The Chiefs are hosting a playoff game for the second time in as many years when they face Marcus Mariota and the Titans this weekend. Here is my preview of the first playoff game of the season, looking at both teams and what each one needs to do to advance to the divisional round. If the Titans win it’ll be their first playoff win since 2003 so they are looking to play the underdog against this heavily favoured Chiefs team, that’s made the playoffs 3 of the last 4 years.
This game provides a huge platform for both quarterbacks to show the football world their true colours. This season has been a huge disappointment for Marcus Maritoa, who has played well below expectations. His touchdown to interception ratio is a dismal 13:15, his had some injuries this season that have restricted the most important part of his game, his mobility. The Titans run as Head Coach Mike Murlarky calls it an “exotic smashmouth” offence, which involves heavily the rushing threat of running backs, Demarco Murray and Derrick Henry. Not ideal for a quarterback with the potential of Mariota. Mariota needs to play up to this potential against the Chiefs if the Titans are going to win this game. All season he hasn’t been very successful with his accuracy, helped by the lacklustre performance of his receiving core. With no receiver going over 1000 yards or scoring 5 or more touchdowns, so players like Corey Davis and Delaine Walker need to come up big in order to provide Mariot with some help through the air. However it hasn’t all been on the receivers, Mariota has struggled mightily with his accuracy and decision making this season. He needs to turn both those around if he wants to lead Tennesse to a win against this highly touted Chiefs secondary.
Alex Smith has been very hot and cold this season, starting it off an early MVP candidate. He had seemingly banished his dink and dunk approach to passing in favour of hurling the ball downfield with great success. Then came the middle portion of the season, teams changed their schemes and he regressed to the “4-yard pass behind the sticks” quarterback he’d been since he entered the league in 2005. He finished the season strong, to secure Kansas City a playoff spot. But his ‘game manager’ title and failure so far in the big games to win, has seemingly caught up with him, as it has been announced that the Chiefs are willing to trade Smith after the season ends. He will be a very intriguing prospect on the open market for teams needing a quarterback, due to his experience but also the size of his contract. What will stand Chiefs fans in good stead is that the Titans play a lot of zone coverage, which can be easily exploited by the speed of KC’s receivers. It’s difficult to know what to expect from Alex Smith, as we could get the man who destroyed the Patriots in week 1 or the man who couldn’t beat a Giants team that ended up with 3 wins. Let’s hope for the sake of our eyes we get the early season, no fear, bomb-throwing Smith to provide some excitement in this game.
Both of these teams rely heavily on their rushing attacks to win them games, and both teams are good at doing that. Kansas City has one of the hottest rookies in years as their tailback, Kareem Hunt who led the NFL with rushing 1,327 yards. He was electric for the Chiefs and give them an exciting home-run threat every time he touches the ball either on the ground or through the air. The Titans, have Derrick Henry as their primary running back for the second time in as many weeks, as teammate Demarco Murry has torn his MCL. This injury is a blessing in disguise for the Titans as Henry has the power and speed to make chunk plays on every carry. He now doesn’t have to worry about the Titans splitting carries between him and Murray effectively stalling their rushing attack. Henry has played well this season but will need to effectively early on as it could be a struggle for the Titans to keep up with Kansas City’s high powered offence if he can’t be. Hunt has been a revelation for the Chiefs this season, again showing the importance of picking a running back in the middle to late rounds. He might be the key for Kansas City on offence due to his ability to burn defenders one on one in coverage, using him as a passing weapon would a wonderful move by the Chiefs.
But against the Titans, Hunt is going up against the 4th best run defence in the league. With Tennesse giving up just 88.8 yards per game. The Chiefs on the other hand rank a lowly 25th giving up 118 yards per game, so expect a lot of “exotic smashmouth” from Tennesse. I believe this game will come down to the defences, if either team can stop the other’s ground game, then they will be in the best position to win. This is because both teams strengths lie in running the ball, so taking that away and forcing either Mariota or Smith to throw the ball will be the best route to winning this game. I think the Titans will set the tone early by establishing the run well and then forcing turnovers, expect All-Pro safety Kevin Byard to snag one from Alex Smith who’ll lose in the playoffs for yet another year. The Titans will win and possibly keep Head Coach Mike Murlarky in the job for another year.
Tennesse Titans 20 – 14 Kansas City Chiefs