I can’t imagine a more compelling Week 17 game that doesn’t count for anything in the standings than the Kansas City Chiefs this week.
Teams who aren’t fighting for a playoff spot are either resting their starters (like KC) or hoping to play spoiler. Some other teams have checked out and are thinking about 2018. We’ll see which category the Denver Broncos fall in on Sunday. As 2017 rolls over into 2018, the Chiefs have a chance to move past their 34 years without a franchise QB they drafted. Alex Smith will still have one more shot at a playoff run after this week, but on Sunday, all eyes will be on Patrick Mahomes.
Here are a few reasons to be excited about this week’s game, and a couple of reasons to be concerned. As always, let us know what you’re watching for in the comments.
1) Patrick Mahomes
For nearly every offseason I can remember, we’ve hoped the Chiefs would draft their franchise QB. When I started watching draft prospects, Mahomes jumped off the screen. When the Chiefs traded up, I knew it had to be for Pat. When his name was called, I (along with thousands of other Chiefs fans) literally jumped off of my seat. Through all the speculation of whether or not he was ready, or when he’d get his first start, we watched Alex Smith have his best season ever.
So, the stage is perfectly set for the future of the Chiefs franchise to take the field against the Broncos on New Year’s Eve. Watch to see how he responds as the starting QB and leader this week. He’ll be playing with mostly backups, so IF he lights it up, then all bets are off for 2018.
Prediction: 300 yards and 3 TDs from the rookie will have everyone talking about the future. Why not?
2) TE Orson Charles
He finally got on the board last week with a big 35-yard reception, but it’s his work as a blocker that makes him an important role player on this team going forward. Not the biggest guy at his position, but he wasn’t kidding when he said he’d sacrifice his body for the team. Charles may get more opportunities this week, as Kelce likely gets to rest up for the playoffs. Watch to see if he can be a reliable target and blocker against the Broncos. It might be a chance to win a 2018 job for No. 82.
Prediction: 3 catches this week for Charles for modest yardage, and he continues to stand out as a blocker.
3) Turnover record watch
Marcus Peters has been playing out his mind after his suspension, turning back into a ball-hawking machine. The Chiefs can set an NFL record for fewest turnovers with a clean game this week. With the turnover ratio tipping in the right direction, this team can make a run. Let’s see if they can keep it going this week, even without many of their starters.
Prediction: Without Marcus Peters, the Chiefs only force one turnover this week, but also don’t give the ball away and set a new NFL record.
Last week, Jakeem Grant’s 65 yard touchdown was a painful example of the struggles the Chiefs defense has in tackling. It starts up front, with the defensive linemen who need to finish in the backfield when they have a chance. Some of the worst misses have come from the secondary, playing without their best tackler (Eric Berry). These guys must focus on fundamental tackling, instead of highlight reel hits or strips. The highlights are great when they work, but can turn into points for opposing offenses when they don’t. Watch to see if the coaches have put an emphasis on tackling this week.
Prediction: Tackling will probably be an issue again this week
5) WRs Demarcus Robinson and Jehu Chesson
These two have been doing what they can to develop in the roles available for them on the 2017 Chiefs. Neither is going to take many targets away from Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce, so neither has been expected to be featured in the passing game. Both have shown they can contribute on special teams, and as blockers. This week, they may be the starting receivers for the QB that they could spend most of their careers working with. Watch to see how these guys respond. Can they get open and consistently make plays? Can they run crisp routes and gain yards after the catch?
Prediction: Robinson has a big day, going over 100 yards with Mahomes finding him downfield. Chesson will contribute, but not put up big numbers.
6) Offensive line
Will the starters play a full game? We already know Parker Ehinger will get the nod at RG, but no word yet on the tackles. Cam Erving might get significant time this week as well if he’s able to play (he’s been questionable with an illness). Watch these two guys as they get another chance to prove they can be important parts of the Chiefs offensive line in 2018 going forward.
Prediction: Ehinger impresses, Erving is up-and-down
7) Can they run without Kareem?
We’re assuming Kareem Hunt gets the day off, unless they let him get 13 yards for the rushing title. Either way, plan on watching Akeem Hunt carry the load against the Broncos. It’ll be an interesting test for the offensive line and running backs without the ROTY/team MVP candidate on the field. Balance has been key to this offense, and it’s clear that when they get Kareem Hunt going, everything works. Can they get anything going this week with the backups?
Prediction: The Chiefs struggle to run the ball this week. Under 100 yards total.
8) Who can get to the QB?
Even with all the starters on the field, the Chiefs have been inconsistent at rushing the passer. This week, we’re expecting Justin Houston and Tamba Hali to get the day off. Tanoh Kpassagnon has flashed some of the raw ability that led to him being the Chiefs second round pick, but he’s also shown that he has plenty of room to grow as an OLB. Frank Zombo has been solid but unspectacular in significant snaps this season. Chris Jones is the only defensive lineman who can take over games as a pass rusher, but he’s likely going to get some rest this week as well.
Watch to see if Bob Sutton dials up stunts or blitzes to get to the QB, and whether Tanoh can take the next step in becoming an impact player going into next season.
Prediction: 1 sack and little pressure this week, this is a big area of concern going forward.