KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs take the field at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday with everything to play for while the visiting Raiders seeming have little to nothing on the line, but don't tell that to Oakland head coach Jon Gruden.
“It's our arch rivals, and we want to win just like everybody else,” Gruden said. “Just because we're not going to the playoffs doesn't mean we're going to go out there and pack it in. We want to win. We want to play hard. We've got guys playing for jobs and we got a strong desire to compete and a real will to win here.”
The Chiefs have two paths into the playoffs – the easy way and the hard way. A win over the Raiders clinches the AFC West for Kansas City along with home-field throughout the AFC playoffs. A loss, however, means the Chiefs need a combination of losses by the Los Angeles Chargers, New England Patriots and Houston Texans to avoid falling to the No. 5 seed and a road trip in the Wild Card playoff round.
Securing home-field advantage and ensuring the road to the Super Bowl runs through Arrowhead Stadium means much to quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“We want to make sure that we're staying here the rest of the way out,” Mahomes said. “We know that if we can come together and play like we know then we can then we can make a run at this thing.”
Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, however, doesn't want his team caught up worry about playoff scenarios. His message to his team: “ Let your personalities show and go play.” That's the most important thing, he says.
“If you get caught up in everything, that becomes an issue and then you’re not yourself,” Reid said. “When you focus in on the game plan, go through the process of getting ready and then you’re confident and you go play to the best of your ability. You allow yourself to do that by preparation.”
Mahomes took that message to heart, even during the Christmas holiday.
“I got to wake up at like six in the morning with my little sister there,” Mahomes said, “but then I came in for a couple of hours and got to watch the film and stuff like I would usually do on any other Tuesday.”
Trusting the same process that's worked for most of the first 15 games is important to the second-year quarterback.
“You set up the schedule for a reason,” Mahomes said. “You follow the schedule no matter if you’re tired one day or if you're energized as you ever are. You just stay on that same schedule, game plan, watch the film, practice, do the same things that you’ve been doing in order to have success.”
Four weeks ago the Chiefs beat the Raiders four weeks ago 40-33 in Oakland with Travis Kelce pacing the way with a career-high 12 catches, 168 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Conversely Tyreek Hill turned in one of the worst days of his young career, catching one pass for 13 yards. That result, however, wasn't good enough for Gruden.
“Statistics unfortunately don't tell half of the story the way I see it,” Gruden said. “We've got to do a lot better job on Hill and on Kelce and on their whole offense, because they scored 40 points and I think they left some out there.”
The Raiders enter the weekend 13 1/2-point underdogs to the Chiefs, but an upset would have monumental repercussions throughout the AFC playoff picture. A victory would hurt Oakland's position in next year's NFL draft, but Gruden prefers seeing his team finish the season on a winning note.
“We're going to field the best team we can possible field and we're going to play and prepare as hard as we can to win the game,” Gruden said. “I know it's going to be a daunting challenge with that crowd against that team, but we're going to compete the best we can.”