Your Kansas City Chiefs are officially hitting their stride at the ideal time.
Perhaps the best part of this eight-game winning streak is that there are contributions coming from both up and down the roster. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes has once again been playing his brand of efficient — often spectacular — football, while defensive stars have led a complete resurgence.
But as players have stepped up to cover for those who have been unavailable — and found roles for themselves — the depth of the roster is coming into the forefront. And why not? Championship teams are often made by role players who can step up in both expected and unexpected ways.
As we head into Sunday’s big AFC showdown against the Cincinnati Bengals, here are some Chiefs who trending up and down.
Orlando Brown, Jr. : From week-to-week, the big guy on the left side has been quietly improving — and has now earned a starting nod in the Pro Bowl. Many have suggested that Kansas City should take a wait-and-see approach on Brown’s new contract. But if he keeps playing like this, playing wait-and-see will cost the Chiefs a lot more money. On Sunday, watch Brown playing against one of the league’s best pass rushers: Cincinnati’s Trey Hendrickson, who already has 14 sacks this season.
Byron Pringle: Perhaps it’s finally happening for the former K-State wide receiver. For a long time, it’s been predicted, wished for and argued that when given the chance, he has the ability to deliver. His six catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns against the Pittsburgh Steelers might finally have cemented Pringle’s status as the team’s second wide receiver. When the Chiefs are likely have tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill back to full strength, watch to see if Pringle is still able to produce.
Jarran Reed: The one thing you’ve always been able to expect from Reed is hustle. The guy plays a relentless brand of football — often making plays late into a rep. Over the past four weeks, he’s been part of three turnovers — and in the two weeks before, he was part of two sacks. One of the team’s bigger offseason acquisitions is starting to pay some serious dividends — and he’ll be facing a Bengals offensive line that has really been struggling.
Others trending in the right direction: Andrew Wylie, Charvarius Ward, Derrick Gore, Ben Niemann, Dicaprio Bootle, Willie Gay Jr. and Michael Burton
Josh Gordon: I go back-and-forth on Gordon. On one hand, he’s played a lot of snaps, doing the dirty work of blocking and running routes in which he’s not likely to see much action. On the other hand, when Mahomes has targeted him, he hasn’t really delivered. It’s still possible that in the postseason, he could become a real factor. But it’s looking more likely that someone like Pringle is going to produce more for the offense than Gordon ever will.
Mike Hughes: The former first-round cornerback has had some fantastic moments this season — including a spectacular performance against the Las Vegas Raiders. But there have also been plenty of weeks where offenses have targeted Hughes with bigger receivers to take advantage of his limitations. With the Chiefs secondary closer to full strength, Hughes might see less usage. If he does see significant snaps against the Bengals, it could be another big day for quarterback Joe Burrow and his young receivers.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire: The second-year running back has been good this season. But he’ll miss Sunday’s game with another injury. In his absence, Darrel Williams and Derrick Gore have put together a number of really solid performances — and now, Jerick McKinnon has returned from injured reserve. The more we see this happen, the more we’re reminded that running backs are somewhat interchangeable. This is especially true when a team has an offensive line with superior run-blocking ability — which is exactly what the Chiefs have now built. On Sunday, expect to see another big game from Williams and Gore.
Others trending in the wrong direction: Demarcus Robinson, Chad Henne and Deandre Baker
Value (Sleeper) Pick
Mecole Hardman: As the team rounds into playoff form, role players show what they can contribute. As Pringle seems to be taking hold of the team’s second wide receiver job — the one we hoped Hardman would grow into — the third-year wideout has continued to see very limited usage in his primary role. And when he is targeted, he often makes mistakes. With each passing week, it becomes more clear that Hardman is entrenched as a gadget player — but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. When he’s used as a change-of-pace, there’s value in his blazing speed and big-play ability. Any given week — including this one — Hardman could get free and surprise a defense that wasn’t expecting him. As long we we don’t expect much beyond that, we can see that Hardman provides the offense a nice bonus.