With five weeks left in the 2019 regular season, the Kansas City Chiefs have come to a fork in the road. One arrow points to a path in which weaknesses are improved, players play at their best and momentum is created heading into the postseason. The other direction is filled with inconsistent performances, recurring mistakes and a bad taste in the mouth as the team goes into the offseason.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has experience going down both paths.
In his first two seasons in Kansas City, the team took the less-desired road:
- In 2013, a 9-0 start was followed by a 2-6 finish to the year — including the 45-44 wild card round loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
- In 2014, the team got to 7-3 before faltering down the stretch and missing the postseason with a 2-4 finish.
The next few seasons flipped the other way:
- In 2015, the Chiefs started 1-5 before getting hot and winning 10 games in a row to finish the regular season. That momentum helped carry the team to their first postseason victory in 22 years.
- In 2016, they had a 2-2 record going into their Week 5 bye — and then went 10-2 the rest of the campaign to setup a home playoff game.
- In 2017, an up-and-down season was capped off by a 4-0 stretch going into the playoffs.
Last year, the 9-1 record the Chiefs had was followed by a 3-3 end to the year. That squad was able to overcome the underwhelming finish to the regular season and host the AFC championship game — but the 2019 team does not have the same luxury. Their 7-4 record has given them a small margin for error in the last five games. If the Chiefs want to achieve their ultimate goal of winning a championship, they must go down the path of building momentum and look the part of a contender starting in Week 13 against the Oakland Raiders.
The time is yours, Chiefs — and there are no more excuses to fall back on.
There are no more major injuries. The team has yet to play a game with all of their big contributors available for the entirety of the game. While that is the nature of the NFL and all teams deal with it, the Chiefs have been banged up at the worst spots.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes finally looks healthy after playing on a sprained ankle for most of the year and then missing two games due to the kneecap dislocation. He lit it up against the Tennessee Titans — and looked very comfortable scrambling on his way to a career-high 59 rushing yards against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill — arguably the most dangerous offensive weapon in the NFL — has only been in on 39% of the offensive snaps this season. To take it further, Hill and Mahomes have only been on the field together for 19% of the team’s offensive plays this season. Hill suffered a minor hamstring injury in Week 11 — but all indications point to him being ready to go.
Left tackle Eric Fisher has only been in the lineup for 19% of the offensive snaps. He was able to return and play every snap of the Chargers game — and coming off of a bye week, he should be fully prepared to start the rest of the year.
With health no longer holding the offense back, shouldn’t they reflect similar numbers to what they did in 2018? This year, they are averaging 28 points per game — which is more than seven points less than they did last season. Their yards per game rate is roughly 30 yards less than 2018. They have a 50% success rate in the red zone compared to 71.8% last season. The point is the offense could still be better — and should be with all of the resources now available.
The Chiefs also face a favorable remaining schedule. The combined winning percentage of their remaining opponents is .509 — which is the 18th toughest schedule in the NFL, according to tankathon.com. They have three of their five games in Arrowhead Stadium — and all three are against divisional opponents. It’s obvious why this is such an advantage: Andy Reid has dominated the AFC West. Since 2015, the Chiefs are 24-3 against their division foes — including winning 10 of their last 11 home matchups.
The Chiefs will be facing the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears in their two remaining road games. Both should be good measuring sticks for the offense against great defenses — but also a good test for the team playing in a tough road environment. Barring a big drop-off by the Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens, the Chiefs will be playing away from home for most of their potential postseason run. The challenge of dealing with good defense, crowd noise and other environmental factors should be valuable preparation for similar games in January.
With all this being considered, the team needs to instill confidence in themselves and the fan base by manufacture a winning streak. There are no longer any excuses as to why it can’t happen. They are as healthy as you can hope for this time of the year. They play a relatively light schedule. They will be playing at Arrowhead for more than half of the games. They have dominated their division in recent history.
There are two ways the rest of the season can go. The performance over the next month should indicate whether this team is truly a Super Bowl contender or not.