We look ahead to the coming weekend’s matchups, potential storylines, and a whole lot more. Follow along this week on all Chiefs Focus social media platforms, the 1st and 10 Podcast, as well as the blog for coverage and insights.
Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Blowouts. Blowouts, galore. The “Super” Wild Card weekend came and went, and in it we did not see a lot of competitive football. The average margin of victory for the teams that moved on was 17.2 points, and the only two games that were within one score at the final whistle were Cincinnati’s 7 point win over Las Vegas, and San Francisco’s 6 point win at Dallas. The Bills won by 30, the Bucs by 16, Chiefs by 21, and the Rams by 23. A lot of folks on the Twitter are claiming that the extra team in the playoffs is bad, we only need 6, yada yada yada. The bottom line is there was football on all weekend, and we all watched it. Also, I would give those fans a word of advice – don’t fly too close to the sun. When your team is on the brink of a playoff berth, and there isn’t an additional seed, you’re going to regret wishing the extra spot away.
The divisional round may just be the conference semifinals, but it is the last full weekend of football we have until college football and the preseason come back around. Chiefs fans have grown to appreciate Championship weekend and Super Bowl Sunday quite a bit over the past few seasons, but we cannot lose our appreciate for the divisional round. Look at these matchups. You have collisions of styles in the Titans vs. Bengals and Packers vs. 49ers games. The Rams travel to Tampa to try to unseat Tom Brady and the Bucs. And the final game of the weekend features arguably the two best teams in the AFC in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game.
(4) Cincinnati Bengals at (1) Tennessee Titans – AFC – Saturday 3:30 CST; CBS, Paramount+
On the Call : Ian Eagle and Charles Davis
Cincinnati, coming off of their first playoff win since 1991 against the Las Vegas Raiders, will travel to Nashville to face the 1 seed Titans, who are of course coming off of a bye week.
The million dollar question this week – will Derrick Henry play, and if so how much? The Titans all-world running back was activated off of IR before week 18, but sat the last game and rested last week. Against a banged-up Cincinnati run defense, he could be a key to victory for the Titans.
Joe Burrow hits the road to face a Titans defense that excels at creating pressure with their front 4.
This will be the second all-time playoff matchup between the two franchises. The Bengals defeated the Houston Oilers back in the 1991 AFC Wild Card round by a score of 41-14.
Coaches Mike Vrabel and Zac Taylor will meet for the first time. Vrabel is the front runner for NFL coach of the year, and Taylor has taken the Bengals from 2-14 to the Divisional round in his third season at the helm.
The Titans are currently 3.5-point favorites.
(6) San Francisco 49ers at (1) Green Bay Packers – NFC – Saturday 7:15 CST; Fox
On the Call : Joe Buck and Troy Aikman
The 49ers, coming off a 23-17 win over the NFC’s 3 seeded Cowboys in Dallas on Sunday, travel to Green Bay to take on the 13-4 Packers.
In a rematch of the 2020 NFC Championship game, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers looks to avenge the loss to reach his third consecutive title game. Green Bay has not reached the Super Bowl since 2011.
The Packers Davante Adams and the 49ers Deebo Samuel will meet in a matchup of 2 of the 3 wide receivers from this year’s All Pro First Team.
San Francisco enters after back-to-back wins against the Rams in the final week of the regular season and Cowboys in the Wild Card round. This will be a rematch of a Week 3 thriller that Green Bay won 30-28.
Several key players on both sides are either slated to return from injuries, or are nursing new ones, including the Packers offensive line duo David Bakhtiari and Josh Myers, and 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa.
The Packers are currently 6-point favorites.
(4) Los Angeles Rams at (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers – NFC – Sunday 2:00 CST; NBC
On the Call : Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth
Los Angeles takes on of the longest road trips in the NFL as they head to Tampa to take on Tom Brady and the reigning Super Bowl champion Bucs
Both teams won in the Wild Card round with relative ease, with the Bucs handling the Eagles 31-15 and the Rams dismantling division rival Arizona 34-11.
Buccaneers starting offensive linemen Tristan Wirfs and Ryan Jensen are both nursing ankle injuries (Wirfs is in a walking boot) – something that could play a huge role against a Rams team that can generate pressure from the interior with Aaron Donald and and on the edge with Von Miller.
Tom Brady will be in search of his 36th playoff victory (tops in NFL history by a mile), Rams QB Matt Stafford will be looking to notch his 2nd career playoff victory.
The Buccaneers are currently 3-point favorites.
(3) Buffalo Bills at (2) Kansas City Chiefs – AFC – Sunday 5:30 CST; CBS
On the Call : Jim Nantz, Tony Romo
These two teams had the most impressive offensive performances, particularly from their quarterbacks, in the Wild Card Round. Buffalo’s Josh Allen was 21 for 25 for 308 yards and 5 TD against New England, and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes went 30 for 39 for 404 yards and 5 TD against Pittsburgh.
This will be the teams’ second meeting this season. Buffalo won a week 5 contest in Arrowhead Stadium by a final score of 38-20. It is also a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game, one that Kansas City won 38-24 at home.
Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones and cornerback Charvarius Ward will be available to play in this game. They both missed the week 5 matchup with Buffalo due to injuries. Buffalo will be without cornerback Tre’Davious White who tore his ACL against the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving night.
