WASHINGTON — Just as everyone expected: One team is on the cusp of the playoffs, and the other is sinking like a stone.
Except that the roles are reversed. It’s the Kansas City Chiefs who can clinch a postseason berth, and it’s the Washington Redskins who are mired in last place as the teams meet today.
The Chiefs (9-3) haven’t been hitting on all cylinders lately — they’ve dropped three straight after winning their first nine — but they will secure their spot in the January NFL schedule with a win and a loss by either the Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens.
“I know we’ve lost three in a row,” Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith said. “But you kind of flush that stuff behind you. You really have to look at it that we’re 9-3, we have a chance to win and a chance to qualify for a playoff spot. We’ve got a chance to go on the road, win a game and punch our ticket to the dance — that’s a huge opportunity. Not a lot of teams get to do that.”
Certainly not the Redskins (3-9), who have dropped four in a row and whose tumble from last season’s NFC East title has led to questions about head coach Mike Shanahan’s future.
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid knows what that’s like. He was run out of Philadelphia after a 4-12 season last year and has enjoyed a renaissance in Kansas City. He’s done well against familiar faces: a win today will give him a 4-0 record this season against his old division.
More to the point, after two losses in three weeks against the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs are getting a chance to do what they did so well early in the season — beat a weak opponent.
“We’re not at a panic mode yet,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. “But the sense of urgency is there.”
Here are five things to watch as Washington tries to defeat Kansas City for the first time since 1983:
THOSE 8.4 YARDS MEAN A LOT — The Chiefs’ average drive starts at their 31.9-yard line, making them tops in the NFL in field position. The Redskins are the worst, starting at the 23.5. Several factors are involved — Kansas City doesn’t turn over the ball very much, and Washington’s special teams have been incredibly bad — but the bottom line is that those handful of yards make a significant difference over the course of a game.
“I think it can definitely be underappreciated,” Smith said. “You can look at it over the course of the history of football. Your chances of scoring points increase dramatically based on your starting field position. It’s a huge factor.”
CONTAINING RG3 — Defenses have mostly figured out how to tame Robert Griffin III, but the Washington Redskins’ multi-threat quarterback still requires lots of extra homework. He rushed for a season-high 88 yards in last week’s loss to the New York Giants.
“RG3, any quarterback who can run, you get less sleep,” Johnson said. “You take away one thing and they can do another thing. Their offense is still explosive, even though they haven’t had the amount of success they had last year. This offense, you give them some hope, they can get a lot of explosive plays.”
BRING HIM DOWN — As elusive as he is, Griffin has had trouble escaping pressure recently. He’s been sacked 19 times in the last four games. The Chiefs’ defense, by contrast, has managed only two sacks in its last five games, a major comedown after getting 35 in the first seven. Seems like this could be the week that the sacks return.
“You don’t want to take as many hits as I have this year,” Griffin said. “But you try to avoid them when you can. And when you can’t, you’ve just got to get up.”
UH, YOU GONNA GIVE THOSE GUYS THE BALL? — Jamaal Charles and Alfred Morris are Nos. 3 and 4 in the NFL in rushing, yet Charles didn’t touch the ball in the Chiefs’ final possession of the seven-point loss to the Broncos last week. Morris didn’t touch the ball in the fourth quarter of the Redskins’ seven-point loss to the Giants.
The Chiefs did drive deep into Broncos territory before failing on fourth down, so maybe they didn’t need Charles. And the Giants made stopping Morris the focus of their defense, so maybe the Redskins had no choice but to try other things. Still, both teams will want to figure out a way to get a top playmaker involved if the game is tight.
TEMPER, TEMPER —Their frustration growing with each loss, the Redskins were whistled for three dead-ball penalties in the second half last week. Two players were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Pierre Garcon was hit for delay of game for kicking the ball after an incomplete pass. Shanahan has since told the players they need to maintain their composure.
“I can guarantee you that will never happen again with Pierre,” Shanahan said. “I don’t think I need to go much further than that.”
NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE
Kansas City Chiefs (9-3)
at Washington Redskins (3-9)
OPENING LINE — Chiefs by 3
RECORD VS. SPREAD — Kansas City 6-6, Washington 3-9
SERIES RECORD — Chiefs lead 7-1
LAST MEETING — Chiefs beat Redskins 14-6, Nov. 18, 2009
LAST WEEK — Chiefs lost to Broncos 35-28; Redskins lost to Giants 24-17
AP PRO32 RANKING — Chiefs No. 7, Redskins No. 31
CHIEFS OFFENSE — OVERALL (16), RUSH (11), PASS (24)
CHIEFS DEFENSE — OVERALL (21), RUSH (21), PASS (21)
REDSKINS OFFENSE — OVERALL (7), RUSH (1), PASS (16)
REDSKINS DEFENSE — OVERALL (23), RUSH (14), PASS (27)
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Chiefs clinch playoff spot with win and loss by Dolphins or Ravens. ... Kansas City is first team in NFL history to win first nine games and then lose next three. ... Chiefs’ defense allowed 208.3 yards passing, 326.9 total yards and 13.3 points per game during nine-game win streak. Given up 371 yards passing, 484.3 total yards and 34.3 points per game during three-game skid. Defense also has just two sacks in last five games after 35 sacks in first seven. ... Chiefs’ plus-14 turnover differential is best in NFL, and their 12 giveaways are league’s fewest. ... Kansas City leads league with eight “miscellaneous TDs” (four interception returns, two fumble returns, one punt return, one kickoff return). ... Former Eagles coach Andy Reid goes for four-game sweep vs. old division, having already beaten Giants, Eagles and Cowboys this year. ... Teams convert NFL-low 16 percent of third-and-longs (6-plus yards) vs. Chiefs. ... Kansas City RB Jamaal Charles leads NFL in first downs with 83 (58 rushing, 25 receiving). ... Chiefs have outscored opponents 94-44 in fourth quarter. ... Game matches teams with NFL’s best and worst field position. Chiefs’ average drive starts at 31.9-yard line; Redskins at 23.5. ... Kansas City has started league-high 24 drives in opponents’ territory, Washington a league-low six (tied with Falcons). Conversely, opponents have started only five drives in Chiefs territory (tied with Chargers for fewest), while opponents have started 24 on the Redskins’ side of the 50 (tied for second most). ... Chiefs lead NFL in kickoff return average (28.3). ... Redskins have lost four straight. ... Washington QB Robert Griffin III rushed for season-high 88 yards last week, has yet to run for TD in 2013 after rushing for seven in 2012. ... Redskins RB Alfred Morris needs 4 yards to reach 1,000. ... Washington WR Pierre Garcon leads NFC with 84 catches. ... Redskins lead NFL in yards rushing (150.4 per game) and yards per rushing attempt (5.0). They also have 15 running plays of 20-plus yards, tied for tops in NFL. ... Washington offense has 28 drives of 10-plus plays, also tied for first. ... Redskins allowing 30.2 points per game, second worst in NFL. ... Opposing QBs have league-high 117.5 passer rating on first down vs. Washington’s defense. ... Redskins have been outscored 88-37 in first quarter.