Kansas City, Mo. Breaking with time-honored coaching convention, Dick Vermeil has dared to stop playing them one game at a time.
The boss of the Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) not only is looking beyond today's match with New England. He's openly discussing the importance of every game the playoff-hopeful Chiefs have left on a tough and bruising schedule.
"Our challenges over the next six weeks are a complete package with variations of strengths and almost no weaknesses, starting with New England on Sunday," Vermeil said. "In our minds, we have to approach every single game that we play from here on out as a playoff game. Try to create that same kind of focus and preparation, that same kind of pressure that exists when you're playing a playoff game."
The Chiefs will play host to a New England team which also is 6-4, but is sitting atop the AFC East. The Chiefs' 6-4 record is good only for a second-place tie in the AFC West, 21â2 games behind Denver. The Chiefs' final five games will be against the Broncos, Cowboys, Giants, Chargers and Bengals.
With the home advantage and a young running back, Larry Johnson, who rushed for a franchise-record 211 yards last week at Houston, the Chiefs are three-point favorites over a Patriots team which has spent the past nine months in transition and tumult. Both coordinators left for other jobs, and linebacker Tedy Bruschi had to recover from a stroke before getting back on the field.
In addition, coach Bill Belichick excused himself from the team during the week for the funeral of his father, who died Nov. 19.
Nevertheless, signs are popping up that the Patriots finally may be coming together.
Beating New Orleans, 24-17, last week gave the two-time defending Super Bowl champions their first two-game winning streak of the year.
Defensively, the Pats were able to field the same 11 starters in back-to-back games for the first time all season.
There's hope the defense finally is coming around. A year ago, New England allowed 15 points or fewer in eight regular-season games. So far this season, everybody the Pats have played have scored at least 16.
"The more you win, the more confident you are, but winning two in a row wasn't our goal," linebacker Don Davis said. "Our goal is obviously to continue winning. We're used to winning a lot around here, and that hasn't happened in a while."