The Kansas City Chiefs enter their wildcard matchup at the Houston Texans on Saturday as the AFC’s fifth seed but are currently playing the best ball of any of six remaining conference teams. The weekend’s first wildcard game is slated to kickoff at 4:30 p.m. (ET) and will be televised by ESPN as well as ESPN Deportes.
Kansas City (11-5) has won a franchise record 10 straight games and are currently the top AFC team according to NFL.com’s Weekly Power Rankings. The Chiefs are ranked fourth in the league’s final regular season rankings behind Carolina (15-1), Seattle (10-6), and Arizona (13-3). Kansas City was ranked fourth last week but the New England Patriots (12-4), who lost to the Miami Dolphins last week, were ranked one spot ahead of them at No. 3.
Kansas City played the 20th toughest schedule in the NFL, but they do have victories over three teams currently in the AFC playoffs – Denver, Pittsburgh and Houston. In addition, four of the Chiefs’ losses have come against teams in the playoffs – Denver, Green Bay, Cincinnati and Minnesota.
The Chiefs started the season 1-5 but has been playing some of the best football in the league the past 10 weeks. Kansas City is averaging 27.8 points and permitting 12.8 points a game during their NFL-best winning streak. They have outscored their opponents by 150 points during that span.
Kansas City, led by quarterback Alex Smith, has the ninth highest scoring team in the NFL at 25.3 points a game and is sixth in rushing at 127.8 yards a contest. They are also 30th in passing at 203.4 yards a game.
Smith has completed 307 of his 470 passes (65.3 percent) for 3,486 yards and 20 touchdowns along with just seven interceptions. However, it is Smith’s scrambling ability that allows him to be successful.
Smith set career rushing marks with 84 carries for 498 yards and tied-his career high with two rushing touchdowns. He also averaged 5.4 yards per carry and totaled 30 first downs.
“He’s very elusive, he understands protection, he understands when defenses are pressuring him and he’s not afraid to take off,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson told ESPN. “It’s something that we don’t talk to him about — scrambling all the time, obviously — but when he can, he makes the most of it and usually gets us the first down.”
Smith has also been very efficient in the postseason. The 31-year old has averaged 291 yards through the air and completed 58 percent of his playoff passes while throwing nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
Smith isn’t the only weapon the Chiefs have in the backfield as Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have done a nice job sharing carries after Jamaal Charles suffered a torn ACL in Week 5. West, who is an elusive back due to his speed and ability to make cuts, leads Kansas City with 634 yards on 160 attempts while Ware gets the majority of his yards after first contact.
When Smith throws, he generally looks in the direction of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin or tight end Travis Kelce. Maclin has 87 receptions for 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns this season; he has been targeted a team-high 124 times. In the meantime, Kelce has 72 catches for 875 yards and five touchdowns.
Despite the efficiency of the offense, it is the defense that is the catalyst for KC. The Chiefs are surrendering the third fewest points in the league (17.9) and seventh fewest yards (329.3). Kansas City also has registered 46.0 sacks (6th) and has 29 takeaways, including 22 interceptions.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson leads the Chiefs with 116 tackles. Justin Houston, who has missed the past five games with a hyperextended knee, tops the team with 7.0 sacks while Tambi Hali (6.5), Jaye Howard (5.5), and Ron Howard (5.0) all have more than five sacks this season.
Rookie cornerback Marcus Peters leads a strong secondary with 60 tackles, eight interceptions, and 26 pass defensed. Peters was named Rookie of the Month for December.
Kansas City’s D should get a boost with the return of Houston to the field and the fact that Hali is expected to be at full strength. The Republic reports that Houston will wear a brace on his knee against the Texans while Hali saw action on 14 snaps against Oakland last week to test his broken thumb, which is expected to be heavily bandaged.
Kansas City does have some injury concerns as 11 players are listed on the injury report though only Hall and center Mitch Morse did not participate in Thursday’s practice.
The Chiefs have not won a playoff game since advancing to the AFC Title game back in 1993, where they lost to the Buffalo Bills. According to the team’s website, the Chiefs are 0-7 in playoff games since then with their last loss coming in heartbreaking fashion. In 2014, Kansas City took what seemed to be a commanding 28-point third quarter in their wildcard game against the Indianapolis Colts, but the Colts scored on six of their eight second half possessions as Andrew Luck threw three touchdown passes with the last being on a 64-yard completion to T.J. Hilton.
[Photo by Reed Hoffman/AP Images]