There was a time when earning a postseason bye week would make Kansas City Chiefs fans cringe instead of celebrate.
Prior to the arrival of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the franchise had earned four first-round byes in the 33 years since the playoffs were expanded from 10 teams to 12 in 1990 — each one of them leading to a painfully-memorable Divisional round loss at Arrowhead Stadium.
But with Saturday’s 31-13 win over the Las Vegas Raiders, the Chiefs locked up their fourth bye week of the previous five seasons — all of them with Mahomes as the team’s starting quarterback — doubling the total that the franchise had earned since 1990.
Head coach Andy Reid needed help to get the Chiefs over what had felt like a curse. So following the team’s home Divisional loss in the 2016 playoffs — something that had never happened to Reid during the 14 seasons he was head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles — the team traded up in the first round to acquire Mahomes in the NFL Draft.
After 31 years as an NFL coach — 24 of them as a head coach — Reid is widely known as the master of bye-week preparation. Including regular-season weeks off, he has a 27-4 record after a bye.
“That’s the trick to it,” explained Reid to reporters on Monday, “[it’s] the balance: how the players utilize their free time — and coaches, for that matter. We’ve got to make sure that we keep on top of the scheme stuff, too.
“We’ll see how all that works out — but yeah, I’ll tell you that’s the trick to it: to keep the balance to where the players stay sharp and coaches still can add a couple things into [the guys’] mix and go from there.”
Once Reid’s bye-week strategy was coupled with an elite quarterback, the advantage has seemed to multiply. Kansas City has won all three Divisional games that Mahomes has started after a bye.
The 27-year-old quarterback — now the most-experienced quarterback in the AFC Playoffs — can see the impact of Reid’s approach.
“I think he has a great balance of the amount of time he gives guys off and the amount he gets guys in there to get them moving and prepare for the next week,” Mahomes told reporters. “Then obviously, the coaches did a great job of game planning. I’m sure this week they’ll game plan like three or four different teams and try to get a good game plan to the guys early in the week.”
The week off comes over two months after the team’s regular-season bye in Week 8 — the earliest of the Mahomes era. After playing for 10 consecutive weekends, this bye might be the most welcome in Kansas City’s recent past.
Physical rest is one benefit — but additional preparation time is another. The Chiefs know they’ll play one of four opponents: the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, and Miami Dolphins. Kansas City will host the lowest seed remaining from Wild Card weekend, which will most likely be the winner of the game between Jacksonville and Los Angeles. That probability is factored into the preparation that is being done this week.
“We’ll try to focus in on the ones that we think that we have a chance, most of all,” Reid confirmed. “But also cover all of them. While we have time — I’m saying as a coaching staff — then we’ll narrow that down for the players as we get them this week before we actually know for next week. But we’ll work on some things that we need to work on.”
Reid wants the players to truly take time off, knowing the benefits they could have when they lock in and focus for the remainder of the postseason run.
But let’s face it: it’s hard to stop Mahomes from working on the game plan.
“You don’t know for sure who you’re going to play — so what I’ll do is watch a game or two from each team that we have a possibility of playing,” Mahomes admitted. “Luckily, two of the teams we’ve already played this year, so I have a general sense of them already.
“You do that, you make sure you stay working out, stay moving around — not just sitting on the couch all week — and then when we get ready to go next week, I just try to be prepared and ready to roll.”
The extra rest has always helped Mahomes’ Chiefs in the next matchup, but the team has only converted one of its three postseason bye weeks into a Super Bowl title. If the fourth attempt is going to result in a second championship, the bye week’s advantage will have to last for more than just one week.