Kansas City, Mo. The dilemma that faces Chiefs coach Andy Reid this week is not an unfamiliar one. In fact, several times during his 14-year tenure in Philadelphia he faced a similar situation.
Play his starters or sit them? Rest or let them roll?
Kansas City is assured of the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs, which means it will head on the road for a wild-card game in two weeks. That also means the Chiefs are playing a game Sunday at San Diego that is virtually meaningless for them, at least in terms of seeding and matchups.
If history is any indication, get ready to see Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles spend a whole lot of time on the sideline. Same with the Chiefs’ other key players.
“If you look at the history of it, it’s about a 50-50 shot over the last three or four years of people who have done it,” Reid said Monday. “It’s what you’re most comfortable with as a coach.
“The obvious benefit is you rest your guys,” Reid explained. “You kind of get back a little fresher than what they were at the end of the season. You take a risk of the timing part of it. So those are the things that you have to evaluate.”
While the game doesn’t matter much for Kansas City, it means a lot for the Chargers. San Diego can still slip into the playoffs with a victory and losses by the Dolphins and Ravens.
“The Chargers won’t play like it’s an exhibition game,” Chiefs offensive guard Geoff Schwartz said. “I promise you we’ll be ready to play.”
With whoever might be on the field in San Diego.
“Man, I don’t have nothing to do with it,” Charles said when asked whether he wants to play or rest. “We still want to win. We’ve got one more game to play before the playoffs.”
Another factor for Reid to consider is players who’ve been injured.
While it’s unlikely that linebacker Tamba Hali will play after he experienced swelling in his knee in a 23-7 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday, two other players — left tackle Branden Albert and linebacker Justin Houston — could be ready to go for the first time in weeks.
Might it be a good idea to get them into the game to knock off some rust?
“I’ll try to look at everything,” Reid said. “I always try to look at everything, evaluate it and try to come up with what is right for this team.”
Reid may claim that he’s done it “both ways,” playing guys and resting them, but a look at his time in Philadelphia reveals that on four occasions when the Eagles had nothing to gain before the playoffs — a better seed, home-field advantage — their big names mostly took a seat.
The final week of the 2001 season, the Eagles had clinched the NFC East and were assured of playing Tampa Bay the following week. Seven regulars were inactive, five others didn’t start, and quarterback Donovan McNabb appeared for two plays.
Philadelphia wound up reaching the NFC championship game, losing at St. Louis.
Three years later, the Eagles started 13-1 and had nothing to play for the final two weeks of the season. Reid had the starters play just one series in a Monday night loss to the Rams and had most of them take off the finale, a 38-10 rout by Cincinnati.
The Eagles sure didn’t look rusty in reaching the Super Bowl, where they lost to New England.
On the final weekend of 2006, the Eagles clinched the NFC East a few minutes into their game against Atlanta when Dallas lost to Detroit. Reid promptly pulled most of his starters to keep them healthy for a first-round matchup against the Giants.
The Eagles beat New York before losing in the divisional round at New Orleans.
Prior to his final trip to the playoffs with Philadelphia, Reid again rested most of his big names in Week 17 against Dallas, and said afterward “it was the right thing for us to do.”
Green Bay beat the Eagles the following week in a wild-card game.
“I appreciate you doing your homework. I do,” Reid said, smiling. “The one thing I did then and I’ll do now is take the time I have to evaluate it, and make sure I do what I think is right. This is one of those decisions you make, it’s a bit of a gut feeling you go with.”