We hope you’re enjoying some holiday time with your family and friends as the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to face their longtime rivals — the
Oakland, Los Angeles, Oakland, Las Vegas Raiders — on Christmas Day.
Depending on how you look at it, the Chiefs either got themselves on track or struggled with more of the same problems they’ve had all season during Week 15’s 27-17 win over the New England Patriots. Meanwhile, the Raiders are either coming off a 63-21 victory against the Los Angeles Chargers or are one game removed from a 3-0 defeat to the Minnesota Vikings. All four of these things are true. And it’s also true that Kansas City can clinch its eighth straight AFC West title with a win over Las Vegas.
Here are a few Chiefs who may be trending as we head into Monday’s matchup.
Wide receiver Richie James: The Kansas City offense will look different without Skyy Moore, Kadarius Toney and Jerick McKinnon — and still without Mecole Hardman. On multiple occasions, Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid has mentioned James as a player who needs to be more involved. A slot receiver with enough wiggle to make guys miss, he could see his first extended action on offense as he tries to recapture the magic we saw in the preseason.
Defensive back L’Jarius Sneed: He’s successfully transitioned from being a versatile chess piece to the guy who is entrusted with shutting down each opponent’s No. 1 wide receiver. In his contract year, Sneed is making his case for the Pro Bowl, the All-Pro team and a big contract. On Monday, he’ll likely be defending against the Raiders’ Davante Adams, who is nothing less than one of the league’s best receivers. There’s a good chance Sneed will keep him contained — if not invisible.
Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire: It might seem strange to predict an upward trend for the guy who was filling in for Isiah Pacheco, who will be returning against Las Vegas. But in Week 15, we saw that Edwards-Helaire is a more than capable player — especially in the passing game. With McKinnon out, the Chiefs should feature the fourth-year running back in as a receiver. It’s what he does best.
Others trending in the right direction: wide receiver Rashee Rice, defensive tackles Chris Jones and Mike Pennel, linebacker Willie Gay Jr., defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah, quarterback Patrick Mahomes, defensive back Chamarri Conner and tight end Noah Gray,
Left tackle Donovan Smith: Inactive for the third straight game with a neck injury, the ninth-year veteran has to be wondering if he’ll ever get the starting left tackle job back from rookie Wanya Morris — who hasn’t been perfect, but has more than met expectations. The team’s third-round pick will get another start he can use to continue his development and prove himself to be a long-term solution at the position. Watch Morris against Las Vegas star Maxx Crosby. If Morris can hold his own, there will be little reason for Smith to return — even if he’s healthy.
Tight end Blake Bell: The third tight end just isn’t getting it done. His few targets have led to very little production — and too many drops and turnovers. The Chiefs hosted two tight ends for workouts this week, signing Izaiah Gathings to a practice squad contract. Both he and E.J. Jenkins (the other tight end who got a look) are known as receiving threats. They’ve even played as wide receivers in the past. It’s clear the team is looking for more production from its tight ends — and Bell could eventually be the odd man out.
Wide receiver Kadarius Toney: It may not be fair to pick two injured players for the Bears list here, but it feels like the beginning of the end for Toney in Kansas City. The team has had huge expectations for him — and has given him many chances to make plays — but it still isn’t working out. Las Sunday, Mahomes showed his frustration when he was charged with an interception after hitting Toney in the hands. Some have even speculated that the injury status for this game was a way of quietly benching him. We’ll could see some surprise production in the playoffs — but at this point, it doesn’t feel very likely.
Others trending in the wrong direction: right tackle Jawaan Taylor, defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton, wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling and safety Mike Edwards
Value (sleeper) pick: Tight end Travis Kelce
How could the NFL’s best tight end (arguably the best in league history) be a sleeper — especially when he is Taylor Swift’s boyfriend and appears in more commercials than we can count? After a down game against the Patriots, a couple of drops (and a conspicuous lack of touchdowns in recent games) people seem to be sleeping on him. OK... those are reasons to doubt a player — and maybe even to think age might be catching up to a 34-year-old. But we’re talking about Travis Kelce! The man is still always open — and makes huge plays on the biggest stages. It’s also a late-season, division game with a chance to clinch the AFC West. From Kelce, we should expect a big Christmas game — and a strong postseason.