1 - Kansas City Chiefs
Have the Chiefs fixed their special teams units?
No playoff team came into the postseason with more questions about the kicking game than Kansas City. Harrison Butker made 90.1 percent of his career field goal attempts prior to this season. He’s only connected on 75 percent this season (18 of 24), with three missed extra points part of the problem, too. The issue has become so controversial in Kansas City that former punter/holder Dustin Colquitt, who spent 15 seasons with the Chiefs (2005-2019), took to social media and local radio to criticize current punter/holder Tommy Townsend for his holding technique. The return game also has been sketchy at times, as rookie Skyy Moore lost the punt return job after muffing three punts, and Kadarius Toney has fumbled on a punt return as well. The Chiefs have long had one of the best special teams coaches in the league in Dave Toub. If he hasn’t resolved these issues yet, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a kicking game gaffe ruin Kansas City’s Super Bowl dreams.
2. Kansas City Chiefs
Like Philly, they have a major edge on the field as they’re only two wins away from playing in the Super Bowl. Their playoff opener at Arrowhead would most likely be against the Jaguars or Chargers, who both lost in Kansas City during the season ... though the Bolts’ familiarity with the Chiefs could make that a stressful matchup. Still, that’s probably preferable to seeing the Bengals or Bills in the divisional round given both beat K.C. in the regular season. But if the Chiefs reach their fifth consecutive AFC championship game, they’ll almost certainly have to take out Buffalo or Cincinnati, the former at a neutral site (Atlanta) while knowing they lost at home to the latter with a Super Bowl berth on the line last year.
And good as the Chiefs have been adapting to life without WR Tyreek Hill this season – salute to QB Patrick Mahomes, who’s probably going to be the league MVP for the second time – it remains to be seen how they’ll do without Hill’s explosiveness in the playoffs. In his last eight postseason contests with K.C., Hill’s impact was undeniable (61 catches for 812 yards and five TDs), and the Chiefs would never have escaped the Bills in last year’s legendary divisional game without him.
When the Chargers took a 27-7 lead in the first half, it looked like the game was over. Trevor Lawrence’s playoff jitters raised more concerns as well, with the young QB throwing four interceptions in the opening half–including three in the first quarter.
However, Lawrence and co. didn’t back down and staged the ultimate comeback in the second half. After cutting the lead to just 10 in the third quarter, the Jaguars completed the come-from-behind 31-30 win with an 11-0 run in the final period.
After witnessing the massive turnaround, Mahomes had only three words to describe the contest: “Just crazy man..!”
And crazy it is. A lot of people had already written off the Jaguars after the first half, but clearly, Jacksonville didn’t stop believing in themselves.
t-4. Chiefs 51, Texans 31 in AFC Divisional Round (Jan. 12, 2020)
Biggest deficit: 24 points. Houston led 24-0 with 9:56 remaining in the second quarter.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Chiefs in their 2020 playoff debut. Patrick Mahomes’ receivers dropped passes, Kansas City’s special teams muffed two different plays that led to Houston touchdowns, and Kenny Stills scored the easiest touchdown of his career when the home team just sorta forgot he existed.
But then Texans coach Bill O’Brien opted for a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the KC 13-yard line, and the football gods punished him for his cowardice. Mahomes’ wide receivers suddenly remembered how to catch the ball, leading Houston to resort to holding and pass interference to stop big plays downfield (neither strategy worked).
O’Brien’s lead didn’t even make it to halftime, thanks in part to a bizarrely timed second-quarter fake punt that failed to fool Kansas City’s previously deficient special teams unit. He went on to lose by 20 points as Mahomes finished his day with five passing touchdowns in a showcase worthy of a couple cold ones.
Eric Fisher is a legend for the stone cold beer celebration. https://t.co/VcqdB4oAEf— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 12, 2020
It was only the third time in NFL history a team that trailed by 20+ points would go on to win by 20 or more, and the first time ever in the playoffs.
As for Mahomes, his EPA rate is one of many reasons he’s favored to win the MVP. But ranking No. 1 in EPA per dropback is far from a guarantee for becoming a Super Bowl-winning quarterback in that same season. Here’s are the quarterbacks since 2006 who finished in the top spot in EPA per dropback and their ensuing playoff results:
2021: Aaron Rodgers (loss in NFC Divisional)
2020: Rodgers (loss in NFC Championship)
2019: Lamar Jackson (loss in AFC Divisional)
2018: Mahomes (loss in AFC Championship)
2017: Tom Brady (loss in Super Bowl)
2016: Matt Ryan (loss in Super Bowl)
2015: Carson Palmer (loss in NFC Championship)
2014: Rodgers (loss in NFC Championship)
2013: Peyton Manning (loss in Super Bowl)
2012: Brady (loss in AFC Championship)
2011: Rodgers (loss in NFC Divisional)
2010: Brady (loss in AFC Divisional)
2009: Philip Rivers (loss in AFC Divisional)
2008: Drew Brees (no playoffs)
2007: Brady (loss in Super Bowl)
2006: Manning (Super Bowl champion)
According to Korte’s projections, the Chiefs had six qualifying free agents lost and just three qualifying free agents gained in 2022. Compensatory picks that would have been earned from losses of CB Charvarius Ward (49ers), C Austin Blythe (Seahawks) and DE Melvin Ingram (Dolphins) were canceled out by additions of S Justin Reid, WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.
