The Patriots lost the first-round bye and any real playoff advantage due to a late season collapse in 2019.
At this point, the Kansas City Chiefs would do well to pause and think back one calendar year. It was just over 12 months ago that the New England Patriots sat in this very same position—a winning team with a lot of momentum in control of their own postseason destiny, at least in enough control to dictate whether or not they would get to rest for a week before continuing their journey into January.
Instead, Fitzmagic entered the picture and the Chiefs lucked out.
In case you don’t remember, let’s refresh for a second. Last year, the Patriots were the cream of the crop in the AFC heading into the month of December at 10-1. Then came the slow decline. The Baltimore Ravens skated past them for the top seed in the AFC thanks to an early loss to the Houston Texans, and the Kansas City Chiefs beat them the following week. Suddenly, the Pats had a two-game losing streak late in the year and their grip on a first-round bye was slipping.
The Pats rebounded by beating the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills in successive weeks, and all they needed to do to close out the season and earn a week off was to roll over the Miami Dolphins again—a team they already beat 43-0 earlier in the year. Yes, that reads forty-three to nothing. Yes, that was at Miami.
From there, you can guess what happened if you somehow cannot recall. The Dolphins shocked the Patriots, 27-24, with a last-minute touchdown pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick (hence the Fitzmagic) to tight end Mike Gesicki (who looked great this season against K.C., by the way). Just like that, the Chiefs earned a week off, the Patriots slipped in the rankings, and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were suddenly bound for a Wild Card matchup against the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans game in the postseason’s opening round would be the final game with the Patriots for Brady. The Pats were one-and-done.
Fast forward to this season and the Chiefs are now in full control of their own first-round bye. There’s only one team who will get to enjoy such a well-timed rest this season, given NFL rule changes, and the Chiefs have a nice grip on the spot. That said, the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers are technically still in play and it only takes a brief look back to remember what it feels like to be a hopeful fan base that everything will happen in just the right way to make it happen. The Chiefs wanted a parade for Fitzpatrick last year for that very reason.
The Chiefs have the Atlanta Falcons and the L.A. Chargers on the docket in front of them, two teams who are likely going to hire brand new head coaches for next season. The Chiefs will be favored in both contests, and it should be two relatively easy wins. But NFL history is ripe with Patriot-like collapses, of teams surprising at season’s end. The NFL year is a long one for reasons just like this, and Andy Reid speaks again and again about the difficulties of sustained success.
The Chargers already gave the Chiefs an overtime scare back in the season’s first month, and Justin Herbert looks like a legitimate franchise quarterback. The Bolts are always going to be a challenge, especially if they know they can play the role of spoiler. The same can be said of the Falcons, who have all the parts to put up 30 points on anyone, and a late-season showing could help players and interim coach Raheem Morris some good fortune (literal and figurative) heading into a new offseason.
The Chiefs should be coached for this because they just lived through it. Last year they were on the other side. This year they simply need to keep focused on the task at hand. A first-round bye would go a long way at this point to help them run it back. Hopefully there are no late season surprises in the AFC order of things—at least up top.