With the Chiefs spending this weekend practicing and preparing, there are plenty of things to look for when watching the rest of the playoffs unfold this Saturday & Sunday.
The Chiefs secured their bye week early in Week 16 and, in doing so, were able to rest their key players as well as get a good look at some of the teams they may have to face after the wildness of Wild Card weekend, which begins today with the Colts and Bills.
The Chiefs have a lot to look forward to this upcoming postseason, as do their fans, and it’s not just the likelihood of repeating as Super Bowl Champions (currently the Chiefs have the best odds of winning Super Bowl LV at +225 according to The Lines). For the Chiefs, this postseason is all about redemption and establishing the base for the nearing Kansas City dynasty. With a Super Bowl victory this year, the Chiefs will have shown how scared teams should be of them.
All season long teams that have played Kansas City have played their best football knowing that KC was the team to beat, and even with that giant target on their back, they finished 14-2 (with the final loss coming from resting players) and atop the AFC, which appears to be far better than the NFC which holds two teams in the playoffs that are .500 or worse.
So while Coach Reid and the Chiefs sit on their couches and watch Wild Card matchups this weekend, looking for weaknesses or areas that the Chiefs could excel at, this is what everyone should be looking for and looking at during the games.
(#7) Indianapolis Colts at (#2) Buffalo Bills (Saturday @ 1:05 ET)
*Chiefs would play Indianapolis on Jan. 16/17 if they win*
Buffalo currently holds the third-highest odds (+650) for winning the Super Bowl, and rightfully so considering they boasted one of the best offenses in the league–finishing top three in touchdowns (60), yards accumulated (6,343), and points accumulated (501)–all while forcing the third-most turnovers on defense (26) as well.
The main thing to watch for when analyzing the Colts Saturday afternoon is how well they utilize their offensive weapons–namely T.Y. Hilton and Jonathan Taylor. Hilton has had one of his worst years statistically, only bringing in 762 yards receiving (his second-lowest of his career) and 5 TDs (also his second-worst mark of his career), but that doesn’t mean he can’t turn it on in the postseason. In fact, Hilton has averaged 93.6 yds/game in his eight postseason games with 8.7 yds/target, but then again those games were with Andrew Luck throwing to him and not 39-year-old Philip Rivers.
This matchup could be the spark that former Charger Philip Rivers and the Colts (who have the 3rd-worst odds to win the Super Bowl at +4000) have been waiting for–a chance to prove they belong in Super Bowl conversations and a chance to shock the world. If they can pull off the major upset against the red-hot Bills, the betters in Vegas and the city of Buffalo would be bewildered.
That’s not to say that Indianapolis’ defense and offense hasn’t been spectacular in their own way this season, just look at the offensive rookie of the month RB Jonathan Taylor who finished 3rd overall in rushing yards (1,169) this season.
Their running attack, which was originally supposed to flow through Marlon Mack who tore his Achilles in Week 1, is just as scary as their rush defense, which finished the season ranked 2nd in rush yds allowed (1,448) and YPC (3.7/attempt) according to Lineups.
If Rivers and the Colts’ offense can’t get Taylor or their other talented RB Nyheim Hines going on the ground they’ll need their WRs to make big plays against the Buffalo passing defense (ranked 13th in the league). If T.Y. Hilton isn’t the guy making the big plays, then Rivers will have to rely on standout rookie WR Michael Pittman Jr. (503 receiving yds) who has shown promise–especially after a scary calf injury he sustained in Week 3–or 3rd-year starter Zach Pascal (629 receiving yds).
(#6) Los Angeles Rams at (#3) Seattle Seahawks (Saturday @ 4:40 ET)
This game will host a bevy of talented players who all seemed to have up-and-down years, especially the QBs who have both taken their team to a Super Bowl recently and both shown they are franchise quarterbacks, but just need help somewhere this postseason in order to take the big leap forward to get back to the Super Bowl.
For starters, Jared Goff lost to the Jets–that can’t go without saying–but his season stats show that he was not the same QB who led them to a Super Bowl just two years ago. This season, Goff only threw 20 TDs (19th in the league) and a staggering 13 interceptions (T-31st) before dislocating and fracturing his thumb on his throwing hand before their final game. Compare those stats to his 2018 season when he threw 12 more TDs and one less INT before leading the playoff push to one of the least-watched Super Bowls in history.
Russell Wilson, on the other hand, started off the year in MVP conversations (like many years) but quietly squandered whatever chance he had at the award with poorly-executed throws and a downward trend inefficiency. For the first eight games, Wilson was on fire, averaging 317.6 passing YPG and 3.6 TDs per game, but after the midway point, Wilson began to sour, averaging only 208.8 passing YPG and 1.6 TDs per game.
The real thing to watch in this game will be the Seattle Seahawks offense in general, which didn’t seem to be a problem early in the season–especially considering the terrible status of their defense before adding S Jamal Adams and DE Carlos Dunlap. In fact, Seattle’s defense hasn’t allowed a 400-yard game since Week 9, which is extraordinary considering the same defense gave up 415+ yards in all-but-one game before that.
