Sunday's Game At San Diego Is A Playoff Tune-Up

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The Kansas City Chiefs are just five days away from an opportunity to get Sunday’s foul-tasting, 23-7 loss to the Indianapolis Colts out of their mouths. This weekend’s regular season finale with the San Diego Chargers is essentially a playoff game. The Bolts are still in the hunt for the final seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Chiefs can expect their division rival to leave everything on the field in an effort to qualify for the postseason. Kansas City will be traveling once the tournament starts so this game will serve as a measure of what this team can accomplish during the month of January.

Critics are chomping at the bit to cast aspersions on the 11-4 Kansas City Chiefs. There are very real questions about the Chiefs’ ability to beat a good football team so those criticisms aren’t without merit. The Colts exposed the Chiefs, in a complete drubbing, in their own stadium on Sunday afternoon. Kansas City has now lost twice to Peyton Manning, and once to both Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck. Good quarterbacks have been a thorn in this team’s side since the bye week.

The Chargers own a 4-3 record at Qualcomm Stadium in 2013. Winning in that hostile environment on Sunday will prove the Chiefs can have success in either Cincinnati or Indianapolis a week later in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs. Kansas City’s first matchup with San Diego should’ve gone the other way. The Chiefs can run with the Chargers if they play their best football, but it’s tough to say which Chiefs offense will show up on Sunday.

Can we expect the unit that hung 101 combined points on the Redskins and Raiders, the punchless bunch that managed just 17 points in Denver (with two weeks to prepare), or the group that scored on its opening possession against the Colts and never found paydirt again? I think most of Chiefs Kingdom wants to believe that Sunday’s woeful performance against the Colts was an anomaly. Coming into the week, the Chiefs had scored at least 28 points in four straight games. The offense appeared to finally have found rhythm.

Of course, that was before the 21:40 Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense possessed the football on Sunday. Save 1:48 of the first offensive series, they were incorrigible. The offensive line was a sieve (surrendering four sacks on the day). The rest of the offense was no more reliable. Kansas City turned the ball over four times. Alex Smith was responsible for three of them (with two interceptions and a lost fumble). If all that futility weren’t enough, the Chiefs only converted 1 of 8 third down plays. Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong on Sunday afternoon.

Alex Smith

Sunday’s loss was disappointing, but there’s a chance it’s not quite as telling as the talking heads would have you to believe. It seems that every NFL team has at least one week per NFL season where they look completely unprepared to play. Ask the Indianapolis Colts. They were a total dud at Lucas Oil Stadium six weeks ago when they were smoked, to the tune of 30 points, by a St. Louis Rams team that was 3-6 at the time. Make no mistake, the Colts played a good football game. They had control for about 58 minutes of the contest, but it was also clear the Chiefs didn’t have their best that day.

While we’re here, let me quickly dispose of this idea that head coach Andy Reid was playing possum with the Colts. I’ve heard this bandied about the watercooler for the past few days and it’s become a rock in my shoe. First off, it’s absurd. Shrinking the playbook, and subsequently your offensive options, so you won’t tip your hand in a more important matchup in the future is asinine.

There’s a good chance Kansas City travels to Cincinnati in the opening round of the playoffs. Both Indianapolis and Cincinnati are 10-5. Cincy has the edge for the #3 seed in the AFC, but that could change come Sunday. The Colts play the lowly Jaguars in Week 17. Cincinnati is set to face the Baltimore Ravens. If Indy wins and Cincy loses they’ll swap spots and the Chiefs will be traveling to the Buckeye State.

There’s nothing to be gained from losing games down the stretch. Teams that make a run in the postseason typically end the regular season with strong performances. Playing it close to the vest to conceal the super secret plays at the back of your offensive playbook comes with far more risk than reward. I can assure you that’s not what happened on Sunday.

The Chiefs were beaten by a better football team (at least in Week 16). Even if Reid’s recipe called for vanilla, it wouldn’t explain away what we saw on Sunday. Conservative scheming and playcalling wouldn’t produce problems with ball security and pass protection. That’s simply a lack of execution on the field.

There’s been talk about Kansas City resting their starters in the Week 17 game with San Diego. After playing their worst game of the season though, I think that’s a horrible idea. This is a statement game for the Chiefs. They need to rinse their mouths out on Sunday and quash the Chargers’ playoff hopes. Two, possibly three, road trips stand between the Chiefs and the Big Apple. Now is as good a time as any to prove they can win a high-stakes game, on the road, against a quality opponent.

To win, Kansas City will need a much better defensive effort. They surrendered 41 points to San Diego in the first game of the series. Safety Eric Berry was the only player to get to Philip Rivers. Needless to say, the Chiefs will need to pressure him to keep him from carving them up again. Safety play was putrid in the last meeting. Quintin Demps and Kendrick Lewis were routinely out of position that day. Short passes turned into long gains and we all remember how Seyi Ajirotutu got behind Demps for the game-winning touchdown.

Offensively, the Chiefs need to have another strong performance on the ground. Jamaal Charles went for 115 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns in Game 1 of the series. Alex Smith had an impressive three touchdown day, but his interception in Chiefs’ territory was costly. San Diego immediately turned the pick into 7 points. That swung momentum back in San Diego’s direction. Kansas City had been leading by four at the time of the turnover.

A win on Sunday would give the Chiefs some momentum heading into the opening round of the playoffs. A loss would shake the confidence of this football team and leave serious doubts about their ability to avoid another one-and-done playoff campaign. I suspect Andy Reid will have this team ready to play. The Chiefs have had to rebound from adversity once this season. In a few days, we’ll know if they can do it again.

Can the Chiefs redeem themselves against the Chargers and dash their postseason ambitions? Can they get back on track and build some confidence for a playoff run? Use the comment section below to post your answers. As always, we appreciate your readership and support.

Have a very Merry Christmas, Addicts! We’ll square up again this time next week!

Follow me on Twitter: @emceereach

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