After the long and happy flight home from San Diego on Sunday, the Chiefs found themselves in an unfamiliar place – in the playoffs with a week to spare.
As winners of the AFC West by virtue of their 37-27 triumph over the Chargers, the Chiefs finished 12-4 and are the second seed in the AFC playoffs. That meant a bye week into the divisional round, and a message from coach Andy Reid when the team reported to the practice facility on Monday.
“Yesterday was too crazy, it was hard to get a word in,” Reid said. “They’ll be a little more calm today. We’ll put the responsibility on them to handle the week.”
After Monday, the players won’t return until the following Monday for a short practice and will resume a regular game-week schedule.
The Chiefs will play on Sunday, Jan. 15, at Arrowhead Stadium. The opponent is unknown but not a stranger.
If the seeds hold, the Chiefs will meet the Pittsburgh Steelers, the No. 3 seed. If the Steelers are upset by the sixth-seeded Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the Chiefs will meet the winner of Saturday’s game between the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders.
The Chiefs played all possible opponents during the regular season, sweeping the Raiders, losing to the Texans and getting crushed by the Steelers.
From a scouting perspective, the familiarity is an advantage.
“I imagine you can say that,” Reid said. “But it goes both ways.”
Reid said Tommy Brasher had been advance scouting the possible opponents. Brasher is a former defensive line coach who has been a special projects coordinator during the Reid era.
“He got a jump on things and kind of guesstimated who would be the remaining teams with all the different scenarios,” Reid said. “He started those breakdowns a week ago and he’s been grinding these things out.”
Reid mentioned only one injured player on Monday, linebacker Dadi Nicolas, who ruptured his patellar tendon. After Sunday’s game, Reid said he believed outside linebacker Justin Houston and running back Spencer Ware, who didn’t play against the Chargers, would be back for the playoffs.
The extra week helps here. This is Reid’s third playoff team in four seasons with the Chiefs, but it is the first to bypass the Wild Card round. In 2013, the Chiefs lost at Indianapolis in their first game. Last season, they won at Houston then lost at New England in the divisional round.
“It’s drastically different,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “To have the bye to get healthy and then get a home game right after that, it’s a very different road than we’ve traveled twice before.”
No coach has taken advantage of an additional week of preparation like Reid. His teams in Philadelphia and Kansas City are a combined 19-2 after a bye week, including the postseason.
With the Eagles, his teams went 3-0 in the divisional round after a bye.
But teams are different and the record isn’t a factor, Reid said. Just as it’s not a factor that the Chiefs have a poor history in the divisional round. The Chiefs were the second seed in 2003 and the top seed in 1997 and 1995 and failed to reach the AFC Championship Game each time.
The last time the Chiefs played for the AFC crown was in 1993 when they were the No. 3 seed.
“Every team is crazy different,” Reid said. “Every situation in the league is different, every year is different. I know the bye normally doesn’t hurt you. If you handle it the right way, I have enough trust (our team) will handle it the right way. There’s a lot of trust that goes into this thing.”