The Road To Glory: Part XI

Kansas City Chiefs 26, Los Angeles Rams 10

Kansas City Chiefs/Sam Lutz

After the game head coach Andy Reid told his team in the locker room, “Those are tough ones.” It’s a funny thing to mention given that the Chiefs were massive 15.5-point favorites, but then again that’s exactly why he said it. Every player who suited up for Kansas City knew they were playing a third-string quarterback making his first career start; every player knew the Rams were without their two best wide receivers; sometimes it’s the easy assignments that are most often overlooked.

In the past I’ve made this analogy to dealing craps. Specifically, the times I most frequently make mistakes are when it’s slow and I have like one or two players on my side of the table, and I’ll forget to pay a stupid field bet. Or I’m screwing off talking about football and I’ll forget to pay the $12 six that’s right in front of me. “Oh, I’m supposed to pay you?” I’ll joke, or “This is how we keep the lights on in here,” I’ll say. It’s whatever.

But the times I never fuck up — or at least very rarely — are when the game is absolutely slammed. I’ll have eight players on my side. From the outside it’s a shitshow. After each roll players will implore me to press their bets while simultaneously I’m booking center action with the stick person. In the busiest, most chaotic moments, everything slows down for me. Mentally I go through the order of operations: take (or pay) the field, down behind, in behind, comes travel, pay the place bets. Inside hand, outside hand. Focus. Breathe. On to the next roll.

There’s a human element to football just as there is with craps. Games against bottom feeders like the Rams are the same thing as dealing to a player or two, and matchups like next week on the road against the Bengals are the big ones. I love dealing busy games because it allows me a chance to show people who I really am, what I’m truly made of.

Luckily for me, as a Chiefs fan, the big games are where Kansas City tends to show the world what they are really about. As I have written throughout this season, the Chiefs have a weird knack for playing down to their competition. The Rams game was nothing special. It wasn’t one of those sexy fantasy football performances by Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce. It was a game they expected to win, that they knew they would win. So they did the bare minimum. And they won (and covered the spread).

Against Cincinnati, just “good enough” won’t be. The Chiefs entered the week as 3-point favorites, but I imagine the spread will pingpong between -3 and -2.5 all week. In some way I think the Bengals are an even harder matchup for Kansas City than juggernauts like Buffalo, because Joe Burrow is fucking excellent and they have multiple playmakers on the outside that are going to put a ton of pressure on a youthful secondary. Unless Mahomes and the offense plan on putting up like 40 points — which they very well may do given how Cincy beat the Chiefs twice last season — the most realistic way for Kansas City to come out of this with a win will be by virtue of Chris Jones and the defensive line wrecking the game.

For different reasons both teams need this game like blood. The Bengals are 7-4, tied for first place in the AFC North with the Baltimore Ravens (who currently own the tiebreaker because they defeated Cincy 19-17 earlier in the year), but on top of having to play Kansas City this weekend they still have games against Buffalo (8-3), Tampa Bay (5-6) and New England (6-5) on the road, as well as what could be a winner-take-all affair against the aforementioned Ravens (7-4) to end the season. It’s about as hard a schedule as exists in the NFL.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, have essentially already wrapped up the AFC West. They could lose this game and still cruise to a seventh consecutive division title. Their problem is they are looking to capture the #1 seed in the AFC. To accomplish that they will need to finish the regular season a game better than the Bills — who beat Kansas City 24-20 earlier in the year and sit just one game back in the standings.

A win against the Bengals — who are objectively the most difficult matchup remaining on the Chiefs schedule — will make Kansas City runaway favorites to earn the coveted first round bye in the postseason. After all, following this Sunday’s contest are two games against the Broncos (3-8), games against Seattle (6-5) and Houston (1-9-1) and the season finale in Las Vegas (4-7) in a game that has a good chance of not meaning anything at all.

Anyway, it’s all here. It’s out there for the taking. Last season it was the Cincinnati Bengals who knocked off the Chiefs 34-31 in Week 17 and dropped them from the number one seed in the AFC. A few weeks later, it was the Bengals who went on the road and executed a historic comeback to win the AFC Championship 27-24 in overtime. Of all teams, it was the Bengals who managed to beat Patrick Mahomes twice in the same season.

Don’t quote me on this one, but I have a feeling like Kansas City is going to remember that. After playing a team like the Rams, where it didn’t require maximum effort to get a win, I imagine the Chiefs are going to have a particularly focused week of practice and I’m betting that they bring their good stuff into Cincy this weekend. I never put anything past Joe Burrow, and their playmakers are going to scare the shit out of me for 60 minutes.

But if I’ve learned anything about the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes over these glorious last five years, it’s that they seemingly always respond to the challenge. They might not always show up for the games that don’t matter, but with payback on their mind, a chance to knock the Bengals into the limbo of the AFC playoff picture, and the top seed in their sights, I am going into Week 13 with confidence that Kansas City will get the job done.