It’s been a streaky 2017 NFL season for Canadian Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and the Kansas Chief Chiefs.
Kansas City (8-6) opened with five straight wins before losing four consecutive games and six-of-seven. The Chiefs have regained their winning ways by capturing their last two contests and can cement a second straight AFC West Division title by beating the Miami Dolphins (6-8) at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Kansas City can also clinch with a loss if the New York Jets (5-9) upset or tie the Los Angeles Chargers (7-7) on Sunday. Predictably, Duvernay-Tardif, the Chiefs’ starting right guard, wants to earn the division crown with a win before the franchise’s rabid fans.
“The mindset is all on Miami,” the former McGill University star said. “I think we all realize this is an important game.
“We have an opportunity to take the division this weekend and that’s what we want to do. We don’t want to wait until (regular-season finale versus Denver Broncos on Dec. 31) to do it. We want to do it now.”
Duvernay-Tardif, 26, of Mont-Sainte-Hilaire, Que., is hard-pressed to explain the Chiefs’ losing streak after their impressive start.
“We changed the offence a little bit in terms of the players out there (because) we had a lot of injuries,” he said. “But even when everybody came back it took us a while to get back on the right track.
“It’s hard when you lose a couple of games to be convinced you’re going to win as a team when things aren’t going the way you want . . . it’s easy to drift towards that negativism so we needed something to get us back on the right track. A game against the Oakland Raiders, a divisional opponent at home in Kansas City, was kind of the perfect timing to do that.”
Kansas City earned a 26-15 win over Oakland on Dec. 10 before downing the Chargers 30-13 on Sunday to sweep that season series and move atop the division standings.
It’s been a meteoric rise for Duvernay-Tardif, a 2014 sixth-round pick who’s now solidly entrenched in Kansas City’s starting offensive line. But he’s also had to deal with adversity this season after suffering a sprained ankle in a 29-20 win over Washington on Oct. 2 and missing four games.
The loss of Duvernay-Tardif was big for the Chiefs as the burly Canadian was playing well after signing a five-year, US$41.25-million extension (US$20 million guaranteed) in February. Duvernay-Tardif expects the injury will cost him Pro Bowl consideration when the rosters are announced Tuesday night.
“I’m realistic about my chances,” he said. “I missed a few games and I think it’s going to hurt me and I didn’t play my best football coming back from the injury.
“If it’s not this year, it’s going to be next year but right now all of my focus is towards Miami. Of course, I want to win that (Pro Bowl nomination) but at the end of the day I’d rather be playing in the Super Bowl than in Orlando, Fla., at the Pro Bowl.”
Duvernay-Tardif has made headlines for more than just his play on the field. He’s also continuing his medical school studies during his NFL career and hopes to finish his degree in the off-season.
Miami (6-8) is a difficult team to figure out, coming off a 24-16 road loss to Buffalo last weekend following two straight victories. This season, the Dolphins have beaten both Atlanta and New England – last year’s Super Bowl finalists – but also lost badly to Baltimore (40-0), Carolina (45-21) and the Jets (20-6).
Kansas City is a solid 10-point favourite over Miami. But the Chiefs have also lost the last two times they were 10-point favourites – 12-9 to the New York Giants on Nov. 19, then 16-10 to the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 26. in consecutive road games.
“You can try to predict how they’re going to try and show up,” he said. “But the most important thing is for us to show up and set the tempo from the get-go.
“I think there’s a lot of possible distractions on both sides of the ball. I think it’s going to come down to who wants it the most and who’s ready to focus the most.”