Even if they haven’t felt like it, the past two games have been important wins for the Kansas City Chiefs. Even when they aren’t at their best, championship teams have to take care of business. As much as we might feel differently, style points aren’t as important as the outcome — and it’s likely that most fans never expected Kansas City to be 11-3 (and AFC West champions) with three games remaining.
Going into Saturday’s Christmas Eve matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, there may be questions about whether the Chiefs can dominate an inferior opponent. But there won’t be any sort of rest for Kansas City; there’s no question that the team needs this win to keep pace with the Buffalo Bills for a chance at the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Let’s take a look at some Chiefs players who may be trending over the holiday weekend.
On a personal note, I hope you are safe, warm and enjoying great company as you watch the Chiefs continue their march toward the Super Bowl. Thanks very much for reading and engaging with this series — and all of the Arrowhead Pride’s content — throughout the year!
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Opponents defend the Chiefs in very specific ways — and they often believe that its players can be bullied. So it’s hard to overstate what Smith-Schuster now means to the Kansas City offense. It’s a role the Chiefs have sorely needed for at least the last couple of seasons: a reliable X wideout who can make contested catches — and take a beating if needed. All season, Smith-Schuster has been a move-the-chains guy — but in recent weeks, he’s has taken more than his share of brutal hits. Even after missing time, he’s likely hit 1,000 yards this season — but more importantly, his impact could easily help propel the Kansas City offense through the playoffs. Smith-Schuster has shown that he can get it done even in situations in which previous Chiefs teams would have struggled to move the football. Against Seattle, appreciate his consistency — and his connection with quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Trey Smith, Creed Humphrey and Joe Thuney: The interior of Kansas City’s offensive line is playing some of its best football. In last Sunday’s 30-24 win over the Houston Texans, the Chiefs ran for 189 yards, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The run blocking was often a thing of beauty — and as usual, the highlights came from right guard Trey Smith. Heading into the postseason, these guys are among the team’s absolute keys to success — because as Smith and his teammates go, so goes the running game. And with the running game comes the offensive balance the team needs. No matter which running back is in the backfield on Saturday, the Chiefs should have plenty of success on the ground.
Brandon Williams: In order for Kansas City to be a championship team, it must win on the defensive line. Chris Jones might be the most important player on the defense, but the man next to him has to do a better job of eating blocks and winning one-on-ones. In limited action over the past couple of weeks, Brandon Williams has proven to be a man who does just that. More stout than the rest of the defensive tackles, he also showed a little bit of pass-rushing ability during each of his first two games with the Chiefs. Keep an eye on Williams. He won’t fill up the box score, but he might just be a keystone that helps the defense win up front.
Others trending in the right direction: running backs Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon, defensive ends Frank Clark, Mike Danna, George Karlaftis and Carlos Dunlap, tight end Noah Gray and linebacker Leo Chenal.
Jody Fortson: Everyone’s favorite sleeper hasn’t been given the same number of opportunities to showcase his unique talents — and it doesn’t seem like that will change any time soon. As Noah Gray has become more involved, Fortson’s use has waned. Now he’s injured — and Blake Bell may be coming back. If Fortson isn’t going to be ready to go soon, it’s possible that Bell will take his roster spot.
Darius Harris: The only remaining personnel conversation for the defense might be this one: why do Chiefs coaches keep giving Harris snaps in place of Willie Gay Jr.? While Harris has been a valuable backup and special teams player, he hasn’t been great in coverage. He just hasn’t been a (positive) difference-maker. Gay is supposed to be that guy. He is the fastest, most athletic linebacker on the team — and is the best in coverage at the second level. Anything that takes him off the field limits the upside of the entire defense. We are justified in being frustrated each time we see Harris on the field.
Skyy Moore: In the game against the Texans, it was encouraging to see Moore get some work with jet sweeps in the red zone. But while there has been an opening for him to do so, he still hasn’t been involved in the traditional passing game. Now, the impending return of Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney promises to limit Toney’s involvement in the short, quick and trick-play game. We’ve wondered multiple times whether he would be Moore of a contributor next year instead of this year — and it really feels like we’re running out of time for him to make a 2022 impact.
Others trending in the wrong direction: placekicker Harrison Butker, defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and right tackle Andrew Wylie.
Value (sleeper) pick: Mecole Hardman
When the Kansas City offense has struggled, what has gone wrong? Sometimes the team has failed to score in the red zone. Other times, it has been missing on big downfield plays. Sometimes the wide receiver screen hasn’t been as prevalent or explosive. What do these things have in common? They all happen to be among Hardman’s strengths. It’s easy to forget that Hardman already has six touchdowns — which is right up there with the team leaders. Hardman could be activated for Saturday’s game — and might just make the difference down the stretch.