As the end of the regular season draws to a close, the Kansas City Chiefs find themselves first in the AFC West. It is great that we’re there, but with the lead in the division comes something else…pressure.
Different people handle pressure differently. I, personally, don’t usually handle pressure well. I have a tendency to be a spaz when something relies on me. I watch players like Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and stand in awe of their ability to put games on their shoulders and win. I’m most certainly more like New York Giants punter Matt Dodge than Peyton Manning.
I bring this up because, with two games left in the regular season, the Chiefs have to certainly be feeling the pressure. As much as the players and coaches can talk about how the two remaining games are just like any other, realistically we know that isn’t true. The Chiefs hold their own playoffs fate in their hands. Two wins and they are into the post season. Just one loss and they are most likely out. Knowing that so much rides on these two games has to be tough on the players, especially the younger players.
The Chiefs are a young team in the NFL. Realize how many of our rookies from this past draft are making an impact this year and it becomes quite obvious just how young we are. Even those players who have been with the Chiefs a couple years have no experience with the pressure because, in the past, the Chiefs have been out of the playoff picture so quickly.
Where this gets interesting is looking at the listed qualifications for our rookie class. One positive that was pointed out about our draft class was that we got many team captains/leaders. What this means is that the pressure which currently exists for the Chiefs should allow us to see what kind of leadership we get from those players. Are we going to find that they can’t handle the pressure or that they thrive under it? So as the next two games commence keep your eyes on the leaders we drafted. They were drafted to set and maintain the tone of the team. If they crumble, then we need to find new leaders. If they thrive, then we know our leadership base has been found.
While we are a young team, we are not without our veterans. The most veteran part of our team is the inside of our offensive line. Guard Brian Waters, Center Casey Wiegmann, and Guard Ryan Lilja have a total of 34 NFL seasons under their belt. They’ve played in playoff games and one even has a Super Bowl Ring. It makes me glad that they are so experienced because they can set the tone for the offensive line. Not getting those drive debilitating false start penalties will be an important part of keeping our offense moving down the field.
As much as I think their experience is a boon to the Chiefs, I do think that Waters and Wiegmann being in the sunset years of their NFL career may hurt us a bit as well. The current NFL season is long and arduous and I don’t know how our elder linemen have held up. Are they going to be able to handle the last two games and potentially the playoffs with the same vigor they demonstrated earlier in the year? We’ll find out.
Perhaps the most important veteran on our team in handling the pressure is outside linebacker Mike Vrabel. Lately his play has garnered criticism, and rightly so. He has not appeared to be playing good football, although he had a pretty good week last week. Many fans, including me, have called for linebacker Andy Studebaker to be getting some serious playing time in place of Vrabel. Studebaker has just looked like the better player when in. Yet with the pressure mounting, Vrabel is the player with the most postseason experience. Not only that, but he is the only starting defensive player with postseason experience. I can only hope that Vrabel chooses now to play inspired football and is able to be a leader to our young defensive players through these high pressure games.
So what do you think fellow Addicts? How will our team handle the pressure? Will our veterans help us more than they hurt us?