The long sixteen game grind is over. The goal of making the NFL playoffs that 32 teams started with has been achieved by 12. Now it’s time to move on to the next goal. It’s time to move on to the final 8. Tennessee’s path leads through Arrowhead Stadium and the Kansas City Chiefs. Kickoff on Saturday is at 4:35 pm with the fifth-seeded wildcard Titans traveling to meet the AFC West champion and 4th seeded Chiefs. The seasons for the teams were very different.
The Chiefs came out of the gate on fire going 5-0 wins that included the number 1 AFC seed New England Patriots and the number 1 NFC seed Philadelphia Eagles. They finished with a 10-6 record. The issue with the Chiefs 6 losses is that they came in a seven-game span. Just when everyone was ready to bury them they righted the ship. They have won 4 straight games entering the playoffs.
The Titans defense has been playing very well lately. They have been especially strong against the run. They are ranked 4th in yards allowed on the season and will need to live up to that against Kansas City’s Kareem Hunt. The NFL regular season rushing yardage champion with 1327 yards, Hunt is both consistent and explosive. Tennessee will need to contain him to put the Chiefs in long yardage situations. That will allow the Titans, who are 6th in the league in sacks, to bring much-needed pressure to bear on the Chiefs passing game. Hunt is far from the only weapon Kansas City has.
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Quarterback Alex Smith has had a career year. He is in the top 10 among quarterbacks for completions, yardage, and touchdowns. He led the NFL with a passer rating of 104.7. Smith has speedster Tyreek Hill and arguably the most productive tight end in the league in Travis Kelce to throw to. Hill can go the distance anytime he touches the football and Kelce is a matchup nightmare against a Titan defense that was in the middle of the pack in defending tight ends. Tennessee is going to need more than 15 points no matter how good the defense is Saturday.
Tennessee stumbled late in the year dropping 3 in a row before clinching their spot in the playoffs on the final day of the season by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars 15 – 10 in Nashville. Tennessee took advantage of two Jaguar miscues the final few minutes of the half and converted two field goals to extend the lead at halftime to 12 – 3. The defense shutout Jacksonville with a long fumble return being the Jaguars only points.
The Titans will need to run the ball better with Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray if Murray is available. The best way to defend the Chiefs offense is to keep them on the sidelines. Marcus Mariota did an excellent job extending drives and using the clock in the victory over Jacksonville with his feet. Mariota is tied with Henry for second on the team in rushing touchdowns with 5 on the year. To advance to the divisional round he will need to be the quarterback everyone predicted he’d be this year. Mariota needs to be smart with the football, pass accurately and make plays with his legs when necessary. Tennessee must take care of the football. Kansas City is 2nd in the league with a +15 turnover margin.