KANSAS CITY — If ever an NFL game might seem meaningless, it’s Sunday’s regular-season finale between playoff-bound San Diego and the going-nowhere Kansas City Chiefs.
Nevertheless, there are several ways for each team to approach things, and Dick Vermeil can only guess what path the Chargers will take.
Will San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer decide to rest many of his regulars, protecting stars such as Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson from possible injury? The AFC West champions (11-4) cannot hurt their playoff position by losing to the Chiefs (7-8) or help it by beating them.
“I have no idea how Marty is going to do it,” Vermeil said Monday. “It’s up to the (discretion) of the coaching staff and their organizational game plan. Every coach tries to win within what he thinks is the most intelligent way to play his players.”
In 1999, after his St. Louis Rams had locked down home field throughout the NFC playoffs, Vermeil went to Philadelphia for a similarly meaningless regular-season finale and spent most of the day watching second-teamers perform.
“I took all the guys out after the first quarter, all the guys who had made a difference, Marshall Faulk, Kurt Warner, those kind of guys who can touch the ball and make the best plays,” he said.
“I got them out of the ballgame and we got beat, but we won the world championship.”
Other coaches in that same situation, though, have approached the final game as though it had to be won just to qualify for the postseason.
“I think most coaches in those situations try as best they can to think about which play where somebody might get hurt and take them out for that play,” Vermeil said.
“But they could have gotten hurt prior to my taking them out, too. You just never, never know. I’ve seen guys get hurt the very first play of the game.”
So what about the familiar theory about a team needing to build momentum as it heads into the playoffs?
“Momentum is something you build through the whole season,” Vermeil said. “It’s not a value you turn on and off. It’s something you acquire.
“You don’t lose momentum because you lose a football game. Much better to lose a football game than lose a starting quarterback.”
The Chiefs dropped out of the playoff chase with a 1-4 start and a four-game losing skid in November. Yet they will take a four-game winning streak to San Diego that has created a much better attitude around Arrowhead Stadium.
Vermeil promises he will try as hard to beat the Chargers as he possibly can, maintaining the approach of the past month of playing veterans instead of getting a head-start on next season by seeing what young players are able to do.
Ending a disappointing season on a five-game winning streak that elevates the Chiefs to 8-8 would supply a different kind of momentum, he said.
“I think finishing strong helps the momentum in the offseason program,” Vermeil said. “It makes your vacations better. It makes your weight-training programs better. It makes your minicamps better.
“It makes everything you do better.”