While Seattle’s defense has stepped up to the plate, it seems Seattle’s offense has begun to decline bit-by-bit, and even though they scored the most points in franchise history this season (459) and D.K. Metcalf spent much of the season on top of the receiving leaderboard–ultimately finishing with a single-season record for a Seattle WR with 1,303 yards–it seems that their defense was actually what kept them in the playoff race between the battle-hardened NFC West teams.
And although Seattle’s defense has recently turned up the juice, it is important to remember that the Rams’ defense is–and has been–unwavering, largely in part to 2x Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald who is T-2nd in sacks (13.5) & T-3rd in forced fumbles (4), not to mention one of the best CBs in the league in Jalen Ramsey.
After splitting the divisional series between them this season, it will truly come down to which Russell Wilson is throwing and which side of Seattle decides to show up: the offensive powerhouse from the first half of the season? Or the defensive brick wall from the past eight games?
(#5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at (#4) Washington Football Team (Saturday @ 8:15 ET)
Tom Brady is once again in the playoffs for his NFL-record 41st postseason game, but this time he’s on the road in a Wild Card game–a first for the future Hall of Famer. His previous four Wild Card games all came at home back in New England (where he went 2-2). On the road in the playoffs, Brady is just 4-4 with more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9). This time he has to travel to an invigorated Washington with a resurgent, hearty defense that is filled with talent.
One of those talents is #2 overall pick Chase Young, who finished the season as one of the best rookies to come out of the 2020 NFL draft, finishing as PFF’s highest-graded defensive rookie of the season at 87.2 (ahead of Chiefs’ CB L’Jarius Sneed at #2 with 73.9). At the end of Washington’s “thriller” game against the rival Eagles, Chase Young was screaming into the tunnel that he “wants Tom Brady” and that’s who he’ll get Saturday night.
What will be most important to watch during this game is just how much pressure the Tampa Bay offensive line will allow against this brawny and stud-filled Washington defense. Brady’s offensive line has been one of the best in the league (5th best according to PFF), and rookie RT Tristan Wirfs (ranked 2nd among RTs according to PFF – 82.2) has had one of the better seasons for a rookie who started all 16 games at their position.
Wirfs is definitely a huge spark for the Bucs offensive line, although LG Ali Marpet (ranked 3rd among all LGs by PFF) has also been dominant at his position, which has provided Tom Brady with a cleaner pocket for longer. Brady has only had to endure pressure on 24% of his snaps, which’s 4th-lowest in the NFL and one of the reasons Brady was able to accumulate so many yards (3rd highest-4,633 yds) and TDs (3rd most-40 TDs) while only being sacked 22 times (4th best according to Lineups).
So it essentially comes down to who will have the better day? Washington’s top-5 defense or Tampa Bay’s top-5 offensive line?
(#5) Baltimore Ravens at (#4) Tennessee Titans (Sunday @ 1:05 ET)
*Chiefs would play Baltimore on Jan. 16/17 with victory & BUF and PIT wins*
*Chiefs would play Tennessee on Jan. 16/17 with victory & BUF and PIT wins*
This game will be particularly fun to watch for anyone who watched the first battle between these teams last year in the AFC divisional round, and round two between the teams earlier this season, which played out a little differently but ultimately ended the same way: a Titans victory inside Baltimore’s stadium.
Both these teams’ odds at reaching the Super Bowl fluctuated throughout the year, especially with tough losses by Tennessee (+3000) against the Bengals; and after the Ravens lost somewhat-embarrassingly at New England and then in OT the very next week (vs. TEN) their odds dipped as well from +700 at the beginning of the season to +1100 currently.
Despite what everyone might say about Derrick Henry–who led the league in rushing yards by 400(!) yards and finished 5th(!!) in NFL history with 2,027(!!!) yards on the ground–it’s actually Lamar Jackson who is the key rusher to watch in this game.
Specifically, the thing to watch is how Lamar runs the ball against the Titans’ mediocre defense (ranked 19th in the NFL) and how he runs the ball if Baltimore falls behind–the latter becomes more important than ever for Jackson in the playoffs, where he has only averaged 14.5 points in his two postseason bouts.
Without harping on the commonly known playoff record that Jackson boasts (0-2), I will add that in games against playoff teams this year Jackson has struggled: going 4-3 with a 63% completion percentage, 14 total TDs, 7 turnovers (4 being INTs), 479 rushing yards & 1,292 passing yards. And when games came down to him, like the close loss against Pittsburgh in Week 8, he flounders and comes up short.
If Tennessee’s defense can do what they have been unable to do all season–get opposing offenses off the field (currently ranked dead last in the NFL on 3rd down percentage – 51.9%)–and their offense can successfully lean on Derrick Henry more than Ryan Tannehill, then Lamar will have to do what he has seemingly been unable to do in big games: come back from a deficit.