Mahomes holds the advantage in the 3 contests these quarterbacks have squared off in thus far at 2-1.
Mahomes and the Chiefs have a 6-1 record at home in the playoffs including last week’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Kansas City is currently a 1.5-point favorite.
Stay tuned to the blog all week for coverage on these games, as well as in depth coverage on the Chiefs and Bills Sunday night matchup at Arrowhead Stadium!
This weekend we see a rare double rematch – the teams met in week 5 of this year’s regular season, with Buffalo winning at Arrowhead 38-20, as well as in last year’s AFC Championship game (also at Arrowhead) where the Chiefs won 38-24.
Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
News & Notes
AFC 3 Seed Buffalo Bills visit AFC 2 Seed Kansas City Chiefs
Bills enter having decimated division rival New England in the Wild Card round 47-17
Kansas City comes off of a 42-21 win at Arrowhead Stadium against the 7 seeded Pittsburgh Steelers
The Chiefs will look to improve their home playoff record to 7-1 in the Patrick Mahomes era in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game. Kansas City won that game 38-24, and this year’s contest will be played nearly a year to the day of last year’s (January 24, 2021 AFCCG; January 23, 2022 AFCD)
There are some teams and players that, through the course of competitive evolution, you just grow to dislike. The Chiefs and Bills have certainly reached this point. The two teams began their respective ascents at around the same time, with the Chiefs taking Patrick Mahomes with the 10th pick in the 2017 draft and a year later the Bills selecting Josh Allen with the 7th pick in the 2018 draft. The rosters have been built in different ways to showcase different strengths, but the beginning of their climb to their current states started with the independent but similar decisions to christen new faces of the franchise. And both decisions have paid off, to different degrees. Last season, Allen led the Bills to their first playoff win since 1995 when the team defeated Dan Marino and the Dolphins in the Wild Card round. Buffalo rattled off wins against Phillip Rivers and the Colts in the Wild Card round in 2021 and Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in the divisional round before their eventual loss to the Chiefs in the AFC Championship game.
Mahomes has obviously led the Chiefs the heights that no one could have expected when they drafted the “project” quarterback out of Texas Tech in 2017. Mahomes victory over Andrew Luck and the Colts in the 2019 divisional round was the first home playoff win at Arrowhead Stadium since Joe Montana outdueled Neil O’Donnell and the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1993. He didn’t stop there, though. After falling short in 2019, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2020 and went back in 2021 to fall short of the Lombardi. But they are back in familiar territory in 2022 against a familiar foe, with a AFC Championship and a definition of each young star’s trajectory on the line.
When you talk about the best quarterbacks in the league, particularly young ones, these two comes to the forefront of every conversation. Allen is a full-fledged specimen at the position. He’s 6’5”, 237 with a rocket arm and legs that can hurt you just as bad. This season, Allen became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 750. Last year, he became the first quarterback in league history with at least 30 passing touchdowns and 8 rushing touchdowns. He’s also the first player in league history to reach 100 passing touchdowns and 30 rushing touchdowns in his first 4 seasons. His 135 total TD in 4 years trails only Dan Marino (144) for the most in NFL history in that span. The Bills have won the AFC East in back-to-back years for the first time since the span between 1988-1991 when they dominated the division and went to 4 straight Super Bowls. Patrick Mahomes is no slouch, in comparison. The columns in the record books that he has toppled are plentiful, and if you’re having a slow day at work you can find where I’ve covered them here and here. And while Allen has the individual stats and relative team success to hang his hat on, the organizational transformation that Mahomes has brought to Kansas City is unparalleled by anyone who is not currently in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or named Tom Brady. Since Mahomes took the helm in 2018, the Chiefs have been to the AFC Championship game every season, losing in 2019 before winning in 2020 and 2021. They have been to back-to-back Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl 54 – in which Mahomes earned the game’s most valuable player honor.
While the heart of the debate for both fanbases stems almost directly to the quarterback comparison in most cases, the completeness of the teams and the individuals who have built them have turned this into this generation’s version of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning’s Patriots/Colts rivalries. Two teams who share a conference but from separate divisions who have bigger goals than division championships and playoff appearances in their minds coming into every season. Buffalo has been a darkhorse pick in the AFC that has emerged this season as a full-fledged contender, and Kansas City is the former upstart who have now found themselves as the team with the biggest target on their backs in the NFL, let alone the AFC. Not many would argue that these two are the class of the AFC, so a divisional round matchup seems premature, but it will be star studded, nonetheless.
There is no lack of depth on either roster. Names like Tyreek Hill, Stephon Diggs, Travis Kelce, Dawson Knox, Chris Jones, Jerry Hughes, Tremaine Edmunds, Micah Hyde, and Tyrann Mathieu will all suit up to join their all-world quarterbacks in battle on Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium. Two teams with rosters that are constructed as well as any in the NFL, coached as well as any in the NFL, and players that don’t particularly like each other a whole lot. So how far has each team come since their week 5 showdown in Arrowhead in October? Let’s start with the Bills.
