TENNESSEE TITANS (9-7)
at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (10-6)
Arrowhead Stadium – Kansas City, MO
Kickoff: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. ET
Line: Kansas City -8, Total: 44.5
Tennessee travels to Arrowhead as a heavy Wild Card underdog.
Oftentimes, a team entering the NFL playoffs on a hot streak becomes a popular pick to make a run to the Super Bowl, even if it's not one of the higher seeds in its conference. Well, no such darling exists in the AFC this year, and certainly not in the Titans-Chiefs matchup that will open up the playoffs on Saturday afternoon. The Titans enter the game having lost three of their last four games and the Chiefs, while they have won four straight, seem to have lost the confidence of the public thanks to a 1-6 stretch following a blistering start to the year. KC ended its year with a 27-24 win in Denver in a game in which they played mostly backups, while Tennessee had to fight its way past Jacksonville in a 15-10 home win that they absolutely needed to earn their No. 5 seed. Now, the Titans will need to get past a group of rested Kansas City starters in one of the league's most imposing road environments if they want to advance past their first postseason game in eight years. Over the last five seasons, games involving two teams allowing between 18 and 23 points per game at least eight games into the season are 136-86 Under against the total. In the last two seasons, Kansas City is 11-3 Under against the total when playing pass defenses allowing at least 235 yards per game. In playoff games since 1992, the Chiefs are 2-12 ATS.
Needing a first down on third-and-five to close out the Jaguars late on Sunday afternoon, Titans QB Marcus Mariota threw a savage stiff arm on Jags safety Barry Church to get to the marker and lock up a playoff bid for Tennessee. If he can sustain that feisty spirit over the course of practice this week and infect his teammates with the same attitude, the Titans offense that head coach Mike Mularkey once dubbed as "exotic smashmouth" will be in a good position to move the ball against Kansas City. Mariota's 60 rush yards on the day were a season high, helping make up for 134 passing yards that marked his second-lowest such mark on the year. He's been up and down through the season and didn't have the breakout campaign that many predicted, and he'll need to have one of his best games yet for the Titans to pull the upset on Saturday. Flanking him in the backfield will be second-year RB Derrick Henry and, perhaps, veteran RB DeMarco Murray. With Murray sitting against the Jags with a knee injury, Henry rushed the ball a career-high 28 times but managed only a dismal 1.8 yards per carry against the stout Jacksonville D. He made up for that inefficiency, though, with a 66-yard touchdown scamper off of a screen pass in the second quarter. Murray is questionable for Saturday's game, and they'd greatly prefer to have him on the field even though he's clearly on the downside of his career. TE Delanie Walker is Mariota's favorite target by far, while WRs Rishard Matthews, Eric Decker and Corey Davis all see targets as well. Davis, a talented rookie who has missed substantial time with injury this year, could be a possible x-factor.
It's been a tail of three seasons for the Chiefs, who started the year as an unlikely offensive juggernaut behind Andy Reid's creative playcalling. Then came the midseason crater, and then the end-of-regular-season resurgence. All in all, QB Alex Smith played like a top 10 QB, surpassing 4,000 passing yards for the first time in his decade-plus NFL career. He's been excellent with three total touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two starts, and even played well in the Chiefs' most recent loss, throwing four TDs in a shootout against the Jets. If Kansas City withheld creative plays like what they deployed against the Patriots in Week 1 for playoff usage, Smith could have some big yardage ahead of him. He certainly has the weapons, as WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce and rookie RB Kareem Hunt are each among the most explosive and dynamic at their respective positions. While Hunt cooled down over the course of the year alongside the unit, he still had a breathtaking rookie campaign with over 1,700 yards from scrimmage and 11 total touchdowns. Hill and Kelce, meanwhile, each topped 1,000 yards receiving and combined for 15 receiving touchdowns. Hill got 17 carries this year and didn't take any of them for 20-plus yards, but he remains probably the last guy in the NFL you want to see taking an end-around if you're cheering for the defense. Finally, it's worth nothing that Smith is the league's most underrated running quarterback; he was fifth among all signal-callers with 355 yards on the ground this season.