There are no easy games in the playoffs. But on a frigid night in Arrowhead Stadium, the Kansas City Chiefs made it look like they were playing Madden on easy mode. This vaunted Miami Dolphins offense froze on the season's biggest stage, as the Chiefs defense brought the hammer down on Miami's playoff hopes, rolling to a three-score victory, winning 26-7.
Here are five things we learned from the Chiefs Wild Card round victory:
1. Nobody wants to play this defense in the playoffs
This was the sort of night where it was so cold that any normal human would avoid contact at every turn... where each tackle had to feel like you were running into a brick wall. You don't play as well as the Chiefs' defense played in this game without owning a certain mindset about how you are going to go about business.
You could see it in the way the Dolphins played. They wanted nothing to do with this defense on Saturday night, and the Chiefs didn't stop throwing punches until the Dolphins were out on the canvas.
The only blemish was an understandable touchdown given up by Trent McDuffie when he lost track of the ball in the air. Mistakes happen, but what was impressive was how he responded after the play. McDuffie was a one-man wrecking crew.
There isn't a team in the NFL that wants a piece of this Chiefs defense.
2. You don't need to score touchdowns
The Chiefs continue to struggle to score touchdowns in the red zone. This has some fans wringing their hands. Here is the thing: capping drives off with a touchdown only matters if the opponents are also scoring touchdowns. But if you hold the opposing team to single digits, it doesn't really matter.
The 2000 Baltimore Ravens are considered one of the greatest defenses of all time — they allowed a total of 23 points in four playoff games on their way to a Super Bowl Victory. I honestly believe the Chiefs have that sort of defense this year.
It doesn't matter if we settle for field goals; it will be hard for opposing teams to keep pace, especially when Harrison Butker is out here kicking medicine balls through the uprights in sub-zero temperatures.
3. Rashee Rice is WR1
For the last decade, tight end Travis Kelce has been the primary target in the Chiefs offense. But slowly, over the last couple of months, that has started to change. Not because Kelce isn't still a stud, but because of the emergence of rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice.
Only time will tell if defensive coordinators will adjust their game plans to focus on limiting Rice moving forward and whether he will see more double teams and bracket coverage. The thing is, you can't double-team everyone. If you choose to double up Rice, you run the risk of Kelce having a big day — nobody wants to be the defensive coordinator that lets the future Hall of Fame tight end be the reason they're watching the Super Bowl from the comfort of their sofa next month.
Because of this, I expect Rice to continue to feast on single-coverage as he works over the middle of the field.
Rashee Rice is BALLIN pic.twitter.com/kWqFCFbtqj— Bussin' With The Boys (@BussinWTB) January 14, 2024
4. Experience matters in the playoffs
With Joe Flacco and the Cleveland Browns losing on Saturday afternoon, Patrick Mahomes becomes the only quarterback left in the playoffs on the AFC side of the bracket who has won a Super Bowl. In a win-or-go-home situation, the more experienced team usually prevails — especially when the weather is as bad as it was in this one.
Patrick Mahomes knew when to take the game into his own hands and scramble for a first down, and he knew when to lean on his defense and let them carry them home.
You only get that from a guy who has been in this situation before. The stakes are much higher in the playoffs, and all the Chiefs needed Mahomes's steady hand.
5. Andy Reid had the perfect gameplan
There were a lot of questions coming into this game. Could the Chiefs stop the Dolphins offense? Could they protect the ball and not turn it over?
Andy Reid leaned on his best players on Saturday, running his offense through Rashee Rice, Travis Kelce, and Isiah Pacheco.
Sure, there were a couple of plays to some ancillary players like Mecole Hardman, but on the whole, these three guys, combined with Mahomes and a lights-out defense, are the Chiefs' recipe for success.
I would expect a heavy dose of the same medicine for whoever the Chiefs play next week.