Buffalo started out on fire this season. After losing the first game of the year to Pittsburgh at home, they rattled off 4 wins in a row capped by the 38-20 whitewashing of Kansas City in Arrowhead Stadium. They looked like they were the best team in the AFC and the NFL at 4-1, and many national media outlets took notice and were boisterous about declaring them as such while simultaneously touting the fall of the Chiefs empire. However, a different narrative developed over the next 8 weeks of the Bills season. After losing a close game to the Tennessee Titans the week after their win against the Chiefs, Buffalo got back on track with a win against the (then) lowly Miami Dolphins. After that? A mindblowing 9-6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Over the next 6 games, Buffalo would lose 4 including a blowout loss to the Colts and a loss to division rival New England at home. Halfway through December the Bills were 7-6 and on the outside looking in at a division championship. Wins in their next four games against Carolina, New England, Atlanta, and the Jets propelled them as New England sank back, losing key games down the stretch, and giving Buffalo their second consecutive AFC East title. Then, last Saturday, the Bills appeared to get the strong urge to reintroduce themselves to the world in their Wild Card win over the Patriots. The Bills scored touchdowns on all 7 of their drives against New England, while holding the Patriots to 305 yards of offense and shutting down their vaunted rushing attack. Allen threw for 308 yards and 5 TD.
As for the Chiefs, they rebounded nicely with a convincing win over the Football Team in Washington in week 6, before hitting 2021 rock bottom with a humiliating 27-3 week 7 loss to the Tennessee Titans. What happened next defined the Chiefs season, and set the stage for a matchup when the week 5 score has to be thrown out the window. KC has won 10 of their last 11 games since the loss to Tennessee behind a defense that has moved from dead last in the NFL to points allowed per game to 8th, and an offense that couldn’t find the answers anywhere in the first 7 weeks finding themselves as the league’s 3rd most prolific unit by the end of 2021. Which they will need going up against a Buffalo defense that has been the league’s best in both points allowed and yards allowed over the course of the 2021 season.
So we know both team’s trajectories heading into the Divisional matchup that has game of the week written all over it, but what has each gained and lost since the last time they played? Well, Buffalo has stayed healthy for the most part. They did lose reserve offensive lineman Ike Boettger to an Achilles injury against New England last Saturday, but kept everyone else off of the IR. Their biggest loss of the season, and one that will most definitely impact their approach against the Chiefs compared to the last time the two teams squared off, is that of cornerback Tre’Davious White. White was lost on Thanksgiving night against New Orleans with a torn ACL, and the Bills defense hasn’t looked quite the same since. While they slipped minimally against the pass, it was against quarterbacks like Cam Newtown, Matt Ryan, Mac Jones, and Zac Wilson. The only quality QB they played in that timeframe was Tom Brady, a game they lost while allowing Brady 363 passing yards and 2 TD. Leonard Fournette also had 113 yard rushing in that game, an area where the Bills have slipped noticeably since White went out. in the four games following his exit, Buffalo allowed 135 yards per game on the ground – 39 more than they had prior to his injury.
Buffalo did hold New England to 89 yards rushing in their wild card matchup after allowing 371 combined in their 2 regular season matchups, but with the way the Buffalo offense jumped out on New England running the ball was not an option late in the game. White is also a huge presence in Buffalo’s strategy of taking Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill out of the gameplan for KC. Without him, it is going to be difficult to body those two, along with the other Chiefs receiving threats that have emerged in recent weeks.
In Kansas City, a lot has changed. The first time these two teams played, Daniel Sorensen played every defensive snap at free safety and gave up 2 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. Chris Jones missed the game with a wrist injury. Charvarius Ward was inactive. Frank Clark started and played well, but it was his first game back from a hamstring injury. It was Willie Gay’s first game off the IR. Jarran Reed only played 27 snaps. All 4 of these defenders, plus Melvin Ingram who was added at the trade deadline and a catalyst for the Chiefs now vaunted pass rush late in the season, will be healthy and active against Buffalo on Sunday. Sorensen has been (for the most part) shifted into a most situational role that fits his abilities much, much better by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith had just 4 NFL starts under their belt when they took the field in October, and Joe Thuney and Orlando Brown had 4 with the Chiefs. That is a unit that has gone from a question mark to the most dominant in the league. Make no mistake about it – the Chiefs invested a lot of resources (both cash and draft capital) into their offensive line after the result of Super Bowl 55, and it has paid off for them immensely. A defensive front 7 featuring Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Melvin Ingram, Nick Bolton, Willie Gay, and Anthony Hitchens is much more daunting for the Bills offensive line than Frank Clark, Derrick Nnadi, Tershawn Wharton, Mike Danna, Ben Niemann, Anthony Hitchens, and Nick Bolton. While the latter provide depth and will contribute, there is a distinct difference in what the Chiefs will sport up front against the Bills on Sunday compared to what was trotted out in early October.
While the same two clubs with take the field against each other on Sunday that shared the same field in October, the players who will be clashing will be much different. Both quarterbacks are susceptible to questionable play when pressured. We’ve seen it with Mahomes early in the year, and Allen has been consistently erratic when he is contained and knocked down. Against New England, Allen had time to throw the ball. I do not see that happening against this version of the KC defensive front. When the two best teams in the AFC (and possibly the NFL) take the field on Sunday, they will both be ready to bring everything they have up their respective sleeves to end the other’s season. They key to this, which we will dive into deeper later in the week, will be who wins the battle up front on both sides of the ball. The quarterbacks will be the story, but the play in the trenches will be the reason that one of these two teams move on to the AFC Championship.
