Posted on January 3, 2018, by Travis Pulver
When the 2017 season began, the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs were in similar yet different positions. The Chiefs had been a good team, but one that was unable to take the next step and become a true contender. Tennessee was a team with promise that many expected to take the next step this season. Both took a baby step forward, but at the same time still looked a lot like the team they were in 2016.
However, with a win over the other in Saturday’s AFC Wildcard game one team’s baby step could become more.
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Tennessee’s offense has not been great this season. Marcus Marriota didn’t take the net step in his progression as an NFL quarterback like fans hoped. It didn’t help that he didn’t have a true No.1-caliber wide receiver. Eric Decker was acquired to add some experience to the group. Rookie Corey Davis and Tayan Taylor joined the team via the draft.
In the end, tight end Delanie Walker led the team with 74 receptions for 807 yards. Rishard Mathews led the team in touchdowns (four). But as a whole, the passing game only produced 14 touchdowns.
The running game didn’t do much better. Last season, between Marcus Marriota, Derrick Henry, and T.J. Yeldon, the Titans had the third-best rushing game in the NFL (136.7 yards/game). This season they ranked 15th (114.6 yards/game). With one of the better offensive lines in the NFL, more was certainly expected.
What saved the Titans was there run defense; teams averaged just 88.8 yards/game against Tennessee. They’ll need to have that kind of impact against Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Kareem Hunt if they are going to score the upset Saturday.
But if the Chiefs offense struggle like it did during the midseason stretch that saw them lose six of seven games. The run game practically disappeared as did Kansas City’s vertical passing game. However, down the stretch in December, the offense woke up.
Alex Smith had seven touchdowns and just one interception in December along with a pair of 300+ yard games. Kareem Hunt started the month on a bad note with just 40 yards on nine carries against the Jets. But he followed that up with a 116-yard day against the Raiders, a 155-yard day against the Chargers, and 91-yards against the Dolphins.
He talked Andy Reid into letting play a little in the season finale even though the Chiefs were locked into the No. 4 seed. He gained 35 yards on one career to secure the season rushing title.
But where the Chiefs struggle, is on defense. They allowed 365.1 yards/game (No. 28) this season but did a better job regarding scoring (No. 15; 21.2 points/game allowed). They didn’t do particularly well stopping the run (No. 25; 118.1 yards/game allowed) or pass (No. 29; 247 yards/game allowed).
While the entire NFL season is important, when it comes to the playoff-bound teams it is how you are playing at the end of the season that matters most. Tennessee was able to secure its first playoff bid since 2008, but the Titans limped through the month of December. They didn’t play well on defense and barely played well enough on offense.
If they are going to have any chance at all, Marcus Mariota needs to get hot early on and either Derrick Henry or DeMarco Murray needs to find room to run. But they may not get much of a chance.
Kansas City will likely try to minimize their defensive weaknesses by getting out to a large lead early on in order to make the Titans one dimensional. If they can do that, they will coast to a rather easy win.
So—who’s going to win? Tennessee is not playing like a team that should be in the playoffs. Are they capable? Yes, but they are simply not playing good football. Kansas City, on the other hand, is playing good football.
Kansas City is an eight-point favorite. But don’t be shocked if they win by double-digits.