Like Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls — or the various teams for which LeBron James has played — in some ways, the Kansas City Chiefs’ regular season seemed like just a placeholder for the regular season. Maybe they got bored; they were just coasting. Maybe they simply had too many games that were far too close for comfort.
But then again, if the Chiefs could sleepwalk through the regular season and still be 14-1 — with the ability to rest in Week 17 and get the first round bye — that’s almost more impressive. Either way, this team has shown that it can win big games and go on runs — and now is the time we’ve all been waiting for.
The #RunItBack campaign kicks into full gear on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, with a third consecutive trip to the AFC Championship game on the line. The hope (and assumption) is that the Chiefs have saved their A+ game for the postseason: they’ll unleash hell on the upstart team from Cleveland.
Here are a few Chiefs who could be trending up and down in the Divisional round:
- Byron Pringle: Another very good performance in Week 17 should serve as a reminder to the coaching staff that Pringle should be the next man up as the X receiver when Sammy Watkins can’t go. Pringle can block, has strong hands to make catches in traffic and can make plays on special teams. If given opportunities, he could be a factor on Sunday. Don’t expect him to be featured, but championships teams have role players who can make plays... such as...
- Frank Clark: It doesn’t matter how many sacks he had in the regular season or how big his contract is. At the most important moments of the season, Clark is one of the most important Chiefs. His stoutness against the run will come in handy against an opponent that likely can’t win without a dominant ground game. When they get into obvious passing situations, the Shark will swarm. Expect Clark to help close out the game — because that’s what he does.
- Patrick Mahomes: We usually exclude Mahomes from this list for two reasons. One is that we’d have to put him this list every week; it would be both obvious and redundant to predict he will play a good game. The other is that he’s the best player in the league; there’s no room for his stock to go up. That said, by focusing on Aaron Rodgers or the next generation of quarterbacks, the league is starting to sleep on the former MVP. Mahomes is extremely competitive — and petty, too. He’s been sitting for three weeks stewing in a pressure cooker of play design, film study and motivation. I wouldn’t want to be the Browns defense on Sunday — and I would never bet against a motivated Mahomes.
Others trending in the right direction: Travis Kelce, Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Fisher, Tyreek Hill, Anthony Hitchens and L’Jarius Sneed
- Juan Thornhill: As he’s been recovering from a serious knee injury, this hasn’t been a good season for Thornhill. He’s been relegated to a very limited role and just hasn’t shown the explosion and decisiveness that made his rookie year great. Daniel Sorensen being named as a team captain for the playoffs is another sign that we’ll be seeing more of him and less of Thornhill. It looks like the same injury will essentially cost a very talented player his second postseason in a row.
- Ben Niemann: A frequent visitor to this list, Niemann could once again be a target for the opposing quarterback. He’ll be trying to tackle two good running backs — and in Jarvis Landry, a receiver that the Browns have been able to successfully isolate on linebackers. With Hitchens and Wilson back in the fold, we can hope that Niemann will be on the field less often — but when he is, he could be chasing ball carriers down the field in his usual frustrating fashion.
- Sammy Watkins and Willie Gay Jr.: We can’t blame these guys for getting injured, but it’s disappointing to not have them on the field this week.
Value (sleeper) pick
- Clyde Edwards-Helaire: The rookie had a scary injury in Week 15, but returned to limited practice this week. He might not play — but then again, Andy Reid mentioned that he looked good in practice and they just wanted to give him as much rest as possible. If he’s able to take the field, we might finally get to see him get involved in the passing game. We’ve been waiting for it all season — and it could be one of the wrinkles the Chiefs have been saving for the playoffs. Much of the talk about this game will be about a former Kansas City running back trying to show that he deserved another chance. But this young playmaker could get his chance to make us forget all about Kareem Hunt.