The Kansas City Chiefs' potential third straight Super Bowl run starts against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. There are so many clichés about playoff football: defense wins championships, you have to run the ball in January, the game speeds up, etc.
For the Chiefs to win this weekend, the formula is much simpler. Execute. That's it. For this Sunday to go well, this team needs to do what they do best. It's just another game where the Chiefs are the more talented team, with the best quarterback and coach, and they need to ride the horse that brought them.
Here's a look at some of the Chiefs that may be instrumental in this weekend's Wild Card matchup — both good and bad:
Patrick Mahomes: QB1 had some bad games in the middle of the season but finished with a solid five-game stretch resulting in 12 touchdowns, only one interception — and the Chiefs a 4-1 record. The only loss in a game where the opponent kept the ball out of his hands through most of the fourth quarter. Look for Mahomes to carry this team to victory with an efficient performance, including some epic clutch plays. If the Chiefs struggle, we may see "over my dead body" playoff Mahomes, which should be terrifying to the Steelers. The best player in the world has the opportunity to remind everyone that he's not defined by All-Pro votes, but he might just have a little something for them this week.
Melvin Ingram: It's not a coincidence that the Chiefs' defense improved dramatically when Ingram was acquired from the Steelers. I'm sure Mike Tomlin and company didn't expect to see him as one of the leaders of the defense that could end their season and Ben Roethlisberger's NFL career. But Ingram has been a force for the Chiefs, adding not only a rotational pass-rushing spark but a full-time EDGE player that Spagnuolo can rely upon. It would be poetic to see him make some game-changing plays this week.
Mecole Hardman: Hardman was the story of last week's game, crossing over 100 yards for the first time ever, taking some of Tyreek Hill's targets, adding them to the designed "gadget" plays the Chiefs always plan for Hardman. Watching him on "Mic'd up," he sounded like a confident player who gives energy to the team around him. This is the guy the Chiefs hoped they'd get when they moved up in the second round to get him. But it's also time to stop worrying about how early he was drafted and start giving Hardman credit when he delivers. He could get another opportunity this week, with Tyreek Hill still nursing that painful heel, and the Chiefs favored by a lot. Ideally, Hardman can make some plays in the first 15, helping the Chiefs get a big lead, then let Tyreek rest. Let's make "playoff Mecole" a thing— while we're at it, let's see more "wildcat Mecole."
Derrick Gore and Jerick McKinnon: Clyde Edwards-Helaire will miss this weekend's game, and Darrel Williams is questionable. That could just open the door for the next two men up. Interestingly, both have some big-play-ability that could be a factor in this game. McKinnon surprised everyone with a nice performance last week, including a spectacular touchdown run. Maybe he has the fresh legs and can continue to be the "hot hand" against the Steelers. Gore has a 60-yard run and a 61-yard reception this season and seems to have a knack for closing games out strong. Watch the injury report heading into Sunday's game. If Darrel Williams can't go, these two backs could line up and roll behind the Chiefs offensive line. Don't be surprised if they produce if given the opportunity.
Others trending in the right direction this week: Trey Smith, Creed Humphrey, Orlando Brown, Jr, Joe Thuney, Nick Bolton, Willie Gay, Jr., Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Jarran Reed, Byron Pringle, Travis Kelce, L'Jarius Sneed, Tyrann Mathieu
Mike Hughes and Charvarius Ward: The cornerback position might be one of the most difficult in all of sports. A talented player can be in a perfect position and get beat by a perfect pass to a big receiver who can reach up and make a play. Confidence is key, as is a short memory, because they'll get beat sometimes, and they have to be able to bounce back and compete on the next play. Over the past few weeks, it seems the confidence level and performance of the Chiefs corners has waned a bit, with quarterbacks attacking the perimeter. Whether it was blown coverage, a physical mismatch or a pass just thrown up in hopes of a pass interference call, Hughes and Ward seem to be targeted more often with better success. In the playoffs, they'll face some of the league's best quarterbacks who now have tape that makes the Chiefs' corners look beatable. Let's hope they have short memories and can find their confidence again against the Steelers on Sunday. Even though they're facing a depleted quarterback in possibly his last game, Big Ben can still throw it up for his big receivers, so these guys will be critical if the Chiefs are going to shut them down.
Demarcus Robinson: In the postseason, you need playmakers, but there isn't much room for errors. Robinson has a history of both making plays and making unforced errors like running backward and/or fumbling. That variance is not what we want to see against the Steelers. This game is one that the Chiefs should win with a steady, efficient offensive performance. That's the type of game where they should be looking to feature their running backs and Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and even Byron Pringle.
Others trending in the wrong direction this week: DeAndre Baker, Josh Gordon, Ben Niemann, Noah Gray
Value (Sleeper) pick: Daniel Sorensen
“Dirty Dan” has been a frustrating player again this season. Thrust into a starting role, he struggled often. In a more limited role, he thrived again. But it seems like his snaps crept up towards the end of the season, especially at deep safety, where he struggles the most. In previous seasons, Sorensen was a guy that had a knack for making big plays on big stages in big moments. Perhaps this weekend, we'll see that guy on the field again. Watch for Sorensen to pop up with a blitz or turnover to help change the game or a tackle at the line of scrimmage that stops a Pittsburgh comeback. Even though he's struggled, don't bet against Sorensen having a big playoff moment or two.
Bonus deep sleeper: Daurice Fountain
Everyone's favorite preseason wide receiver has been called up again just in time for Wild Card weekend. Could he be part of the game plan? He has the look of a reliable possession receiver who could help Mahomes spread the ball around. QB1 will need some outlets to get the ball out quickly, and it's fair to wonder if Robinson or Josh Gordon will ever get it done at this point. Perhaps they'll give Fountain a shot to show that he isn't a fluke but could be the type of surprise contributor you see on every championship team.
Double bonus deep deep sleeper: Joshua Kaindoh
OK, now this really is a DEEP sleeper, but there's a chance that the rookie will see game action in the playoffs and bring just a bit of extra pass rush to the rotation. What a story it would be if the talented but raw player made an impact play or two in the playoffs. The no-longer mobile Steelers quarterback might be just the target for the Chiefs pass rush, who will be a real key to this game. A fresh, unknown pass-rushing threat could be a fun surprise for Spagnuolo to unleash in the postseason.