On Saturday, the AFC Playoffs kickoff with a Wild Card matchup between the Tennessee Titans and the Kansas City Chiefs. The Titans were able to fight their way into the playoffs after being locked in a 4-team battle for the remaining Wild Card spots. The Chiefs secured the AFC West Division and earned a home game in the playoffs. Kickoff inside Arrowhead Stadium is at 4:35 PM ET.
Since the Tennessee Titans became a franchise, they have played the Chiefs 8 times and have a record of 5-3. The Titans have won 4 of 5 road games during that span including the last 2 in Arrowhead. The last time these teams played was a little over a year ago and the Titans beat KC in Arrowhead by a score of 19-17. This is the first time these two teams will play against each other in the playoffs since the Oilers moved to Tennessee.
Tennessee (9-7) finished the regular season with a road record of 3-5. They had lost 3 straight games and were in danger of being knocked out of playoff contention before winning the last game of the season 15-10 over divisional rival the Jaguars. This is the first time the Titans have been in the playoffs since 2008.
Kansas City (10-6) finished the regular season with a 6-2 record at home. They won 4 straight games to close out the season with 3 of them being against AFC West opponents. It’s what propelled them to the division title and stopped their mid-season nose-dive. This is KC’s 2nd consecutive playoff appearance as the AFC West champs and their 4th playoff appearance under Andy Reid.
The spread opened with the Chiefs favored by 7 points and it has gone up to 9 points. The Over/Under opened at 44.5 total points and it remains unchanged.
This AFC Wild Card contest will be all about the run game. Whichever team can establish the run and stop the other team’s running game will come out victorious. And, if both teams play evenly in this area, then you have to like the advantage that the Chiefs have with Alex Smith at QB over Marcus Mariota for the Titans.
KC’s rookie running back Kareem Hunt finished as the NFL’s rushing leader by 22 yards over Rams RB Todd Gurley. He will be the main focus of a stingy Titans defense that finished 4th in the league against the run at 88.8 ypg. The Chiefs will contend against smash mouth runner Derrick Henry who took over the starting RB spot after DeMarco Murray went down with an injury. KC finished 25th in the league, allowing 118.1 rushing ypg. Hunt might be the better back, but the Titans have the better run defense.
In fact, the Titans have the better defense overall as they finished 13th in total yards allowed at 328 ypg. The Chiefs finished 28th at 365.1 ypg. Both teams were giving up over 21 points per game as the Chiefs allowed 21.2 ppg and the Titans allowed 22.3 ppg. Additionally, the Titans edged out the Chiefs in passing yards allowed as they averaged 239.3 ypg and KC allowed 247 ypg.
If it weren’t for the Titans defense, this team would not have made the playoffs as they were freefalling during the month of December. That was largely due to the bad QB play from Marcus Mariota who could be a liability in the passing game this weekend. Mariota finished 20th with 3,232 passing yards, but he only threw 13 touchdown passes which put him tied for 26th. Chiefs QB Alex Smith finished 9th with 26 TD throws and 8th with 4,042 passing yards. And he didn’t play the last game of the season.
Smith provides the Chiefs a clear advantage and it will be the difference maker this weekend. The running games will establish the “will” of each team and be the deciding factor of who has success in the trenches and controlling the pace of the game, but it’s going to be Alex Smith’s playmaking ability and steady leadership that provides the Chiefs with a big advantage over Tennessee. Because of Smith, I like the Chiefs to win this one 27-17. It will be a close game until the 4th quarter when the Chiefs get a late turnover and score a touchdown to extend the lead to 10 and win the game.
The Titans are 2-5 ATS in their last 7 road games, 11-23 ATS over the last 3 years against the AFC, and 2-4 ATS in their last 6 games against the AFC West. KC is 6-2 ATS in home games this year, 8-4 ATS versus AFC opponents this year, 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games on grass, and 5-1 ATS after 2 or more consecutive wins.