KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Absence makes the heart grow fonder, as the saying goes.
And fans attending Sunday’s game between the Chiefs and Buffalo Bills have reason to cheer after the Chiefs’ sluggish start to the season left many writing off the team.
Plenty has happened, however, since the Chiefs last played at Arrowhead Stadium more than a month ago to boost enthusiasm.
The Chiefs last true home game came on Oct. 25, which resulted in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers to snap a five-game losing streak. The Chiefs, then 2-5, now return to Arrowhead Stadium at 5-5 based on a four-game winning streak and hold the sixth playoff spot over the Bills (5-5).
Week 12’s matchup provides an electric postseason feel as both teams jockey for position. But Chiefs coach Andy Reid downplayed the intensity level, choosing instead to look at the big picture with six games remaining in the regular season.
“I think you put your focus into the whole process that takes place,” Reid said. “And you better be up in this league for every opponent that comes in, that’s how this thing is. I would tell you that that’s where we’re at. We’re focusing on trying to get ourselves better as a football team. We’re not there yet, so we’ve got plenty of room for things to work on.”
Reid’s response offers classic coach-speak, of course, because the stakes are certainly high Sunday.
A win against Buffalo virtually places the Chiefs in the driver’s seat for the playoffs when considering Kansas City would own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Bills, Steelers and Houston Texans.
Moreover, the Chiefs won’t face an opponent with a current winning record the rest of the way.
After Sunday’s game, the Chiefs have two games left against the Oakland Raiders (4-6), one on the road in Week 13 and home in Week 17; host the San Diego Chargers (2-8) in Week 14; hit the road for the Baltimore Ravens (3-7) in Week 15; and host the Cleveland Browns (2-8) in Week 16.
Meanwhile, the Bills will be plenty motived to keep their playoff dreams alive.
Buffalo also has a schedule to exploit with games against the Houston Texans (5-5), Philadelphia Eagles (4-7), Washington (4-6), Dallas Cowboys (3-8) and New York Jets (5-5).
Given the heavy postseason implications surrounding Sunday’s matchup, Bills coach Rex Ryan leaned to a more realistic scenario surrounding its importance.
“I think both teams are desperate to win this game because we know what it means,” Ryan said in a conference call with Chiefs beat writers. “Both teams are fighting to try to get into the playoffs, so we know it’s a critical game for both teams.”
Nevertheless, Reid will ensure the Chiefs are mentally prepared to not allow the moment become too big.
The Chiefs have displayed a steel resolve throughout the four-game winning streak to land in the playoff discussion. And a team full of veterans who never stopped believing certainly helped maintain focus despite the early losses.
“We’ve got a good locker room, which is the most important thing,” Reid said. “These guys, they like being around each other, they like to practice, they didn’t let that situation get them down. And the coaches did a good job with it.”
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith agreed, adding that part of the season provided an opportunity to grow as a team.
“Those games, those tough games that were frustrating and painful to re-watch,” Smith said. “But as much as they were, I think guys learned from them and we just kept the focus on the football and the details of doing our job and they’ve slowly kind of made this thing slowly turn.
“And I think guys have kept the focus on that, especially these last few weeks and it’s kind of a credit to the guys in this locker room and the leadership we have on this team. Just keeping the focus on the right spots.”
The attention to detail Smith points to has the Chiefs in perfect position heading into Sunday.
More importantly, the Chiefs have re-awakened a fan base anticipating the return of one of the hottest teams in the NFL to Arrowhead Stadium.
“We know that it will be electric in there,” Reid said.
TALE OF THE TAPE
• The Chiefs rank 9th in rushing (120.9 yards per game) and 24th in passing (224.2 yards per game).
• The Bills rank fifth in rushing (137.5 yards per game) and 29th in passing (202.8 yards per game).
• The Chiefs rank fourth against the run (92.6 yards allowed per game) and 14th against the pass (234.8 yards allowed per game).
• The Bills rank 10th against the run (96.4 yards allowed per game) and 22nd against the pass (253.8 yards allowed per game).
THE LAST TIME
Week 12’s matchup marks the eighth straight season the Chiefs and Bills face each other. The Chiefs have won the past two meetings and three of the past five.
Sunday also marks the 44th time the Chiefs and Bills will square off in franchise history. The Bills lead the all-time series, 23-19-1.
The Chiefs are 7-6 against Buffalo at Arrowhead Stadium, the last time a 23-20 overtime win in Week 8 of the 2010 season.
• Bills running back LeSean McCoy entered the NFL in 2009 as a second-round pick with then-Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid.
• Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton served as senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach (2009-11) and assistant head coach/linebackers coach (2012) with then-New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan (2009-14).
• Chiefs assistant linebackers coach Mark DeLeone served as a defensive quality control coach with Sutton and Ryan in 2012.
• Chiefs linebacker Josh Mauga (2009-13) and defensive end Mike DeVito (2007-12) played for the Jets while Ryan served as the head coach.
Chiefs defensive lineman Jaye Howard on the white-on-white and red socks uniform the past two road games:
“Man, it just brings swag when you see that.”
Chiefs coach Andy Reid on the recommendation to go with the white-on-white and red socks uniform:
“I’ll guarantee it didn’t come from the chubby guys, that part I’ll guarantee you.”
Bills coach Rex Ryan on rookie cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Ronald Darby, both of whom are in the discussion for Rookie Defensive Player of the Year:
“These are the two best corners in the draft.”