1) What has Andy Reid been saving for the playoffs?
Will the Chiefs dust off some corner of the playbook that has been eluded to but not used in the regular season? Perhaps they give Tyreek Hill the ball on a couple of jet sweeps instead of using him as the decoy. Perhaps we see some other variations of plays that they’ve run in previous games. Opposing teams have 16 games of film on the Chiefs. If Reid and company are smart, they’ll use the film study against them (like Cam Newton did).
Prediction: We see just enough creativity to get a few big plays, including one we’ve never seen before
2) Is momentum a real thing?
The Chiefs have been a streaky team: starting 5-0, looking like the best team in the league, dropping six of seven, looking lost and out of sync, then rattling off four wins in a row. Some people believe that momentum doesn’t exist, that each game, each play happens independent of the one before it and nothing carries over. Others believe that the confidence carries over from week to week, and even within games as teams execute plays and build each small victory into the next.
If momentum does exist, does resting the starters affect it? Or will the Chiefs as a whole ride into the playoffs with the confidence that they can win each week, even with backups? It has often been proven that the best team isn’t always the one that wins the Super Bowl, but the one that gets hot at the right time.
Prediction: Momentum may not be real, but confidence is.
3) Who will have the biggest impact this week, the past or the future?
When teams need a win, they often turn to their veteran leaders. Alex Smith, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali will have one more chance to be the core of a Chiefs team that can make a run. Darelle Revis and CJ Spiller joined the Chiefs this season hoping to revive their careers and give a temporary boost to an already good team. With the exception of Houston, it could be the final playoff run for all of these veterans.
The future of this Chiefs team looks bright, with Kareem Hunt, Tyreek Hill, Harrison Butker, Patrick Mahomes and Tanoh Kpassagnon. With the likely exception of Mahomes, those guys will all have lots of opportunities to make the plays that will win this game.
The Chiefs will need playmakers to step up. Watch to see whether it’s the veterans who have been there before that lead the way, or if the talented youth inject speed and enthusiasm to a group that has struggled to finish postseason games in the past.
Prediction: The young Chiefs give a glimpse of a bright future
4) Kareem is the key
More so than nearly any other team, the Chiefs rely on their running game to make their whole offense tick. It’s not just that Hunt can pick up much needed yards on the ground, and score touchdowns from nearly anywhere on the field. But when the offense is running through Hunt, the Chiefs are able to control the tempo of games, control the clock, and make plays. When they can sustain drives, the Chiefs defense can stay fresh, and attack. Kareem Hunt may be the most important player on either side of the field at Arrowhead.
We’ve said all season that teams can’t stop all three playmakers: Hill, Kelce and Hunt. We’ve seen that if Hunt is the one that teams are able to take away, the other two aren’t always able to get going. They need the balance and unpredictability that comes from having Kareem Hunt featured in both the run and the passing game. As an added bonus, the Titans appear to struggle defending backs who can catch. Look for the Chiefs to feature the NFL’s leading rusher in his first playoff game, both in and out of the backfield.
Prediction: Hunt has a big day, especially in the passing game: 150 total yards and two TDs
5) Who will be the Kareem Hunt of the defense?
Justin Houston, Marcus Peters or Chris Jones. Each has the ability to take over a game, and create turnovers. Houston hasn’t been healthy enough to take over a playoff game in previous years. When he’s right, he’s one of the most dominant EDGE players in the NFL. Team’s can’t run his way, and RTs can’t block him in pass protection. If he’s feeling it, he can ruin an offensive game plan on his own.
Chris Jones showed against Philadelphia that he also has the ability to disrupt opposing QBs from inside and outside. His enthusiasm is infectious, so hope that we see him celebrating early and often. He may be the only Chiefs interior defender that can dominate by getting into the Titans backfield hitting Marcus Mariota before he can get out of the pocket.
Marcus Peters, for reasons we don’t need to rehash here, became a lightning rod for controversy this season, and his one game suspension was a turning point for the entire secondary. Upon his return, Peters has played like the All-Pro we’ve grown accustomed to. The Kansas City Thief has a knack for flipping field position, and outcomes in the Chiefs favor by being a magnet for the football. He’s one to watch this week every time he assists on a tackle, he’s going for his new trademark strip.
Prediction: Houston shows up in a big way with two sacks and three big run stops while Peters is part of two turnovers.
6) Watch GM Brett Veach’s new-look ILBs
Against the Titans run game, it’s critical that the Chiefs play sound, disciplined football, especially up the middle. The team that struggled to defend the run made a couple of key additions and midseason lineup changes that have quietly made a big difference. New GM Brett Veach traded DJ Alexander for Kevin Pierre-Louis, then traded a future pick for Reggie Ragland. Both guys have fit right in, and have created a nice rotation with veteran Derrick Johnson. Ragland particularly has made impact stops and a dramatic difference with his downhill style of play.
The Titans pride themselves on running the ball, and will seek to establish RB Derrick Henry early and often. Earlier in the season I would have been worried, but Veach’s astute additions have brought the team run defense back to respectability. Wondering what’s different from the Pittsburgh loss last year? These two guys are a big part of it.
Prediction: Ragland and the Chiefs defense hold Henry under 100 yards.
7) Are the playoffs any different than the regular season?
We’ve been led to believe that teams need to do certain things to win in the post season. You have to be able to run the ball to win in the postseason. You have to be able to stop the run to win in the January. You have to have elite QB play to win in the playoffs. It’s as if we are to believe the game somehow changes just because it’s Week 18-21. I’d argue they don’t have to do anything different to win. In fact, I argued the same thing last year. I stand by my theory. The Chiefs don’t need to do or be anything different from the Chiefs team that won 10 games in the regular season. They just have to be the good version of themselves.
Prediction: The Chiefs win this game doing what they’ve done for most of the season
8) Are the Chiefs cursed?
In the days leading up to the Chiefs first playoff win in 22 years, I argued that there was no curse, and there never was. This Chiefs team has been breaking streaks all season. Alex Smith threw for 4,000 yards and led the league in QB rating. A QB the Chiefs drafted started a game — and won! — for the first time since Todd Blackledge. The Chiefs beat New England in Foxboro. Harrison Butker broke the Chiefs record for field goals made. All streaks come to an end eventually, trends reverse and new streaks start.
Prediction: A new playoff winning streak starts today.