As the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs readied themselves to play a hungry Houston Texans team this week, their leader in Alex Smith stood at his locker with the usual media surround.
Smith is a league MVP candidate a quarter of the way through this NFL season—he has eight touchdowns and no interceptions and is playing the best football he has since 2012, the year he lost his job in San Francisco to a concussion.
Towards the end of his weekly media availability, a reporter asked Smith about the Texans, and whether or not he considered them a “rival.”
Smith, who we’ve been accustomed to doing whatever it takes to avoid anything extra, answered surprisingly.
“Yeah,” he said. “There is a lot of history. There is a lot of history between us. Any time you have that, there will be that there. Both sides have come out on top, we have gotten the best of each other. They have always been really physical games and tough fought. I don’t expect this to be any different.”
In the last two years, the Chiefs and Texans have played three times, odd for two teams not in the same division. One of those times included the Chiefs’ 30-0 divisional-round shutout in NRG Stadium, site of each of the three games and this upcoming weekend’s Sunday Night Football edition.
The Texans’ 2015 story started and ended with the Chiefs.
In Week 1, Marcus Peters intercepted Brian Hoyer on the first play of his career, and then in the divisional-round playoff game, Knile Davis ran 106 yards to help Kansas City forget 22 straight years of playoff failure.
The Chiefs took their first loss against Houston since 2010 last year despite two interceptions from Peters, who leads all players in picks against the Texans with three in the regular season. He also added an interception in the playoffs for good measure.
Peters has been the point of a bit of controversy this week after an incident last game when he exchanged words with a fan during Monday Night Football at Arrowhead Stadium.
Andy Reid said he addressed the situation. Smith said, “it’s never a win to get into it with the fans.”
All that in mind, Peters will need to put whatever it was behind him as the Chiefs make their annual trip to Houston because what the Texans have in Deshaun Watson is proving to be something special.
Texans wide receiver Will Fuller V played his first game of the season for the Texans last week, and though he had 35 yards and two touchdowns himself, you won’t find his complete impact on his line of the stat sheet.
Fuller draws the attention of defenses because of his home run ability, and that necessary attention takes it off DeAndre Hopkins, who with a legitimate quarterback could be in the running for the best wideout in the NFL.
He may have that in Watson, who went 25 for 34 for 283 yards and four touchdowns last week en route to winning the AFC offensive player of the week, an award that could make the 2019 version of a Chiefs fan understandably grimace. 107 of those yards were to Hopkins.
The secondary for Kansas City is suddenly good, and it will need to be.
If there is any worry for the Chiefs, it should be on the offensive line, a spot where they will be missing two starters—Mitch Morse is still out, so Zach Fulton will start for the third straight game at center, and Jordan Devey, who replaced Laurent Duvernary-Tardif at right guard last game, could be there again. Don’t be too surprised to see the return of Parker Ehinger also in this mix.
Regardless of how the final Chiefs offensive line shakes out, the trio of JJ Watt, Jadeveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus could be a problem.
The one thing the Texans don't have is Kareem Hunt, who only knows games in the NFL with 100 yards rushing or more.
How Reid opts to use Hunt, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill has become more and more fascinating by the week, and it will remain so in Houston.
What will also remain, for years to come, is this invisible rivalry.
When the Chiefs traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to select a quarterback, it wasn’t for Watson even though many regarded him as the best on the board.
Patrick Mahomes won’t be playing Sunday, but Watson, who the Texans selected two picks later, will.
Watson remembers who didn’t want him.
In the invisible rivalry of the Chiefs and the Texans, Sunday could be chapter one of dropping the invisible.