Kelce passed Julian Edelman and Michael Irvin (6) for the second most 100 yard receiving games in playoff history. He now only trails Jerry Rice (8) all time.
Mahomes became the first quarterback in NFL history with 4 games (regular season and playoff) with 400 yards passing and 5 touchdowns. He did so in his first 72 career games. Players with 3 – Peyton Manning (292 games), Dan Marino (258 games), and Joe Montana (187 games). He joins Ben Roethlisberger as the only two quarterbacks in league history to achieve this line in the postseason.
All season long there has been a feeling in the air in Kansas City that when the Chiefs finally put everything together and have the offense and defense clicking in the same game, they will look damn near unbeatable. Well, it happened last night. While the defense carried the offense for the first quarter of the game, and the Steelers scored the game’s first points on a forced fumble by Cameron Heyward that was recovered and taken to the house by TJ Watt, the Chiefs offense rebounded as well as any team could (given the circumstances of how the game started) on their way to a dominating 42-21 win where the Chiefs comfortably controlled every facet of the game. It was a statement win to cap off a week of questions leading into the game of whether the Chiefs offense could handle a healthy TJ Watt and the impact he brings to the Steelers defense. Those questions were answered with a resounding yes in a performance that looked more like the team was saying oh, I think y’all forgot who we are. The offense, spearheaded by another virtuoso performance from Patrick Mahomes – something that is becoming routine for the Chiefs signal caller in postseason play – was balanced, killed the Steelers in short to intermediate passes, and beat them deep. All in the same game. Give credit where credit is due – the Steelers came out on fire with a plan that stalled the Chiefs out early, but the adjustments were made by the Chiefs coaching staff to have this one on ice by halftime.
Speaking of that rough start, if you looked at the Chiefs first 5 drives of the night, the final score (or the fact that the team led at one point 35-7) would seem like an impossibility. In the first 5 drives of the game, Tommy Townsend punted on the first 3, Mahomes threw a pick that was tipped by TJ Watt and eventually caught by Devin Bush deep in Steelers territory, and on the fifth Mahomes was stripped by Heyward, Watt picked up the fumble and ran it in for a TD to make the game 7-0 in favor of Pittsburgh. But there was a difference in the attitude of the team after these two offensive turnovers. They did not get conservative. Mahomes did not get rattled. Collectively, with all the energy of Arrowhead Stadium behind them, they got pissed and came out swinging. That was not good news for the Steelers.
The next 6 drives for Kansas City resulted in touchdowns of all shapes and sizes from the KC offense. A 7 play, 74-yard drive ended with a dime from Patrick Mahomes to Byron Pringle from 12 yards out. the next 6 play, 80-yard drive ended with a 48-yard touchdown from Mahomes to Travis Kelce. To start the second quarter scoring, Mahomes found a new target in the endzone – on a designed trick pass to Nick Allegretti for a 1-yard score after he tossed TJ Watt to the ground like a rag doll setting up the release. After the Steelers fumbled on their next possession, Jerrick McKinnon lost 2 yards on the first play for the Chiefs before Mahomes found Tyreek Hill on a 31-yard frozen rope to the front right corner of the north endzone at Arrowhead Stadium. To end the touchdown frenzy, the ball was in Travis Kelce’s hands on another designed outside the box trick play where he found Byron Pringle in the endzone for his first career passing touchdown.
With so much going into the performance of this game, it’d be easy to just say that the team as a whole performed well and we’re on to Buffalo. But several individuals on both sides of the ball made big impacts, some that you see in the box score, and some that you don’t. Defensively, L’Jarius Sneed ended the night with no interceptions, but that’s only because he dropped 3. Granted, one would have been negated by a roughing the passer call on Alex Okafor, but Sneed was all over the field and stuck on the Steelers dangerous receivers all night long. Nick Bolton proved his worth again as he led the team in tackles and was a catalyst in the Chiefs holding Pittsburgh rookie sensation Najee Harris to 29 yards on 12 carriers. Credit the defensive line for that as well, specifically Jarran Reed, Chris Jones, and Derrick Nnadi for making the midline run something that the Steelers absolutely could not go to last night. The pass rush had Ben Roethlisberger uncomfortable again, with Tershawn Wharton reintroducing himself to Big Ben and Mike Danna getting home for a sack as well.
Defensively the Chiefs looked fast, looked like a team swarming to the football, and a team that if given enough chances will turn some of those dropped picks into costly mistakes for opponents in the latter rounds of the postseason. While the personnel decisions were still questionable (Willie Gay only got 17 snaps – will be interesting to see if this is because he was banged up, or a Spags decision to play Niemann instead), Spagnuolo seems to have eaten his crow in decided to get Juan Thornhill back into the starting lineup. Thornhill looked like a mini-John Lynch on the field on Sunday, delivering big hit after big hit and setting the tone in the secondary from a physicality standpoint. The secondary was physical all night long, lining up in press coverage for 68% of the passing snaps against Pittsburgh. That is the highest press coverage rate of any team in the last 6 seasons in a single game, and 28% higher than the Chiefs season average of 40%, which led the NFL.
