KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Analyze the AFC wild-card matchup for the Kansas City Chiefs all you want.
In totality, the Chiefs seemingly have an edge over the Tennessee Titans in their 3:35 p.m. Saturday clash, which is reflected in Kansas City being favored by more than a touchdown on the betting line.
Yet there will be some familiar anxiety when fans either douse the coals and head into Arrowhead Stadium, or pronounce the wings ready at home and become glued to the television broadcast.
This is the playoffs and the Chiefs are at home. Just twice in their history, despite all the promotional slapstick over having the loudest stadium and the greatest homefield advantage in the NFL, have the Chiefs protected their turf and won a postseason game in Kansas City.
And yet that particular bugaboo, clearly ominous since Arrowhead opened in 1972, does not factor into the strengths the Chiefs carry into the playoffs.
Such as the four consecutive victories they posted to overturn a potentially disastrous 1-6 stretch … the resurgence of rookie Kareem Hunt and his NFL rushing title … the most productive of 13 NFL seasons played by Alex Smith … the impact provided off takeaways Marcus Peters snags or strips … the mismatches Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill present … the trusty leg of Harrison Butker …
You get it. The Chiefs can be good.
As in they-beat-the-Patriots-in New England good.
Now, Hunt may not be able to get untracked against the Titans’ physical front. Tennessee allows 88.8 yards rushing on average. That potentially leaves more for Smith to manufacture, while countering the maneuvers of Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his 80-year-old mastermind.
“This offense, I wished I would have had (Smith) when he was a kid. He could have come up through this offense,’’ Chiefs coach Andy Reid said this week. “I mean it’s kind of built for him and his game. He works hard. He studies like crazy. He’s in early, out late. Now he’s at the point of his career that he can have a say, which is kind of neat to watch. He’s done a nice job.’’
Of course, Smith also stands 2-4 in the playoffs, 1-3 with the Chiefs.
Defensively, the Chiefs should be able to take away what the Titans present since their quarterback, Marcus Mariota lacks the weapons Smith counts on. The best of the Tennessee skill players is a tight end, Delanie Walker, who often gets smothered in coverage. The most upside to Mariota is the threat he poses when he bolts from the pocket.
“He obviously has the ability to get out of trouble in the pocket and extend plays,’’ said Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. “Strong-armed guy. This is a really talented guy. He’s fought through some injuries with the hamstring and all that, but right now he’s playing pretty good football. Big-time playmaker.’’
That’s the thing. The playoffs dictate big-time plays. Games are often close. And they can be decided a bunch of different ways, none of which have usually favored the Chiefs. They last won a playoff game at home in 1994, and before that, 1991.
A 2-5 postseason record in Arrowhead reveals a lot about the Chiefs overall fortunes since winning just the fourth Super Bowl ever staged.
Breakdowns of all the variables suggest the Chiefs overcome their home postseason funk against the Titans.
However, in spite of how KC closed out the season and repeated as AFC West champs, the midseason collapse remains evidence the Chiefs can falter.
So, as I walk into Arrowhead on Saturday, I will wonder what could prompt a postseason backfire again at home. And wonder if I was foolish to submit this prediction: Chiefs 23, Titans 17.
Contact Kevin Haskin at email@example.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.