(#7) Chicago Bears at (#2) New Orleans Saints (Sunday @ 4:40 ET)
Chicago pulled out some sort of miracle and ended the season 8-8, which was good enough to propel them to their second postseason in Matt Nagy’s three seasons as head coach. With that being said, Chicago sits tied with Washington for the lowest odds (+10000) to win the Super Bowl and it’s easy to see why.
They find themselves in a tough spot against a hobbled Saints (+750) team that has experienced a litany of problems this season, whether it be the inconsistent status of All-Pro WR Michael Thomas or the absence of Drew Brees for four games with 11(!) broken ribs. But through it all, the Saints came out victorious over their division and proudly hoist a 12-4 record coming into Sunday’s matchup.
The key things to watch in this game are the two completely opposite quarterbacks starting for their respective teams, both of which rightfully playing for something more than just the victory:
Brees, who turns 42 next week, is likely playing his last season and seems to be driving an unstoppable force in order to finish out his HOF career as a Super Bowl Champion. Trubisky, on the other hand, is playing for his chance at a contract extension, or possibly to raise his asking price in the upcoming free agency market, which would be a cherry on top of the slander that he has received since being drafted #2 over Patrick Mahomes (#10) and Deshaun Watson (#12).
Both Brees and Trubisky are going to have their work cut out for them for their own reasons: Brees is going to have to find someone quickly if he wants to avoid any more rib injuries, and that’s going to be tough against Khalil Mack and the pass rush of the Bears. Although RB Alvin Kamara has been on a tear these past few weeks, the Bears’ defense is 2nd-best in rushing TDs allowed and has the 5th-best red zone defense in the league, meaning Brees is most likely going to have to take this game into his own hands.
Meanwhile, Trubisky’s consistency problem hasn’t gone away, he’s just overcoming it in a better and grandeur fashion than before, especially with the help of RB David Montgomery, who has become hot in the past six games while also becoming a great receiver (54 rec, 438 yds, 2 TDs).
Trubisky is going up against a top-5 secondary that is going to test his accuracy–which has been shaky at best throughout his career so far (64 TDs-37 INTs)–considering the Saints are T-1st in INTs (18) and have 84 passes defended this season.
Trubisky is going to have to rely on some dink-and-dunk plays, take a few running opportunities, and he’s going to want to get the ball to his star WR Allen Robinson II, who just completed the second-best season of his career (1250 receiving yds, 6 TDs). If he can do these things accurately and successfully, the Bears have a legitimate shot at upsetting one of the preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl.
(#6) Cleveland Browns at (#3) Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday @ 8:15 ET)
*Chiefs would play the Browns Jan 16/17 with a victory and a BUF win*
This game definitely has the most drama surrounding it with the news that first-year HC Kevin Stefanski (who should be mentioned in the COTY talks) has COVID-19 and cannot coach during Sunday’s game.
With all the hoopla surrounding the team this week, it’s easy to forget that this is the first time in 18 seasons that the Cleveland Browns (+5000) will be in a playoff game, and it comes against the team they beat just last week: the Pittsburgh Steelers’…second-string offense and defense.
The big difference is this week the Browns will have the full force of a rested Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, and 2020 sack leader T.J. Watt coming at them, which has led them to be six-point underdogs against the same team they just defeated. The good news for the Browns is that they have also gotten a sort of “rest” considering they were not allowed at the practice facility until Friday afternoon:
Although that wasn’t the rest the Browns were hoping for they still got it and now they will have to work with what they have. The best thing to watch in this matchup is the running game of Cleveland against a top-five defense that only allows 4.3 YPC.
That proved to be somewhat of a problem for Cleveland–who is 3rd in rushing yards and 5th in rushing TDs–when facing their division rival this year at Pittsburgh (+2000) when they only had 3.4 YPC (FYI: they were missing RB Chubb).
What has also been proven is that when the Browns rushing game doesn’t work, they don’t work, (1-3 when they don’t rush for over 101 yards) which could come into play if the Browns find themselves down early or are unable to rush effectively.
While Baker Mayfield likes to take the blame for almost anything that goes wrong with the Browns on a weekly basis, this will be his first real attempt to show why he was the #1 overall pick back in 2018 and if they come up short, whether it be by an inch or a mile, it will be on his shoulders even though the Browns are a run-heavy offense.
Look for running backs Nick Chubb and former K.C. Chief Kareem Hunt to be the major impactors of the game, especially if they can get off to an early lead or keep momentum and time possession on their side of the field. If they don’t have a big game, it does not bode well for Baker and the Browns who are in the bottom-ten of almost every major passing category (Lineups).
Overall the Chiefs have their work cut out for them: all teams have qualities that can be major factors depending on the matchup presented to them, all teams have the ultimate reward waiting for them at the end of their hard work and perseverance, and all teams are essentially 0-0 and have nothing to lose.
Odds be damned, things happen every postseason that nobody can predict, and sometimes can’t even be explained, but odds right now still show that the KC Chiefs still have the best odds (+225) to win the Super Bowl (and subsequently become the 8th team to repeat as champions). That should mean a lot considering the talent entering the playoffs on both sides of the league.
*All odds are from The Lines.com*