Offensively, where do I start? Jerrick McKinnon was Jerrick McCookin last night. McKinnon had 142 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown, and looked like the Chiefs best back all night long. With Darrell Williams limited coming off of the toe injury against Denver, and Derrick Gore’s number not getting called, it was the McKinnon show all night long, and he took advantage of the touches. The greatest thing about this is that McKinnon is in theory the fourth guy in the room for the Chiefs at RB, but can hurt a playoff opponent just like a number 1 RB. This is going to be huge as Darrell Williams and Clyde Edwards-Helaire return from their injuries. Both can assist in pass protection better than Gore (the primary reason I believe he didn’t get many snaps last night), ands have the ability to hurt teams out of the backfield in the passing game just like McKinnon. Jerrick has the hot hand, and I believe we keep feeding him, but the benefit of having a running back by committee type back field is that when his hand gets cold you have fresh legs to plug in and make plays as well. The Chiefs will need all 4 of these backs to compliment each other in order to make a deep run into the playoffs, and McKinnon got that off to a hot start last night with his freshness and ability to help in pass protection.
Going back to the first quarter, it looked like the Chiefs were going to be in trouble with TJ Watt and Tre Norwood giving Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie fits early. How did the Chiefs solve that? By throwing people, and plays, in their direction. The first touchown drive of the game for Kansas City featured both, with Mahomes finding McKinnon on screens directly towards Watt, and Noah Grey and McKinnon helping to chip on the all-world defensive lineman to negate his impact. Again, on the second touchdown drive, Kansas City went back to the same methodology, and coupling that with the threat of Patrick Mahomes scrambling ability (the QB rushed 3 times for 29 yards) the Steelers defense was officially on their heels, and by the time they figured out what was going on it was too late. Travis Kelce also destroyed the Steelers from the inside out. It started with feeling the middle of the defense out, and a couple of incompletions, but eventually the levy broke.
Kelce reached 100 yards receiving for the seventh time in his playoff career. That is an all time NFL record for tight ends, and puts him alone in second place behind Jerry Rice, who had 8 such games in his Hall of Fame career. He also now only trails Rob Gronkowski by 204 yards in all time receiving yards in 8 fewer games, and is number 12 overall in playoff yards in league history. As a tight end. Playoff Kelce was something I noted to watch for in the Twitter Space before the game, and boy did he prove me right.
And then, there’s Patrick Mahomes. With all of the talk about the performances of Josh Allen and Tom Brady in the Bills and Buccaneers respective playoff whippings over the weekend, you would have thought that the media outlets covering the Wild Card Weekend forgot Mahomes was playing Sunday night. Hell, even Joe Burrow was getting more attention than Mahomes after the Bengals won their first playoff game since 1991. So, without placing too much attention on this, I had a feeling that Mahomes needed to come out and make a statement in the game to remind folks who he is and what the Chiefs are about. And man….did he ever. Rough start included, Mahomes put himself alone in the category of most games in NFL history with 400 yards and 5 TD. He was tied with Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, and Joe Montana at 3, and is now alone with 4 in his career. It took him 72 games to get there. To put that in perspective, it took Manning 292, Marino 258, and Montana 187. For those questioning if Mahomes still “had it” when throwing the deep ball – on the night, he was 4/5 targeting verticals routes for 111 yards and 2 TD. Advanced metrics wise, he was 31.3% in CPOE (completion percentage over expected) meaning he was over 30% better than the expected completion percentage for an NFL quarterback making those throws. He even gave us a little vintage Chiefs throw back on the two play drive ending with a 31 yard bomb to Tyreek Hill for a touchdown. Patrick Mahomes is back (again), and when this man plays with confidence, there are consequences for teams that get in his way.
The night full of off-the-wall stats. The Chiefs accrued 269 of their 405 receiving yards after a catch, a number that was the 2nd highest YAC total in a playoff game in the history of ESPN’s Next Gen Stats. Leading the way for KC were Travis Kelce with 66 YAC yards, Mecole Hardman with 37, and Jerrick McKinnon with 106. That is not a type-o – for McKinnon to gain the 81 yards he had in the passing game, he had to actually gain 106. This is because his average depth of reception was around 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Another way the Chiefs took advantage of the Steelers pass rush and flipped the script on them in a masterful way on Sunday night.
There are some question marks from the dominant win, but question marks that over the course of their performance in the regular season would lead us to believe that they’ll be corrected with a little film review. As I mentioned earlier, Orlando Brown and Andrew Wylie at times looked like revolving doors at their respective tackle positions. The Chiefs were able to give them some relief in the form of help from McKinnon, Blake Bell, and Noah Grey, but the results could have been bad had that play calling adjustment not been made. The bottom line is the Chiefs will not see another rush quite like Pittsburgh’s the remainder of the postseason, because there is no one quite like TJ Watt left in play in the NFL.
But there is the Buffalo Bills, who will travel to KC next Sunday for a rematch of a week 5 regular season game that the Bills won 38-20. To say that this is not the same Chiefs team that the Bills defeated in the regular season would be an understatement. When asked about the challenge, Patrick Mahomes said “[The Bills are] a really good football team that’s gonna play really hard. We’re expecting a fight. We’re expecting a battle. They have a great offense, great defense, great special teams. We played them in the AFC Championship Game last year, we know that it’s going to be another first for us if we want to try to move on to the AFC Championship Game this year.”
