With the Chiefs locked into the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs, coach Andy Reid said he has not determined whether he’ll sit some of his starting players in next Sunday’s regular-season finale at San Diego.
History suggests Reid will rest key players such as quarterback Alex Smith and running back Jamaal Charles and keep them out of harm’s way before the first round of the playoffs on Jan. 4-5.
The Chiefs, 11-4, cannot improve their position in the playoffs after losing 23-7 Sunday to Indianapolis. San Diego, 8-7, has a chance at a wild card spot by beating the Chiefs, coupled with losses by Miami and Baltimore in earlier games that day.
“I’ll evaluate all the different situations,” Reid said on Monday. “I have sat people before quite a few times, actually, and benefited from that. But I’ll look at everything and make sure I have that part evaluated.”
Reid faced this situation four times in Philadelphia — in 2001, 2004, 2006 and 2010 — and each time he either limited his starters to a handful of snaps or sat them altogether. The Eagles won their first playoff game in three of those seasons.
In 2004, the Eagles, 13-1, had the NFC East and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs clinched with two games remaining. Reid pulled his starters after one series in a 20-7 loss to St. Louis in the penultimate game and sat quarterback Donovan McNabb, running back Brian Westbrook, wide receiver Terrell Owens, safety Brian Dawkins and defensive end Jevon Kearse in the season-ending 38-10 loss to Cincinnati.
Those players also had an extra week off when the Eagles had a bye in the playoffs before beating Minnesota and Atlanta en route to the Super Bowl.
“The one thing I did then, and I’m going to do now is take the time I have to evaluate it and make sure I do what I think is right,” Reid said. “It’s a bit of a gut feeling you go with. I’ll go off of that.”
One factor in deciding whether to rest players or play them in these situations is whether the week off will affect their timing.
In 2011, Green Bay, assured of the No. 1 seed, rested quarterback Aaron Rodgers, among others, for a regular-season finale against Detroit, and Packers backup Matt Flynn threw for a franchise-record 480 yards against Detroit, capping a 15-1 season. The Packers, whose only regular-season loss that year was to the Chiefs, would be upset in playoffs by the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
In Reid’s last trip the playoffs, in 2010, he sat quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy and wide receiver DeSean Jackson in a season-ending 14-13 loss to Dallas. Philadelphia lost its wild-card game 21-16 to eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay.
“If you look at the history of it, it’s been a 50-50 shot over the last three or four years by people who have done it,” said Reid. “It’s what you feel most comfortable with as a coach. The obvious benefit is to rest your guys and get them back to feeling a little bit fresher than what they are at the end of the season.
“You take the risk of the timing part of it. Sometimes that’s there, sometimes it’s not. Those are things you evaluate.”
In the cases of outside linebacker Justin Houston, who may be ready after missing the last four games with an elbow injury, and offensive tackle Branden Albert, who has missed the last three with a knee injury, they may need to play on Sunday in order to get their timing back.
“I’ll look at that, too,” Reid said. “I’ll take that into consideration as I go through the process.”
Charles may be the one player who could use a week off to rest from the pounding against a physical team like the Chargers. Charles has carried 259 times — 26 short of his career most — and caught a career-most 70 passes this season.
He’s touched the ball on 36 percent of the Chiefs’ offensive plays, and that doesn’t count shots he has taken while pass-protecting, carrying out fakes, and even delivering a big hit in tackling Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman after an interception on Sunday.
If Reid decides to rest Charles, he said he is comfortable with rookie Knile Davis, despite Davis’ critical lost fumble against the Colts and another fumble he recovered while returning a kickoff.
“We have to feel that way because until this point, that’s what we have done,” Reid said. “If Jamaal ever went down, he’s the guy who steps in and goes.
“You can’t touch the ball four times in a game and have two of them on the ground. He knows that. He’ll be the first to tell you. He’s a smart kid, a conscientious kid, I trust he’ll get that taken care of.”
Outside linebacker Tamba Hali could be another candidate to sit out this week. Reid said Hali had some swelling in his knee, but “he should be OK down the road.”
That was an indication that Hali’s next action will be in the playoffs.