The Kansas City Chiefs are nearing the completion of one of the most trying seasons in the Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes era. The offensive consistency throughout the season was at its lowest point in Mahomes’ career. Fans have seen outbursts between teammates and coaches on the sideline multiple weeks, as well as the usually steady head coach and quarterback getting fined due to criticism of the officiating.
After a frustrating regular season, there is an opportunity for some Chiefs to rest up before the postseason.
Despite a very challenging season, the Chiefs have clinched their eighth consecutive AFC West title with a week to go. No matter the outcome of their Week 18 matchup against the 5-11 Los Angeles Chargers, the Chiefs are locked in as the third seed in the AFC playoffs. Having their playoff position set, the logical conclusion would be players may be getting some needed rest in the final week.
Reid quickly put some speculation to rest early in the week, confirming that Mahomes would rest in Week 18, with backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert getting the starting nod. Reid has been less forthcoming regarding the status of other starters in week 18.
The Chiefs enter Week 18 with a laundry list of injuries, with several to key contributors and stay players. Along with these injuries, some Chiefs players are within striking distance of season milestones. Tight end Travis Kelce needs just 16 yards for his eighth consecutive 1,000-yard season. Likewise, running back Isiah Pacheco is 65 yards away from his first career 1,000-yard rushing season.
On the defensive side of the ball, defensive tackle Chris Jones needs just half a sack to reach 10 for the season, in order to trigger a $1.25 million bonus for the season.
Coincidentally, these four players have all resided on the injury report for Week 18 in either a non-participatory or limited role in preparation for the Chargers. Week 18 could be a perfect opportunity for Reid to give these players needed rest, especially since they are rehabbing injuries in the final week of the regular season.
What does Reid’s history in Kansas City tell us about how he will handle the starters’ playing time in the regular season finale?
A look back
This is Reid’s 10th season as head coach of the Chiefs and is the fourth instance in which the Chiefs have been locked into their playoff position. In each of these seasons, the Chiefs have rested most of their starters and playmakers in preparation for the postseason. The Chiefs previously rested their starters in the 2013, 2017, and 2020 regular-season finales.
The best example to look at in this 10-year history regarding how the Chiefs may handle this weekend comes in the 2017 regular-season finale.
On December 31, 2017, the Chiefs played the Denver Broncos on this final day of the regular season. Having already clinched the AFC West and their playoff position, the Chiefs were resting their starters, using this final game as a “bye week.” This was the introduction of Mahomes to the NFL, as this was his first NFL start in place of resting quarterback Alex Smith.
He played behind a (mostly) backup offensive line and with the second-string supporting cast. In his first start, he came away with his first fourth-quarter comeback. While this is mainly how fans now remember this game, there are a few things to note that could be applied to this weekend for the Chiefs.
First, Reid allowed running back Kareem Hunt five offensive snaps in the game, including one carry for 35 yards. This was enough for Hunt to secure the NFL’s rushing title for the 2017 season.
Second, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz played all 66 offensive snaps in the game, extending his (at the time) streak of never missing a single snap in his playing career.
Outlook for this Sunday
This final “meaningless” game in 2017 can help to shed some light on how Reid has handled playing time in these scenarios in the past. He clearly shows a certain level of respect for players reaching individual milestones, as he allowed Hunt and Schwartz to play.
Kelce is the easiest call to make in projecting playing time. With him being so close to achieving his next 1,000-yard receiving season, it is very likely he will see at least one or two series in order to reach this milestone, despite the fact he is on the injury report this week.
Pacheco and Jones are harder to project, especially given their place on the injury report. Pacheco has been one of the most important offensive weapons throughout the season, and risking further injury or aggravation of his injury could be detrimental to a deep postseason run. Similarly, having Jones at close to full health, is paramount to the defense continuing to play at a high level.
Despite this, if these players are deemed healthy enough to play, it would not be shocking to see them play — at least part of the game. Pacheco is likely the longest shot to play given his multiple injuries throughout the season.
Reid has shown a willingness to allow his players the opportunity to play if there is a milestone on the line. It’s one of the many reasons he has been as successful and loved by his players as he has been during his coaching career, he is a true player’s coach.
Despite the chance for individual accolades this weekend, Reid and the Chiefs should remain focused on the larger prize. There remains an opportunity to hoist their third Lombardi Trophy in five seasons. No matter how good individual achievements may feel, accomplishing the team goal in the postseason remains the ultimate mission.