Mahomes is right, it will certainly be a fight. Buffalo is not an opponent to overlook or discount. But if this version of the Chiefs shows up next Sunday, I like their chances at making their fourth straight AFC Championship game. And depending on how things play out in Nashville between the Titans and Bengals, we could be looking at a fourth straight AFC Championship game in the house that Lamar built. The Chiefs have taken step one in this postseason run, now the fun really begins. We’ll be back tomorrow with a first glance at the Buffalo Bills and a look at the entire divisional around across the league. Happy Victory Monday, Chiefs Kingdom.
Poor officiating has been an issue all season in the NFL, and not just for any specific team either. There’s been excessive taunting, non-existent defensive pass interference, and push-offs by wide receivers not being called.
The excessive taunting calls have been heavily criticized by fans and the media alike. I don’t think any football fan will argue that legitimate taunting should be removed from the game. There’s no need for it. You should never disrespect an opponent. However, what is being called taunting, is not taunting. Clyde Edwards-Helaire was called for taunting in the week 11 game against the Cowboys for pointing at a Cowboys defender and was also fined. There are countless other examples as well. The taunting calls have been more relaxed here lately which makes me wonder if the league quietly asked the officials to relax the calls.
One non-Chiefs example of a game that was poorly officiated was the week 9 Steelers vs. Bears game. Cassius March had a controversial taunting call after a sack on third down when all he did was stare down the bench of the Steelers. There was also a low-block call on the Bears that called back a Justin Fields touchdown. Additionally, there was a missed late hit on Justin Fields that forced the Bears to kick a 65-yard game-winning field goal that fell short, instead of a 50-yard field goal which is within former Chief Cairo Santos’ range.
Then we have the week 17 Chiefs vs. Bengals game which was one the most poorly officiated games in my recent memory. Nothing against Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate Ja’Marr Chase or the Bengals as a whole, Chase is a good receiver and the Bengals are a good team, however, there were multiple push-offs by Chase that weren’t called. There also was the phantom pass interference call on L’Jarius Sneed on 3rd down that eventually led to the Bengals scoring a touchdown that gave them their first lead. There were multiple other examples but I’m not gonna list them all because we all remember them.
So far in the playoffs, we’ve seen some poor officiating as all. It began in the Bengals vs. Raiders game Saturday. There was the whistle that was blown on the Tyler Boyd touchdown. Rule 7 section 2 of the NFL rulebook states the down should be replayed and whatever happened on the play doesn’t count if there was an inadvertent whistle while the ball is in the air. It’s clear as day it shouldn’t have counted. On the Raiders’ last drive, there was a roughing the passer called on Bengals defensive linemen Khalid Kareem where they claimed he hit Derek Carr’s helmet when he didn’t hit it, he hit neck which isn’t a penalty. In the Bucs vs. Eagles game, the Eagles were called for roughing the passer for hitting too low when it was Tom Brady’s hip that was hit. The playoffs are on track to be poorly officiated.
What should be done to prevent this is a question being asked by most fans. One thing I’ve seen suggested is making officials full-time officials. If they are full-time then officials wouldn’t have to have day jobs. Retied official Ed Houclie is also a lawyer, just as an example. More frequent use of a so-called “sky judge” has been suggested as well. This allows the league office in New York to give officials on the field instruction on what to do in a given situation. Microchip technology has been suggested to take some of the guesswork out of things like first downs, touchdowns, etc.
Whatever the league and Alberto Riveron, the NFL head of officiating, do to fix the issue, it needs to be done soon. NFL fans are getting frustrated and running out of patience. Before too long, some fans may stop watching until the issue is fixed. It’s no secret money talks, and the money is going to start screaming to fix it soon from sponsors.
Number 7 seed Pittsburgh travels to ice cold, snow covered Kansas City to take on the number 2 seed and 2 time defending AFC Champion Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
Date: Sunday, January 16 | Time: 7:15 PM CST Location: Arrowhead Stadium (Kansas City, MO) TV: NBC (Sunday Night Football) | Radio : 106.5 The Wolf Odds: Chiefs -12.5, O/U 46
A Kansas City winter is something that might not conjure fear to those who have never been here to experience it, but for those who live here there is a more than healthy respect for the season. The brisk northern winds, temperatures that seem to always find their way into single digits at least once in January, and a high humidity that make the air sting a little extra make Great Plains winters some that are certainly not for the faint of heart. But those temperatures seem a little crisper, you can feel the defined physical chill in the air, and the winds blow a little more recognizably when the winter morning you are waking up into is the morning of a Kansas City Chiefs playoff game.
I’ll get into the X’s and O’s and keys to the strategy of this game in a second. But I want to set a stage and create a mindset for the entire Kingdom – both those watching from home today, and those at Arrowhead Stadium.
