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NFL Playoff Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

Jamie Squire- Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs finished 2018 with a 12-4 record and the number one seed in the AFC. Can they capture Super Bowl LIII?

Patrick Mahomes and the explosive Chiefs’ offense — number one in the league in points per game (35.3/game) — enter the divisional round of the playoffs well-rested, having earned a first-round bye thanks, in part, to their 12-4 record. Head coach Andy Reid showed, once again, why he is one of the more well-respected and well-recognized coached in the NFL. 2018 marked Reid’s sixth consecutive winning season with the Chiefs and gave the long-tenured coach his fifth playoff appearance during that span.

Kansas City has been led by their sophomore phenom quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who was rightfully thrust into the starting role after the team decided to move on from the veteran Alex Smith. Not only did Mahomes successfully fill the void, but the second-year gunslinger out of Texas Tech thrived in his first full season starting under Reid. Mahomes burst onto the scene, becoming just the third player in NFL history to throw for at least 50 touchdowns in a single season. Not to mention, he also added 5,097 passing yards to go along with the high TD total.

Do yourself a favor…https://t.co/ZGmBKle7Aw All 50 TD Passes by Patrick Mahomes in 2018! https://t.co/ZGmBKle7Aw via @YouTube

— Lee Cross (@Cross4JCCC) January 9, 2019

Now, offense is great and all, and the Chiefs had plenty of it (in addition to points per game, they also paced the league in total yards per contest (425.6/game)). However, their defense showed an inability to perform down the stretch in crucial games. The offense is going to do their part for Kansas City. To win big games, especially in the playoffs, Bob Sutton will need his defense to sharpen up, particularly in the secondary.

Key Players

Offense: QB Patrick Mahomes, RB Damien Williams

Mahomes was a mere magician all over the field in 2018. Aside from the no-look passes, sidearm throws, and even left-handed passes, Mahomes, to go along with his league-leading 50 touchdown passes, also finished second in the NFL in passer rating (113.8) and passing yards per game (319). For a player who had started just one game coming into this season, not only are these numbers incredibly impressive, but Mahomes’s poise and pocket awareness were simply unreal. There were numerous instances where this 23-year-old kid disguised himself as a 35-year-old veteran with his ability to make throws under pressure and evade the pocket to extend plays downfield.

.@PatrickMahomes5 recreates his no-look pass on the first take 👀@peter_king has more with the @Chiefs star in this week’s FMIA ➡️ https://t.co/JZfqKVF7lM pic.twitter.com/etK4cFHg2l

SNF on NBC (@SNFonNBC) January 7, 2019

With a tough divisional round matchup against an athletic, stingy Colts defense on tap Saturday, Kansas City will surely need Mahomes to continue his excellence, while, above all, remaining efficient with the football.

Now, this would be a good, appropriate spot for either Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce, but as we all know, with Mahomes under center, they’re always going to produce and do their part. That being said, following Kareem Hunt’s release, Reid needed a viable replacement to fill Hunt’s workhorse void. Insert: Damien Williams. In the weeks since Hunt was let go, Williams has re-sparked Kansas City’s rushing and short-passing attacks, averaging 107.3 scrimmage yards per game over his team’s last three contests. With Spencer Ware still nursing a sore hamstring and his availability for Saturday’s matchup in question, Williams is going to remain a vital part of the Chiefs’ offensive scheme against the Colts.

Defense: DE Chris Jones, LB Dee Ford

Although they possessed just the 24th-ranked scoring defense (26.3 points allowed/game), Kansas City’s pass rush was particularly strong. Led by Chris Jones, who concluded the season with an impressive 15.5 sacks, the Chiefs racked up a league-leading 52 sacks as a team. The 15.5 sacks were a career high for the third-year man, who finished behind only Aaron Donald and JJ Watt for the most sacks in the NFL. This is an encouraging stat for Reid and company, as the 2016 second-round pick is up 13.5 sacks from his rookie season. With Kansas City’s secondary struggling, Jones will need to continue his dominance and put pressure on Andrew Luck.

Chris Jones pins Fant inside & gets vertical for the sack. He breaks the NFL record for most consecutive games with a sack. Jones has 15.5 sacks on the season! #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/luZ9xJ9cZo

— DLineVids (@DLineVids) December 27, 2018

Meanwhile, on the other side of the line, Dee Ford amassed 13.0 sacks of his own this season. It’s been an up-and-down career for Ford, as the former first-round pick collected 10 sacks in 2016 — only to see that number decrease to a measly two sacks in 2017. Fortunately for Kansas City, Ford rebounded once again in 2018 and also recorded a career-high in the sack department. Look for Jones and Ford to anchor the Chiefs’ pass rush in what is sure to be a key matchup against the Colts’ young offensive line, which surrendered just 18 sacks during the regular season. 

