Keeping focus on Falcons not a problem, Chiefs insist
Home-field advantage in the playoffs is a select prize this season after the NFL amended its playoff structure so seven teams from each conference qualify and only the top seed draws a first-round bye.
The Kansas City Chiefs (13-1) are in prime position to earn the weekend off in the AFC. Nonetheless, the reigning Super Bowl champions are reluctant to acknowledge their superiority entering a home game Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons (4-10).
“Never bank on others; get your guys ready to go,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who insisted he would not study playoff scenarios to shape alternative lineup plans.
“If you go there,” he added, “then you get your tail kicked. I don’t allow myself to go in that direction. We’ve got to maximize ourselves against a team that’s playing hard. These games that they’ve lost, over half of them have gone into the fourth quarter.”
By beating or tying the Falcons, the Chiefs can clinch the top seed in the AFC playoffs and with it, a first-round bye and home-field advantage. Other scenarios could assure the Chiefs of the top spot, but they seem focused on variables they can control.
“If you keep winning games,” said quarterback Patrick Mahomes, “those things have a way of working out on their own.”
Kansas City’s dominance during a season marred by unprecedented challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic includes a nine-game winning streak and the announcement this week of seven Pro Bowl selections.
A 14th regular-season win would establish a franchise record.
Travis Kelce needs 60 yards receiving to break the NFL record for tight ends held by San Francisco’s George Kittle (1,377). Kelce also needs two receptions to become the first NFL tight end with 100 catches in back-to-back seasons.
The fact that each of Kansas City’s last six opponents have kept the outcome to a one-score margin could encourage Atlanta, which has seven losses by one score.
Discouraging, however, is that the Falcons are No. 31 in the NFL in passing yards allowed, especially going against a Chiefs team ranked first in average passing yards.
Mahomes has thrown for 36 touchdowns against five interceptions. He leads the NFL with 4,462 passing yards. The Falcons’ Matt Ryan is third (4,016).
Much of the attention thrust on the Falcons regards openings for a head coach and general manager. The team confirmed Wednesday that Raheem Morris will receive an interview. The interim coach said he looks at the totality of his job in that prism.
“Everything you do in these moments are interview-type moments,” Morris said.
Morris will use the last two games to look at running back Ito Smith, who moved ahead of Todd Gurley in the rotation.
Receiver Julio Jones continues to be slowed by a hamstring injury that kept him out the last two games. Other Atlanta starters who missed practice Wednesday were cornerback Darqueze Dennard (quad), center Alex Mack (concussion) and guard James Carpenter (groin).
Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle, hip) will miss the game for the Chiefs, though his injury is not as severe as initially thought. Tyreek Hill (hamstring) was withheld from Wednesday’s practice as a precaution. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens is in COVID-19 protocol but could play.
–Field Level Media