With this being a 7:15 PM kickoff, gates are supposed to open at 2:45 PM. You pull up to the exit ramp off of 435, 70, wherever you’re coming from, and cars, trucks, busses, sprinters – everyone is already lined up all the way back to the highways to get in. So the gates open early, and 150,000+ Chiefs fans – some there just for the tailgate – begin a journey for today that has been planned, packed for, and is about to be executed. In the next few hours, 77,000 fans enter the gates of Arrowhead Stadium, a vast majority being members of Chiefs Kingdom, and take the place by storm. For those ~3 hours of gameplay, the fans and Arrowhead Stadium become one. They work together to create what is undoubtedly the most distinct home field advantage in the NFL, and likely in all of north American professional sports. The metal paneling on the way up the tunnels to the 200 and 300 level mezzanines serves as a collective drum for the entire Kingdom, in each of the 4 corners of Arrowhead. Inside, the back of the seat belonging to your neighbor in front of you (in the best cases, a fellow Season Ticket Member who you’ve been seeing on Sunday’s for years) is your drum. It’s what you’re going to slap your (hopefully gloved) palms against for the next 3 hours, creating chaos for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense. It’s jumbotron acts as your TV, phone, computer – everything when you’re in the stadium. And the team on the field is what is going to will these fans and the stadium they have running through their veins to make more noise than any other place on the planet today.
There is no place like Arrowhead, an overly used line that becomes more and more true as this franchise continues to blossom from a chippy playoff team with a QB that doesn’t lose you the game to a perennial favorite who is looking to 3-Peat as AFC Champions and get another crack at a Lombardi trophy after last season’s disappointing end. The Patrick Mahomes era of Kansas City Chiefs football has seen it’s fair share of instant classic playoff games inside of the walls of Arrowhead Stadium. Tonight, another chapter will be written in the story of this quarterback, this team, and this stadium.
Pittsburgh enters this game on a bit of a mini-roll. They closed out the season with 3 out of 4 wins, 2 of which were against teams squarely in the AFC playoff picture. Behind the likely Defensive Player of the Year worthy play of TJ Watt, the Pittsburgh defense showed its teeth late in the season, particularly in games against the Tennessee Titans (forcing 4 turnovers) and Baltimore Ravens (holding their hated rival to 13 points in a win or go home game for both teams). We all know where Big Ben is at at this point in his career. He’s not who he used to be, but he can still hurt, you, especially if you let the Steelers hang around in games. They have the ability to hand the ball off to Najee Harris, which is a benefit a lot of NFL teams would like, but they haven’t been able to really get him going like they’d like to in the back half of the season. If Pittsburgh can commit to running their offense through Harris, allowing their wide out talent to capitalize once defenses are drawn in, and play surgical football, their offensive can be dangerously effective.
But the fact of the matter here is that these two teams played against each other the Sunday after Christmas. Week 16 of the regular season Pittsburgh visited Arrowhead for the first time this season, in a late season must win game for the Chiefs, an atmosphere that resembles but does not replicate the atmosphere of a playoff game at Arrowhead. If you’re reading this, you know what happened that day. The Chiefs did not, in fact, let the Steelers hang around. And they did so with an offense that did not include Travis Kelce, a defense that did not include Nick Bolton, and a kicker named Elliott Fry who performed admirably, but had more “Linn Elliott Fry” twitter drafts discarded that he likely had positive tweets towards him. The Kingdom appreciates his service, Twitter is just a mean place.
I wrote about the main key to this game earlier in the week, and I’ll stick by my assessment – if there is a plan to negate or minimalize TJ Watt’s impact on the game assuming he is in for a majority of the game, the Chiefs should offensively be able to craft some good strategies around that. Utilizing Blake Bell, Noah Grey, Darrell Williams (likely on a limited basis coming off of a toe injury), and Jerrick McKinnon in pass pro situations, even with just a chip, is going to be needed. The offensive line, who has played at an unbelievable level this season, is going to have to be on top of their game not just physically, but from a communication standpoint. “Help” and “mine” are going to be words uttered a lot down there today dealing the Steelers front. But if they can get this done, and Playoff Travis Kelce does what he has always done in the playoffs – produce – the Chiefs offense will be a in a position to score points early and often on Pittsburgh,
Defensively the Chiefs are going to have to find out a way to have eyes and pads on Najee Harris at all times. Yes, the Steelers have dangerous receivers that can hurt you in a lot of ways, but Roethlisberger does not have the arm at this point in his career to hurt the Chiefs secondary downfield the way guys like Justin Herbert and Joe Burrow have at times this season. That can’t be placed entirely on the Chiefs corners, either, but I’ve been clear about my position on Spagnuolo’s play calling and personnel so I won’t dive into it today. But, having said that, it has to be different if we don’t want this to be a stressful night. Nick Bolton and Willie Gay will be a welcome combination this time around against Pittsburgh. Bolton led the Chiefs in tackles this season, but did not suit up against Pittsburgh in week 16. But, again, let’s all be real about what can and likely will happen tonight that will key the Chiefs defense to a successful evenings. Remember those chairs and that paneling I was talking about people beating on all night tonight inside of the stadium. Those come alive on every down now days, but especially on third downs, when an opposing offense is trying to operate. Big Ben may have work arounds, but the current incarnation of the Steelers offensive line appeared to have no idea how to maneuver it in December, and it’s going to be worse tonight. The pass rush, behind Chris Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Frank Clark, should be able to produce at the very least pressure, and more than likely a few sacks tonight against an immobile quarterback with a leaky offensive line.
