starting, the odds are still in the Chiefs favor no matter which way the dice roll in the playoffs.
Mahomes and Reid have showed that they can succeed with any of their lesser-targeted players like Pringle, Hardman, or even Jerick McKinnon who has not seen much action this season but showed out big time on his way to his first score as a Chief Saturday (below).
Any single player for the Chiefs can have a big game on any given day. Players like running back Derrick Gore, for instance, who went off on a 51-yard touchdown run against the Raiders or even a defensive player like L’Jarius Sneed or Frank Clark who both have the tendency to show up big in games that matter.
Take Clark’s three sack performance in the playoffs against Houston in 2019, or Sneed’s ability to disrupt the game through blitzing as well as through pass coverage like he did against New Orleans (one sack, three tackles, three pass deflections, and a game-winning interception) when playing for first place in the AFC last season.
No matter who it ends up being that shows up it always seems to be the one you least expect, that’s what makes the Chiefs great and it’s also what should inspire hope in any young fan who has not had the opportunity to see Kansas City play a road playoff game.