The Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts appear destined to meet in the opening round of the NFL playoffs in three weeks, but don’t expect either team to hold anything back when the teams meet at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday.
“I don’t think you do,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose Chiefs, 11-3, clinched a playoff spot with their 56-31 victory Sunday at Oakland. “We’re far enough along in the year … you have enough in the playbook that you can draw from on both sides of the ball and special teams-wise. I don’t think there’s any reason to do that.
“Plus, the season is still alive.”
Indeed, the Chiefs are tied with Denver for first in the AFC West and for the best overall record in the conference. Because Denver swept the season series, the Broncos own the head-to-head tie breaker. So the Chiefs need to overtake the Broncos in the final two games.
The Chiefs finish the season with games against the Colts, 9-5, who have clinched the AFC South, and San Diego, 7-7, which is still mathematically alive for a wild card. Denver, 11-3, finishes with road games at Houston, 2-12, and Oakland, 4-10.
The Colts still have a chance to secure a first-round playoff bye if they beat the Chiefs and Jacksonville, and Baltimore beats Detroit and Cincinnati. So, Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano isn’t looking beyond this week.
“I think you do what you have to do to win a football game,” Pagano said. “They’ve got a great football team. We have to go on the road and play in the elements. We all know how hard it is to play there.
“We’ll try to win a football game and not really worry about what lies ahead or what is down the road. We’ll do, again, whatever is necessary, whatever gives us the best opportunity, the best chance in all three phases to win that game.”
But as it stands now, the Chiefs, as the top wild-card and No. 5 seed, would visit Indianapolis, the No. 4 seed, in the opening round of the playoffs. Cincinnati, the AFC North leader, owns a tie breaker over the Colts by virtue of the Bengals’ 42-28 win on Dec. 8.
Reid plans to take the same approach for the Indianapolis game as he did when the Chiefs faced Denver twice in a span of three weeks earlier this season.
“You give it your best shot your first time, and then you come back two weeks later and give it your best shot then,” he said.
Now that the playoff spot has been clinched, Reid doesn’t feel any need to rush any of the club’s injured players back onto the field.
Offensive tackle Branden Albert (knee) and tight end Anthony Fasano (concussion) have missed the last two games; outside linebacker Justin Houston (elbow) has missed the last three; and slot receiver/punt returner Dexter McCluster (ankle) missed the Oakland game. Offensive tackle Eric Fisher injured a shoulder on Sunday, and Reid said all are making progress.
“We’re comfortable with the guys healing up … we’re not forcing anybody back in that’s in a position where they would reinjure themselves,” Reid said. “ We haven’t done that all season, so we’re not going to start doing that now or ever as long as I’m here. That’s not how we roll, but if the guys can play then they’re going to play.
“That’s what they do and they want to do that. The rest of our season is as important as the beginning. We’re not letting off on anything there. We’ll keep working the process and making sure we get guys ready to play. We’ll do our part as coaches and we’ll do our part as players. “
The win over Oakland gave the Chiefs a 2-3 mark in the AFC West. The Chiefs have fattened up against other divisions — going 4-0 against the NFC East and 3-0 against the AFC South, plus beating downtrodden Cleveland and Buffalo — so it was important for the club to establish its standing in its own division.
“That’s important,” Reid said. “You want to win every game and you want to maximize yourself every week going through the process to win every game. You want to establish a certain thing within your division there.
“There is a great rivalry amongst the AFC West, so when you have an opportunity to play those teams you want to give it your best shot. That’s what you want to do.”
If Reid had one big concern coming out of the Oakland game it was the number of big plays the defense surrendered.
The Raiders had six pass plays of 22 yards or more, including a 45-yard catch-and-run on the first play of the game, and a 52-yard reception. But the Chiefs’ defense intercepted five passes and recovered a fumble by Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin.
“Big plays can hurt you obviously,” Reid said. “We’re addressing that, and we’ll get that worked out. I wouldn’t get hung up on it too much now. The final score is what you’re looking at … that and turnovers.
“When a defense puts together as many turnovers as our defense put together and gave the offense an opportunity with the field position, along with the special teams giving the offense the opportunity for field position, that’s important stuff.”