Offensively it’s the same prescription we’ve been calling for all season. Balance. Establish the run and stick to it, behind these rhinos on the offensive line. Allow Mahomes to work himself into a rhythm, and take advantage of the deep shots that the running game and intermediate passing game are going to give you when they are gone to consistently. It’s going to be the same song and dance with Tyreek Hill, especially if he’s got Joe Haden and Minkah Fitzpatrick to deal with in a bracket scenario (likely won’t be the whole game, but he’ll see that combo more than once). Teams have essentially said “beat us somewhere else”, and the Chiefs have figured that out as well, making them one of the league’s most dangerous assassins on the offensive side of the ball. If Darrell Williams toe is good, and all signs are pointing to yes on that, he should be able to establish a thundering running presence with Derrick Gore there to change the pace on the Steelers D and Jerrick McKinnon to eat a little in the run and pass game.
I am one of the most superstitious sports fans in the world. ESPN nailed it with their ad campaign about sports superstition – it’s only crazy if it doesn’t work. I will not be at Arrowhead Stadium today, like I have been in years gone by. But I will be at home watching. I’ll be wearing the same socks, underwear, and shirt/hoodie combo that I have been wearing for weeks. But I will admit I had to reshuffle a couple times before settling in to this in week 8. But I will be there in spirit with the 77,000+ members of the Kingdom in attendance willing the Chiefs to what will be, no matter how it ends, the first step of the Chiefs 2022 playoff run. It does not end here tonight. I’ll leave you with the most overwhelming stat I saw this week. Patrick Mahomes is 49-3 in his career – a .942 winning percentage – when the team the Chiefs play does not reach 30 points. The Steelers are not getting 30 tonight against this team in this stadium. I like our odds.
Tyrann Mathieu, Jaren Reed, Ben Niemann, Alex Okafor are all free agents this upcoming season and you could make an argument that all four need to be retained. However, there is one member of the Kansas City Chiefs defense that will be a free agent and has been a quiet foundation piece. A reliable starter, and has helped this defense go from worst, to reliable. I am not talking about Melvin Ingram, who is a whole other argument. I am talking about Charvarius Ward.
While a couple of weeks ago against the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year, I am sure, many fans were questioning Number 35’s role on the team. However, Jamar Chase has been embarrassing corners and defenses all year long. Also, let us give credit where it’s due, Steve Spagnolo trusted Ward to cover Chase 1-on-1 in a crucial moment of the game. Had the blitz gotten to Burrow on that Third and 27 play, those questions would not have been as loud. Also, if we did not have to see Ward hit the Griddy on Chase early in the 2nd Quarter after a pass break-up. Not mad at the dance but as Chiefs Kingdom knows, celebrations before the end of the game never end well.
Ward has had a great season so far. In 13 games this season he has been targeted 76 times, the second-highest of his career, allowing a 51% competition rate. For comparison, Jalen Ramsey, arguably considered the best corner in football was targeted 98 times (16 games) this season with a 59% completion rate. On the other hand, L’Jarius Sneed, the Chiefs CB1 who was targeted 80 times (15 games) for a 69% competition rate. Do these numbers mean that Ward is better than these two CB’s? No, but it shows he is not a liability and he is a cornerstone of our defense.
Not many teams can have two corners that can cover, make plays, and tackle. Ward alone had 67 tackles this season, while Sneed had 76 and we often look at Sneed as the better tackler. The knock-on Ward is that he does not create turnovers very often; he only has two interceptions this season and four for his career. Chiefs Kingdom has lived with a turnover machine but was a liability in tackling, or coverage in Marcus Peters, while he made the big turnover (19 Interceptions while with Kansas City); he was often caught off guard or out of position while going for those plays. Ward is not caught off guard very often, and those big plays on him are usually exceptional execution by the opposing offense.
Other than his game against the Jamar Chase and the Bengals, Charvarius has not allowed over 100 yards this season. The highest QB rating allowed was against the Las Vegas Raiders (158.3) and he was targeted 2 times for 14 yards. He has been reliable every game this season, and will only get better (age 26). Chiefs Kingdom needs to ensure that this offseason that Charvarius Ward is a priority, only behind Tyrann Mathieu if you had to rank them. I do not think we can find a better, perceptive corner in free agency. He believes in the system, does what is required and is a player we can rely on day in and day out…. If Spags can only give him some help when he is covering the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year.
15 games 52 total tackles 39 solo 13 asst. 3 TFL 3 QB Hits 1 sack 6 PD 3 INT 67 interception return yards 1 Pick-6 1 FR Dirty Dan is 12-3 against LV!
Daniel Sorensen has gotten a bad rep from everyone in the Kingdom and beyond but we cannot put all the blame on him. Coaching has to put him in the right position to succeed. he is not a every down starter, his best games have been in the middle as a spy/rover, hidden by the line.
With that being said, he also needs to understand his strenths and weaknesses. Step up and let the coaching staff who and where players like Thornhill should be. Evertyone understands being competitive as well as wanting to be on the field more than not. But if /when it becomes a detrement to the team everyone has to step up and call it like it is!
He has been a huge impact player when in the right position and packages for a long time with Kc and we appreciate everything he has done.