AFC Playoff Preview: Wildcard Weekend

Tennessee Titans (9-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)

Saturday, January 6 th , 4:35 pm EST.

It’s been a strange season for the Kansas City Chiefs. They play in the worst division in the
AFC, which, before the season started, looked like it might be the BEST division in all of
football. They leapt out to a 5-0 record to start the season, including beating both conference
one seeds (New England and Philadelphia) back-to- back to start the season. What happened
next was, in retrospect, predictable. When the Steelers forced Alex Smith to beat them, he
couldn’t. The next several weeks of the season were tough on KC, dropping them back to .500
and shattering the confidence of a team that had looked like it was among the league’s best.
Rookie RB Kareem Hunt leads all rushers this season with 1327 yards from scrimmage and
their fortunes have risen and fallen with his ability to keep the chains moving. In games where
he’s averaged above 4.5 yards per carry, the Chiefs are 7-1. When Hunt averages below 4.5
yards per carry, they are 3-5. Put simply, if defenses make Alex Smith beat them, he frequently
can’t. That’s most likely what this game will come down to.

The Titans fourth-ranked rushing defense will be getting up for the challenge of containing
Kareem Hunt. This is a unit that held both LeVeon Bell and Leonard Fournette under fifty yards
rushing, and they’ll look for that type of performance from their defensive front. If it becomes a
showdown between Alex Smith and Marcus Mariota, the Titans will like their chances. Much
has been made of the lingering knee injury that’s going to keep RB DeMarco Murray on the
sidelines for this weekend’s matchup, but looking over the body of work this year, second year
back Derrick Henry has been more productive on fewer carries, averaging a half-yard more per
carry. The former Alabama back can surely shoulder the load.

The Chiefs locked up their division by beating the Raiders and Chargers late in the season, but
they haven’t beaten a playoff team since beating the Eagles in week two. The Titans have twice
beaten Jacksonville, a run first team with a top quality running back. I’ve mentioned several
times that the Chiefs just aren’t the team we thought they were at the beginning of the season
when Kareem Hunt was an unknown quantity. Defensive coordinators have adjusted. I see
the Titans smothering Hunt and escaping from Arrowhead with a win.

 

Tom Capo

 

Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.

 

 

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