The Chiefs guaranteed their 2021 playoff spot in week 16 – when they claimed the AFC West crown for the sixth consecutive year. However, this is the first time that we’ll be seeing Patrick Mahomes play in a wildcard game after a turbulent season for Kansas City. So with more playoff doubt circling the Chiefs than ever before in the Mahomes era – how can this team reach the Big Dance for the third straight year?
Experience Matters in the Playoffs
It’s fair to say that the Chiefs have had success during Andy Reid’s nine years as their head coach. They’ve only missed the playoffs once, won their division for the past six years and the AFC title game has been played at Arrowhead for the past three seasons as well.
This head coach and quarterback duo knows how to win – especially in the playoffs. The Chiefs are 6-2 in the postseason since the 2018 season and are looking to grow that impressive record this year against their AFC opponents – who can’t boast the same success. Joe Burrow, Mac Jones, and Derek Carr have never started a playoff game before this year whilst Josh Allen and Ryan Tannehill both entered 2021 with a 2-2 playoff record. The Chiefs also beat the Titans and Bills in back-to-back AFC championship games. When it matters, Kansas City comes out on top more often than not.
The outlier to this is Big Ben Roethlisberger who boasts a 13-9 record in January and February – but the future Hall of Famer’s best days seem to be behind him now. And can Bill Belichick take this new look Patriots’ team the distance after his historic run with Tom Brady?
The toughest challenge for the Chiefs could end up being in the Super Bowl itself – with Dallas, Green Bay, Los Angeles, and Tampa Bay all posing considerable threats in their conference. But the Chiefs are 3-0 against NFC playoff teams this season, two of which have been mentioned above (the Packers and Cowboys).
Development over the Season
The start to the season wasn’t ideal for the Chiefs. After week seven they had a 3-4 record and were last place in the AFC West. The defense couldn’t get stops and the offense was turnover prone. Predictions for Kansas City to miss the playoffs were heard far and wide. But then they decided to go on an eight game winning streak which saw the team climb back to the top of the division and be one game away from the one seed.
This team has gotten better and better as the season has gone on. The offense seems to have figured out the struggles their opponent’s defenses were giving them early on. Two-high looks aren’t going to fool Mahomes’ unit anymore as they’ve stuck with the short yardage throws rather than trying to force the splash play which dominated their game plan at the start of the season.
Defensively they’ve turned a corner too – sliding Chris Jones back inside combined with the addition of Melvin Ingram has shown how Spagnuolo’s side of the ball can cause problems for opposing quarterbacks and offences in general. He’s also proven to be a coordinator who can learn from his mistakes. If he sees Cincinnati somewhere down the line he won’t be leaving Chase on an island like he did in week 17.
Patience is key
This goes for both sides of the ball. On offense the Chiefs have proven they can methodically move the ball down the field in the latter half of the season. Mahomes is taking what the defence gives him and their backfield is varied enough to play hard on the ground. If they can limit turnovers by not forcing the ball downfield or fumbling it away – this team can keep opposing quarterbacks on the sideline and sap the energy out of defences.
Speaking of defenses, Spagnuolo needs to force opposing offences into long yardage situations on second and third down and then use the blitz sparingly in these situations. In week 17 Ja’Marr Chase burned Chavarius Ward down the right sideline on 3rd & 27 setting up the game-winning field goal because the defense ran a zero blitz – leaving Ward one-on-one with the rookie receiver. The Chiefs needs to be more patience on these big downs and trust their strong four man pass rush to do its job whilst the secondary sits back.
The playoffs are never easy, but this Chiefs team has certainly had its fair of success over the last three years. Can they keep this going in 2021? If they do, this is how they get it done.