KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A team gets off to a slow start, goes into a midseason bye week with momentum, and then finishes strong in the second half to make the playoffs.
Sounds like a theme for the Chiefs, of course, but that scenario also applies to the Chiefs’ opponent Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs at NRG Stadium – the Houston Texans.
“They started off rough, we started off rough,” Chiefs offensive lineman Donald Stephenson said. “Here we are again.”
The parallels are eerie.
Houston was 2-5 before getting a much-needed win in Week 8 over the Tennessee Titans heading into its Week 9 bye at 3-5.
The Texans then went 6-2 after the bye and overtook the Indianapolis Colts to win the AFC South at 9-7 and clinch the fourth seed in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs defeated the Texans, 27-20, at NRG Stadium in Week 1 before losing five straight games and were 1-5 after Week 6.
Kansas City gained steam with a two-game winning streak entering a Week 9 bye at 3-5, and then closed out the season with eight straight wins to finish at 11-5 and securing the fifth seed in the playoffs.
“It’s a beautiful thing, really,” Stephenson said. “Two teams crawling out of the hole, fighting our way back. Everybody basically turned their backs on us, told us we weren’t good enough to make the playoffs. It’s going to be a pretty nice matchup.”
Chiefs long snapper James Winchester agreed with Stephenson.
“There are similarities in the teams,” Winchester said. “Both teams are in the playoffs, started off slow, but props to them as well. It was pretty fun to meet them the first game and first in the playoffs. It’s kind of like déjà vu going back to Houston.”
Another common factor between the two teams surrounded the timing of the bye week.
“I think winning going into your bye is really important, especially when your bye comes in the middle of the season like it did for us,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said in a conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “If you can have a good feeling as you go into that, basically 10 days off or whatever it is, I think that helps us.”
The Texans exploded out of the bye week to win three straight games, including a signature win in Week 10 against the then-undefeated Cincinnati Bengals on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
“That was a big game for us,” O’Brien said. “That was a Monday night game and they’re a really good team, obviously. Well coached. Our guys fought hard that night.”
For Kansas City, the bye week arrived on the heels of an overseas game in London where the Chiefs dismantled the Detroit Lions, 45-10.
But the work wasn’t over because of the blowout score.
The Chiefs returned home knowing there was more to accomplish and used the bye week to refocus.
“During that week, we kind of regrouped and got back to the basics, fundamentals, the small things that people don’t really pay attention to in football, getting back to what we do best,” Stephenson said. “In those first weeks, we kind of deciphered what kind of team we are. What plays work, what plays don’t. I’m pretty sure the coaches got together and figured out a lot of things that week, too. The bye week helps, that had something to do with it.”
The Chiefs also had a signature win in Week 10 by defeating the Denver Broncos to snap a seven-game slide to the AFC West rival.
Along the way, the Chiefs made history with a franchise-record 10 straight wins and became the second team in NFL history to make the playoffs after a 1-5 start.
The momentum gained in the second half heading into the playoffs for the Texans and Chiefs can’t be overlooked.
“I think there’s something to that, you come in with a certain confidence, that’s important,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “They’ve got the same thing going; we’ve got the same thing going. It should be a heck of a game.”