The first of this weekend’s NFL Wild Card playoff games will pit the AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs against the number five seeded Tennessee Titans.
It’s been a bit of a schizophrenic season for the Chiefs who stunned the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in Foxborough in the season opener and looked like world-beaters in winning their first five games.
Then came an inexplicable swoon where Kansas City lost six of their last seven and if not for their place in the woeful AFC west, could have dropped out of playoff contention. But a four-game winning streak to close out the season with a 10-6 record gave the Chiefs the division title and a first-round home game.
On offense, the Chiefs are basically a three-man show with veteran quarterback Alex Smith, rookie runner Kareem Hunt and star tight end Travis Kelce carrying the load. Speedy but inconsistent wide receiver Tyreek Hill is also a dangerous weapon.
The defense is inconsistent as well but managed to improve late in the season which should be enough to carry the day this afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Titans made the playoff field on the last day of the regular season and are postseason participants for the first time since 2008 and for the first time in the Marcus Mariota era.
The 9-7 Titans racked up two-thirds of their wins against a soft division in which even the best team – the Jacksonville Jaguars – is badly flawed and are running on fumes headed into the playoffs after limping to a 1-3 finish.
Mariotta has regressed in his third year, finishing with only a 79.3 quarterback rating, 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He could end up being eaten alive by the Chiefs, especially in the raucous din at Arrowhead which is one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL.
Tennessee’s bread and butter has been the running game but starting runner DeMarco Murray will miss the game with a knee injury, putting the ball into the hands of the talented but inconsistent Derrick Henry, a former Heisman Trophy winner who is boom or bust but has been more often the latter.
It looks like the Titans will just have to be happy to make the playoffs and use the experience as a building block for next year and should be easily handled by the Chiefs.
The big caveat though is that Andy Reid’s team has consistently saved some of its worst offensive football for the postseason, so an implosion is always a possibility.
The weather shouldn’t be a factor in this one and look for KC to take care of business, possibly setting itself up for a trip into the killing fields of Gillette Stadium next week for a rematch with the Patriots.
The game starts at 4:35 pm ET.