Best Win and Worst Loss

Best Win: 27-24 over the Baltimore Ravens (Week 14)

This was easily Kansas City’s most impressive win, as Mahomes led a game-tying fourth-quarter touchdown drive that included two fourth down conversions — the first of which was a 48-yard miracle of a throw to Tyreek Hill on fourth-and-nine. The second of the two fourth down conversions came on a five-yard touchdown pass to Damien Williams that tied the game with under a minute to play. The Chiefs went on to win the game in overtime on a 35-yard field goal off the foot of Harrison Butker. 

There are a few out there (not many) who are trying to claim that Mahomes just chucked the ball up there on “the play.” That’s absurd and not based in reality. Look at where Hill and the Ravens defenders are when the ball is released. The placement only allowed Hill a shot. pic.twitter.com/0d2oKIpZDZ

— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) December 11, 2018

The victory was certainly not Kansas City’s most dominant performance by any means. They struggled against Baltimore’s barrage of rushing attacks. Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards, and Kenneth Dixon combined for 193 yards on 38 carries against the Chiefs’ 27th-ranked rushing defense (132.1 yards allowed/game). However, their come-from-behind effort against the eventual AFC North Champions showed resiliency and the ability to perform in clutch situations against playoff teams — something they’ll have to do if they wish to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIII.

Worst Loss: 29-28 to the San Diego Chargers (Week 15)

While a loss to the 12-4 Chargers doesn’t look or sound particularly bad on paper, it’s how the loss occurred that questions Kansas City’s level of contention in this year’s playoffs. Sutton’s defense squandered a 14-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the final quarter of play. Mahomes and the rest of the offense watched as Philip Rivers led two commanding touchdown drives — which included a three-and-out of their own in between — followed by the game-winning two-point conversion.

WHAT A WIN FOR THE @CHARGERS!!!!!!

THE GAME WINNING 2-POINT CONVERSION FROM PHILIP RIVERS TO MIKE WILLIAMS IS EVEN BETTER WITH TITANIC MUSIC!!!!

🏈🚢🎶 pic.twitter.com/l1siW4kBwg

— 🏈🚢🎶TITANIC TD🏈🚢🎶 (@TitanicTD) December 14, 2018

This disappointing loss marked the first of two consecutive losses to eventual playoff teams. Moreover, although they did defeat Los Angeles in Week 1, that’s Week 1. A crushing collapse against virtually the same Chargers team, with the exception of Joey Bosa (added off IR Week 8), in Week 15 is concerning. What’s even more concerning is that should the Chiefs get past the Colts this week, they could face Anthony Lynn and company again in a potential rubber match.

Previous Matchups with Playoff Teams

Week 1: 38-28 Win at (5) Los Angeles Chargers

Week 6: 40-43 Loss at (2) New England Patriots

Week 11: 51-54 Loss at (2) Los Angeles Rams

Week 14: 27-24 Win vs (4) Baltimore Ravens

Week 15: 28-29 Loss vs (5) Los Angeles Chargers

Week 16: 31-38 Loss vs (5) Seattle Seahawks

Positives: The Chiefs were able to win two out of their six matchups against playoff teams, with their four losses coming by a combined 14 points. Andy Reid’s bunch played every team tough, regardless of the end result. Furthermore, they were able to secure two victories against fellow AFC playoff teams in the Ravens and Chargers — one of which, as previously mentioned, they could possibly face in the AFC Championship should Kansas City advance past Indianapolis. 

Negatives: The Chiefs’ four losses — while they all came by a narrow margin — all were high-scoring, and evidently, they all failed to come out on top. Kansas City’s strength is their offense, so when they get into an offensive battle, one would expect them to win. Defense isn’t going to win games for Reid and company; they have to outscore their opponents. In these games, the Chiefs displayed a lack of ability to do so.

Performance Entering the Postseason

Kansas City comes into the playoffs having finished on a rather mediocre level. They went 4-3 in their final seven games, having lost two of their last three contests. However, following their back-to-back losses in Weeks 15 and 16, they got back on track with a dominant 35-3 victory over their bitter divisional rival in the Raiders. The Chiefs showed they are very capable of contending with tough playoff opponents, which is something they’ll surely have to do to fulfill their Super Bowl hopes.

I asked coach Reid yesterday about the #Chiefs’ defensive performance against the Raiders, and what it could mean moving forward.

- Zero TDs allowed
- Four takeaways pic.twitter.com/EB4DBDduWv

BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) January 1, 2019

Level of Contender: High

Although their lackluster defense, as well as their performance against other playoff teams, raises questions, Kansas City is the one seed in the AFC for a reason. Mahomes, Hill, Travis Kelce, and the rest of the Chiefs’ electrifying offense have steamrolled to a 12-4 record and their top seed. I like this Chiefs team to get past the Colts in a narrow victory and advance to the AFC Championship for a rematch with either the Chargers or Patriots.


Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
With 55 TDs, who holds the record for the most passing touchdowns in a season in NFL history?
Created 1/11/19
  1. Tom Brady
  2. Drew Brees
  3. Peyton Manning
  4. Dan Marino

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