The contracts, consistent play and performances of Bears WR Byron Pringle, Packers DT Jarran Reed and Lions CB Mike Hughes have the Chiefs set to earn three compensatory picks in 2023. Pringle is set to earn Kansas City a sixth-round compensatory pick and Hughes is set to earn them a seventh-rounder. Reed originally was slated to earn the team a seventh-round comp pick, but an incentive earned for playing at least 65% of the defensive snaps in Green Bay has that upgraded to a projected sixth-round draft pick for the Chiefs.
JuJu Smith-Schuster – Kansas City Chiefs
Back in March of 2022, the Kansas City Chiefs signed JuJu Smith-Schuster to a one-year, $10.75 million contract. Now, one year later, the 26-year-old wideout could once again be testing the free-agent waters.
In 16 appearances (14 starts) for the Chiefs this past season, Smith-Schuster hauled in 78 passes for 933 yards and three touchdowns. It was the 6 foot 1, 215 pounder’s best campaign since 2018, when he tallied 111 receptions, 1,426 receiving yards and seven scores for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Smith-Schuster was the second most-targeted Kansas City pass-catcher this past fall, with only tight end Travis Kelce getting more looks from quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Redbirds will need a bigger receiver to complement Brown, Moore and Dortch, and Smith-Schuster certainly qualifies as a candidate to fill that role.
Around the NFL
Not many gave the Baltimore Ravens much of a chance to upset their divisional rival Cincinnati Bengals in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Bengals were riding a seven-game winning streak into the postseason and were 8.5-point favorites. The Ravens, meanwhile, were without star quarterback Lamar Jackson and sputtered down the stretch with backup Tyler Huntley behind center.
Yet the Ravens outplayed the Bengals for much of Sunday night. They outgained their rivals 364 to 234 yards, they averaged far more yards per play (5.5) than the Bengals (4.3), and Huntley was even outdueling All-Pro Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
After shaking off an early interception, Huntley gave the Ravens offense life. He led the Ravens on an impressive 17-play, 75-yard drive bringing Baltimore within two points early. A few minutes later, he was able to orchestrate a two-minute drill to give the Ravens an improbable 10-9 lead at the half.
When the Bengals came out firing in the second half, Huntley was up for the fight. After Burrow retook the lead for Cincinnati late in the third quarter, the Ravens quarterback answered just three minutes later with a 41-yard touchdown bomb to Demarcus Robinson to tie the game up.
Then came the pivotal drive in the game. At first, the drive had all the makings of a career-changing moment for Huntley. He dropped a pass right in the bucket to tight end Mark Andrews for a 25-yard gain on third-and-1. On the very next play, he took a read option for 35 yards all the way down the the Bengals 2-yard line. He was six feet away from giving the Ravens a touchdown lead over their division rivals with less than 13 minutes left in the game.
Facing fourth-and-1 from their own 48-yard line with 2:28 remaining in the game, the Dolphins failed to get a play off in time and were flagged for delay of game. The penalty pushed them back to fourth-and-6, and they were unable to convert on a Skylar Thompson pass attempt to tight end Mike Gesicki.
McDaniel said afterward it was communicated to him that the Dolphins had picked up a first down on the prior play, and he didn’t immediately have a fourth-down call ready.
“There was some communication that we’d gotten first down,” he said. “So then we were deploying a group of players for the first-and-10 call. Then it was articulated that, no, it was fourth down ... I had gotten [conflicted] information that it was a first down; I don’t really know exactly who it was from. It’s probably the first time all year that that had happened. You try to do your best. As it was, I thought we had a fourth-and-6 opportunity we were unable to come up with.
Why the Giants won
Daniel Jones played one of the best games of his career, Wink Martindale threw a curveball with his defensive game plan, and the Giants executed in late-down situations. Jones has now started 54 career regular-season and playoff games, and this game ranked as his fourth-best by TruMedia’s version of expected points added (EPA) per dropback. He repeatedly took off downfield, achieving a first down with four of his six scrambles. New York’s offense was also electric on third and fourth downs, converting 7 of 13 in the formation situation and both of its opportunities in the latter. Meanwhile, the most blitz-happy defensive coordinator in all of football was content to sit back and play coverage for much of the game, the better to minimize the chance of a big play to Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson. It worked: Jefferson finished with just 7 receptions for 47 yards.
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
The Kansas City Chiefs now know their Divisional round opponent: the Jacksonville Jaguars, winners of the AFC South and Saturday’s Wild Card round game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Jaguars will visit the Chiefs at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Arrowhead Time. The game will be broadcast on NBC.
By clinching the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Chiefs earned a bye week and the right to play the lowest-seeded team remaining following the Wild Card round. The No. 2-seeded Buffalo Bills defeated the No. 7-seeded Miami Dolphins and the No. 3-Cincinnati Bengals took care of the No. 6-seeded Baltimore Ravens, leaving the No. 4 Jaguars as the lowest-remaining seed.
The Jaguars came back to beat the Chargers on Saturday night after trailing by 27 points with less than two minutes to go in the second quarter. Jacksonville managed a late first-half touchdown before outscoring Los Angeles 24-3 in the second half. Riley Patterson hit a 36-yarder as time expired to send the Chargers to the offseason.
A tweet to make you think
These games should make Chiefs fans sooooooo happy that they got the bye week— Cody Tapp (@codybtapp) January 16, 2023