Momentum is building at Arrowhead. If the Chiefs perfect home record and first division title since 2003 weren’t evidence enough, the line of Jackson County residents wrapping the west wall of Arrowhead’s exterior Monday afternoon provided another glimpse. Some fans showed up as early as 5:00 AM, battling single-digit temperatures, to get their hands on Kansas City’s hottest ticket.
Playoff tickets are going fast and opinions on Kansas City’s potential Wild Card opponent are dominating local sports circles, but there’s still work to be done in the final week of the regular season.
Home field mojo has been a deciding factor in the AFC West crown returning to Kansas City. Home games have accounted for 70% of the Chiefs’ win total and continuing that wave of success is a priority as postseason football approaches.
“Other than our primary and ultimate goals, ultimate goal being to play in the biggest game and win it, is to be good at home and start to re-take advantage of this home field advantage that can be so great,” Haley said. “That’s been a huge part of us having some success this year.”
Now, Haley must weigh the pros and cons of fully playing the Chiefs veteran starters on Sunday. There are pros and cons to doing both.
The deciding factor could rest in Haley’s valuation of the 3rd seed in comparison to the 4th, or how strongly he believes a Week 17 loss has the potential to carry a lasting postseason effect. The Chiefs approach this week won’t differ. They’ll play to win. Haley just isn’t saying whether or not his starters will finish Sunday’s game in addition to starting it.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Haley said regarding substitution plans for Sunday. “We’re going to do what we think gives us the best chance to win. That’s where I’ll leave at for now.”
Plenty of playoff teams have chosen to rest their front-line players in Week 17. Those teams, as well as the league office, have taken heat for that choice as well. It’s one of the reasons the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell loaded this year’s schedule with late-season division games in an effort to help make the final week of the season more meaningful.
Historically, teams resting players have already clinched their playoff scenario (such as the 2009 Colts). The Chiefs, however, still have something to play for.
A bye isn’t a possibility with New England and the eventual AFC North Champion already having clinched the AFC’s respective #1 and #2 seeds. The Chiefs are locked into the 3rd or 4th seed with this Sunday’s results holding the deciding factor.
A win would guarantee the Chiefs the AFC’s 3rd overall seed, while a loss leaves Indianapolis with an opportunity to jump Kansas City.
Clinching the 3rd seed creates an extra week of separation from top-seeded New England and, theoretically, provides an easier Wild Card matchup against the 6th seed. Right now the 6th seed belongs to the N.Y. Jets, though Sunday’s results could change that. New York has lost three of its last four games.
“I think maybe some teams can look at games differently but I know with our group right now, with where we are in our development, we need to approach them the same way which is getting ready to win and putting everything into trying to figure out a way to get to three wins in this quarter,” Haley said.
Kansas City’s offense and defense appear to be clicking at the right time and confidence is looks to be at a seasonal high. Carrying that success through Week 17, against a bitter rival with the revenge factor in play, could make the Chiefs a tough out come playoff time.
The Chiefs also remain in the development stages of their program. The roster is infused with young talent and another game on the big stage presents another opportunity to improve. Haley’s preached a stair-step mentality of improvement to his team all season; not to mention his four-quarter approach.
More motivation lies in the fact that the Chiefs have already suffered a late-season scare following their 31-0 drilling in San Diego that opened the season’s final quarter.
“Considering the way this quarter started with a rough, rough game that everybody was really down and we were worried about a game like that dragging us down, but we were able to bounce back and we’ve played some good football so we need to continue that,” said Haley.
Damage control immediately followed that game and the Chiefs were able to rebound with back-to-back victories while keeping the surging Chargers at arm’s length. San Diego eventually ran out of gas in Cincinnati, helping the Chiefs clinch the division that KC had led since Opening Day.
“I think there are all different things that are motivation but the number one thing for us, our team and what we’re trying to get done, is to finish this quarter strongly at home, to keep that advantage in our favor,” Haley said.
Momentum is a strong factor this time of year. Week 17 isn’t just about seeding or rivalry; it’s about carrying a tidal wave of momentum that Arrowhead has built into the playoffs.
This week’s approach will mirror that of the previous 15 games in regards to preparation and game-planning. Players and coaches won’t take their foot of the gas pedal when it comes time to run out of the tunnel and elevate the New Arrowhead’s home record to a flawless 8-0.
There’s no questioning the Chiefs motivation or “Will” when it comes to kicking off against the Raiders. It’s just cloudy exactly how the Chiefs will handle their roster.