Just because the Chiefs cannot improve or diminish their playoff situation does not mean there are no key storylines to watch for.
On the surface, Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers seems meaningless. The Kansas City Chiefs are locked into the third seed, and the Chargers have been eliminated from the playoffs for weeks.
If you look beneath the surface though, there are some exciting things to watch for in week 18. Andy Reid will sit most of the starters, which means Chiefs Kingdom can get their eyes on some of the youngsters who have not gotten much playing time this season.
This is valuable because the coaching staff can evaluate them without the context of a preseason game where they are going against other backups. You never know if you might need a backup or two to step up in the postseason either.
It also allows the Chiefs to give their guys much-needed rest. They are coming off a daunting six-week stretch where they received less rest than their opponent. They limped their way to the finish line, so it is wise to allow Reid to use his bye-week magic to prepare for the potential Wild Card round opponents and let the guys heal up. Reid already announced Patrick Mahomes will not play, but was unclear on other starters.
While the offense is ninth in offensive yards gained and 12th in points scored, there is no doubt they will have to play better and have fewer self-inflicted errors to advance deep into the playoffs. So, there is a valid argument to be made to play the starters to get into a better rhythm, but it is simply not worth the risk of key players getting injured.
Sunday should be a day of relaxation for fans to see where the rest of the chips fall across the NFL. One of the Dolphins, Bills, Colts, Texans or Steelers will be headed to Arrowhead in round one. That will be entertaining to see how it shakes out in itself, but here are 10 exciting things to watch for in the so-called meaningless game. Let’s break it down by position.
1. Get Blaine Gabbert tuned up
The fact of the matter is that in all three Super Bowl runs, Kansas City has had to utilize a backup quarterback. Once it was Matt Moore and twice it was Chad Henne. Patrick Mahomes has stayed healthy this year and let's hope that stays true, but getting Gabbert some snaps one week away from the playoffs can be nothing but a good thing.
There was no point in risking injury for Mahomes and Gabbert has not started a live NFL game since 2018 for the Tennessee Titans. Winning is contagious and great for team energy, so while it is not the end of the world to lose against the Chargers, Gabbert playing winning football on Sunday is a great thing. Let’s hope Gabbert finds his timing with the receivers knowing they can play freely.
2. Get a read on Deneric Prince
There was no shortage of Deneric Prince hype in the beginning stages of training camp. After a few pre-season hiccups, the Chiefs decided to roll with three running backs on the depth chart. Fast forward to week 18 and Prince has been active twice, logging 15 special teams snaps and zero offensive snaps.
Listed at six-foot, 216 pounds and being lauded for his knack for catching the football last summer, the Chiefs could use him next year with the pending departures of Jerick McKinnon and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Assuming Isiah Pacheco and Edwards-Helaire do not play, Prince will have an opportunity here in week 18 to show his stuff.
We will have to wait and see how much they utilize him over guys like LaMical Perine and Keaontay Ingram. Perine is currently the only one on the active roster and the other two would require a practice squad call-up. The toughest decision here is if Pacheco is pushing to play, as he is 65 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season.