KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Alex Smith has known all along that he was going to report to the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice facility Monday, and he knew pretty much down to the minute what the rest of the day would entail.
He didn’t know his plans for the rest of the week until Sunday.
In the span of four sweet hours, Smith went from potentially spending the entire week getting ready for a road playoff game to having the rest of it off.
Coach Andy Reid said Monday he was releasing his players following their normal weekly meetings, a reward for their victory over San Diego that, coupled with Oakland’s loss at Denver, gave them the AFC West title and a much-needed first-round bye.
“For us, it was such a big swing,” Smith said. “That’s kind of a credit to our division, I think, of how well they’ve been playing. Yeah, we took care of our end and obviously got some help from Denver, so it was pretty sweet when we saw the score there at the end.”
It is difficult to understate how important earning a bye was for the Chiefs.
Start with the health factor: Kansas City limped into the playoffs a year ago with a litany of injuries and, while they didn’t matter in a road victory over Houston, they did in a loss to New England the next week.
Now, the Chiefs (12-4) have a chance to give star pass rusher Justin Houston, who has missed the past two games with knee inflammation, another week to get healthy.
Running back Spencer Ware has another week to rest his bruised ribs. And safety Eric Berry has a week to rest a heel injury from the win over San Diego.
Even Reid, who rarely uses injuries as an excuse, discussed the importance of health on Monday.
“Listen, I was good with last year’s team. I thought we stood a chance. We were banged-up a little bit going in, we didn’t have everybody, and you’d like to have seen it,” he said, “but you don’t make excuses for it. We’re probably a little bit more healthy this year than we were last year.”
The week off also gives the Chiefs more time to prepare for their divisional opponent in a game that will be played at Arrowhead Stadium.
And while they won’t know who that will be until this weekend, Reid said that longtime assistant Tommy Brasher has already compiled scouting reports on each possibility.
Besides, the Chiefs have already faced all the potential opponents this season.
Then there is Reid’s almost unassailable mark after a week off. He is 16-2 in the regular season after a bye, including a road win over Oakland this season, and was perfect in three divisional games in Philadelphia when his team earned a first-round playoff bye.
One of those seasons ended with the Eagles playing in the Super Bowl.
“I mean, every team is crazy different, it’s just — I don’t know. Every situation in this league is different, every game is different,” he said.
“I know the bye normally doesn’t hurt you. It’s normally a good thing to have if you handle it the right way. The players, I have enough trust in them to handle it the right way. The coaches will handle it the right way. And when we get back, we’ll handle the week the right way.”
It’s not just the players that are getting some time off this week, either.
Thanks to Brasher working ahead, Reid said he’s giving his coaching staff a few extra days to spend with their families.
They will reconvene later in the week to begin putting together game plans, and then watch the wild-card round unfold to see who they will face on Jan. 15 at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Last year we felt like we left a lot of that on the field, not being able to secure the division and taking the wild-card route, which is tough,” Chiefs safety Daniel Sorensen said.
“So that was our focus this year. We wanted to win the division. We wanted to get that first-round bye.
“We play really, really well in front of our fans and at home,” he added. “We want to bring opponents into our place and have the advantage and set us up for the next step of going to the Super Bowl.”