The (11-6) Kansas City Chiefs will begin their postseason quest for a repeat championship on Saturday night, hosting the (11-6) Miami Dolphins on GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in sub-zero temperatures. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. Arrowhead time.
The Chiefs enter the weekend as 4.5-point favorites, according to DraftKings Sportsbook.
Kansas City’s freezing conditions will be the overarching theme of this postseason battle. During his career, the Dolphins’ quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has struggled to overcome cold weather. This could affect his ability to utilize wide receiver Tyreek Hill — who should be well-motivated for his first game in Arrowhead since Kansas City traded him to Miami.
I have five things to watch in the primetime matchup:
1. Defending Miami’s speed on the ground
The Miami offense is built on speed. In the Week 9 matchup, the Kansas City defense stepped up to limit that explosiveness on the ground. But rookie running back Devon Achane did not play in Frankfurt — and has since emerged as one of the Dolphins’ most dangerous weapons.
“They’ve all got speed; they built it that way,” Chiefs’ defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo pointed out to reporters on Wednesday. “Tyreek leads that charge, but we didn’t face 28 last time... That’s another weapon they didn’t have before.”
Running back Raheem Mostert managed 85 yards and a score in the last game, finding space in the second half to tighten the score. Now he’ll be paired with Achane, who averaged 7.8 yards per carry over 103 attempts this season.
Miami wants to get to the perimeter with both players, but it won’t be as easy this time. Linebacker Nick Bolton missed the first game — but noticed his teammates’ aggressiveness on the outside.
“We were doing a good job of setting the edge on runs and being physical at the line of scrimmage with our cornerbacks,” he told reporters in the locker room on Thursday. “I feel like a lot of teams that play against this team don’t press a lot because of their speed. We have guys that can press the line of scrimmage and run, so that helps us.”
2. Defending Miami’s speed on passes
The Dolphins’ effectiveness on the ground opens up passing plays — where plenty of speed is also available. In the first game, Kansas City succeeded at forcing third-and-longs, making Tagovailoa play as a dropback passer.
If Achane can break more runs open, it could give more room to Hill, who only totaled 62 yards in the first matchup.
“He practices just as fast as he plays in the games, so we saw it all,” Spagnuolo remembered of Hill’s time in Kansas City. “You do have to treat him differently, I think our guys understand that: proper leverage if we’re in man, proper leverage when you’re in zone, have 22 eyeballs on them, know where he is all the time.
“He can hurt you in a lot of different ways. They hand the ball off to him, they jet sweep him, they throw it to him, screens — the whole thing.”
The Chiefs won’t be able to keep the ball out of Hill’s hands all the time. Cornerback Trent McDuffie knows this — and acknowledged the importance of continuing to pursue after the catch.
“A big thing is open-field tackling, and getting off blocks,” McDuffie said in the locker room on Tuesday. “This is a game where all 11 are needed every single play. That swarm — that relentlessness — that Coach Spags talks about? That needs to be on display this weekend.”
3. Patrick Mahomes against Vic Fangio
The Miami defense will be playing through an extensive list of injuries to impact players. It will take an incredible game plan to overcome that — but that’s exactly what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio can do.
“They’re a good defense,” Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes acknowledged on Tuesday. “They have a great defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio, who I know really well. He has done a great job of having different schemes every time I play against him.”
Mahomes’ career low single-game passer rating came in a 22-9 win over Denver in 2021, when Fangio was the head coach there. The veteran defensive play-caller has disrupted Mahomes’ rhythm multiple times.
4. Kansas City’s left tackle
With rookie Wanya Morris officially ruled out with a concussion, veteran left tackle Donovan Smith is projected to return to the starting lineup. He has been dealing with a neck injury — and not seen the field since Week 13.
The Chiefs, however, need to be wary. A few weeks ago, Smith’s initial return to the practice field was cut short when he suffered a setback. If that happens in this game, Kansas City needs to have a plan that doesn’t involve flipping right tackle Jawaan Taylor to the other side.
If Smith doesn’t make it through the whole game, watch for left guard Joe Thuney to kick out — and veteran Nick Allegretti to fill in at left guard.
5. Overwhelming Miami’s depleted front
The Dolphins will be without their three most-used edge defenders on Saturday — along with linebacker Jerome Baker, who has led with the second level in snaps this season.
Kansas City needs to take advantage by pounding the rock. Running back Isiah Pacheco should take advantage of the offensive line winning the battle up front — especially on stretch runs, which would take advantage of Miami’s weakened defensive edges.
The Chiefs may have to chip away at it for a while — but a consistent ground attack should wear out the depleted front, limiting the obvious passing downs where Fangio can dial up blitzes.