WASHINGTON (AP) — Just as everyone expected: One team is on the cusp of the playoffs, and the other is sinking like a stone.
Except that the roles are reversed. It's the Kansas City Chiefs who can clinch a postseason berth, and it's the Washington Redskins who are mired in last place as the teams meet Sunday.
The Chiefs (9-3) haven't been hitting on all cylinders lately — they've dropped three straight after winning their first nine — but they will secure their spot in the January NFL schedule with a win and a loss by either the Miami Dolphins or Baltimore Ravens.
"I know we've lost three in a row," Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith said. "But you kind of flush that stuff behind you. You really have to look at it that we're 9-3, we have a chance to win and a chance to qualify for a playoff spot. We've got a chance to go on the road, win a game and punch our ticket to the dance — that's a huge opportunity. Not a lot of teams get to do that."
Certainly not the Redskins (3-9), who have dropped four in a row and whose tumble from last season's NFC East title has led to questions about the coach Mike Shanahan's future.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid knows what that's like. He was run out of Philadelphia after a 4-12 season last year and has enjoyed a renaissance in Kansas City. He's done well against familiar faces: a win Sunday will give him a 4-0 record this season against his old division.
More to the point, after two losses in three weeks against the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs are getting a chance to do what they did so well early in the season — beat a weak opponent.
"We're not at a panic mode yet," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "But the sense of urgency is there."
Here are five things to watch as Washington tries to defeat Kansas City for the first time since 1983:
THOSE 8.4 YARDS MEAN A LOT: The Chiefs' average drive starts at their 31.9-yard line, making them tops in the NFL in field position. The Redskins are the worst, starting at the 23.5. Several factors are involved — Kansas City doesn't turn over the ball very much, and Washington's special teams have been incredibly bad — but the bottom line is that those handful of yards make a significant difference over the course of a game.
"I think it can definitely be underappreciated," Smith said. "You can look at it over the course of the history of football. Your chances of scoring points increase dramatically based on your starting field position. It's a huge factor."
CONTAINING RG3: Defenses have mostly figured out how to tame Robert Griffin III, but the Washington Redskins' multi-threat quarterback still requires lots of extra homework. He rushed for a season-high 88 yards in last week's loss to the New York Giants.
"RG3, any quarterback who can run, you get less sleep," Johnson said. "You take away one thing and they can do another thing. Their offense is still explosive, even though they haven't had the amount of success they had last year. This offense, you give them some hope, they can get a lot of explosive plays."
BRING HIM DOWN: As elusive as he is, Griffin has had trouble escaping pressure recently. He's been sacked 19 times in the last four games. The Chiefs' defense, by contrast, has managed only two sacks in its last five games, a major comedown after getting 35 in the first seven. Seems like this could be the week that the sacks return.
"You don't want to take as many hits as I have this year," Griffin said. "But you try to avoid them when you can. And when you can't, you've just got to get up."
UH, YOU GONNA GIVE THOSE GUYS THE BALL? Jamaal Charles and Alfred Morris are Nos. 3 and 4 in the NFL in rushing, yet Charles didn't touch the ball in the Chiefs' final possession of the seven-point loss to the Broncos last week. Morris didn't touch the ball in the fourth quarter of the Redskins' seven-point loss to the Giants.
The Chiefs did drive deep into Broncos territory before failing on fourth down, so maybe they didn't need Charles. And the Giants made stopping Morris the focus of their defense, so maybe the Redskins had no choice but to try other things. Still, both teams will want to figure out a way to get a top playmaker involved if the game is tight on Sunday.
TEMPER, TEMPER: Their frustration growing with each loss, the Redskins were whistled for three dead-ball penalties in the second half last week. Two players were flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and Pierre Garcon was hit for delay of game for kicking the ball after an incomplete pass. Shanahan has since told the players they need to maintain their composure.
"I can guarantee you that will never happen again with Pierre," Shanahan said. "I don't think I need to go much further than that."
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