The Kansas City Chiefs have won one playoff game in 24 years, while the Tennessee Titans haven’t suited up for a postseason game since 2008.
Either way, someone’s playoff thirst gets quenched Saturday when the teams meet to open the wild-card round at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
Recent form suggests that the Chiefs (10-6) will have momentum on their side. After starting 5-0 and looking like the best team in the league, Kansas City unaccountably lost six of seven, falling into a three-way tie for first in the AFC West with Oakland and the Los Angeles Chargers.
But the Chiefs tapped into their considerable home-field advantage for one-sided wins over the Raiders and Chargers in Weeks 14 and 15, respectively, and then rode that upswing to a season-ending four-game winning streak.
And now the focus is on a playoff breakthrough.
“This is all the work we’ve been putting in from Day 1,” Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith said during a media session. “We completed the first step and now it’s on to the second one, which is winning this game. It’s tough to add any more motivation with historic streaks or things like that.
“We would just love for that to be a byproduct of getting a win.”
Tennessee (9-7) waited until the very end to earn its first playoff berth in nine years. It was 8-4 and tied for first in the AFC South going into Week 14, but lost three in a row against NFC West teams to make last week’s date with Jacksonville a win-or-die situation.
The Titans won, barely. A terrific effort by their defense, mixed with a 66-yard touchdown on a screen pass from Marcus Mariota to Derrick Henry and a big game from punter Brett Kern, gave them a 15-10 decision and entry into the playoffs.
“We had a number of chances to get ourselves in, but unfortunately, we had to wait until the last one to do it,” Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said. “I don’t know if that made it better, but it’s a good feeling.”
If Tennessee is to win its first playoff game in almost a decade, it needs to get more from its offense. There will be no DeMarco Murray (knee) and perhaps no Quinton Spain. The guard didn’t practice Thursday with a lower back injury and is deemed questionable.
That means the Titans have to get the running game going with Henry, who managed just 51 yards on 28 carries last week. Henry said on Wednesday that he ran “soft” against the Jaguars, which wasn’t inaccurate. He turned plays that could have gained a yard or two into lost-yardage snaps because he tried to turn them into bigger plays.
“I guarantee you his intent is going to happen,” Mularkey said of Henry. “He is a young player who has a full game experience (last week), so to see a lot, it was good for him. Hopefully, it is going to pay off this week.”
Kansas City has its own injury issues. During a meaningless season finale at Denver, the Chiefs lost kick returners Akeem Hunt (broken tibia) and De’Anthony Thomas (fractured ankle), meaning they must use an unproven player or risk a kicking-game injury to game-breaking receiver Tyreek Hill, something coach Andy Reid has been loath to do.
“There may be a situation where Andy says, ‘let’s get our A team in there and we go with Tyreek,'” Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said. “But it’s going to be a long shot if that happens.”
Kansas City also could be without defensive linemen Rakeem Nunez-Roches (ankle) and Jarvis Jenkins (knee).
–By Bucky Dent, Field Level Media