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Chiefs

Who the Chiefs could see in the playoffs ... and who they might want to see

 

The procedure for the playoff bye was kept in-house, Chiefs coach Andy Reid and his players providing little insight to their plans for the opening week of the NFL postseason. Unless, of course, you include the proposal from lineman Mitch Morse.

“To take a nap,” he quipped.

Indeed, the top reward for the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs is rest. A one-week break. Survive and advance without even playing a game.

But the hiatus is purely physical. The focus of the Chiefs’ top brass remains on football this weekend, even if the action is outside of Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chiefs’ first postseason opponent will be revealed over the next couple of days, determined by the result of Wild Card weekend. As the No. 1 seed, Kansas City will play host to the lowest remaining seed in the Divisional Round. That could be one of three teams: Indianapolis, Baltimore or the Los Angeles Chargers.

The sixth-seeded Colts travel to play the Houston Texas on Saturday afternoon. If the Colts win, it’s settled — they’ll be traveling to Arrowhead Stadium a week later. But if they lose, the Chiefs’ curiosity moves into Sunday. They would await the winner of the matchup between the Chargers and Ravens.

Any of the three possibilities offers intrigue. The Chiefs have already played host to the Ravens in Chargers within the last month. There’s a well-known postseason history with the Colts.

“Logically, two of the teams you have played against, so you have spent the hours on those two teams,” Reid said. “The other one you haven’t played, so just logically, you go back and look at that team. But you also stay fresh on the other ones.”

The further analysis will come later this weekend and early next week.

But allow us to get a head start. Who should the Chiefs want to play?

According to BetOnline.ag, the Chiefs would be favored against any of the three teams, but they would be the biggest betting favorite against the Colts. That spread would be 7 points. The Chiefs would be favored by 6 points against the Ravens and 4 points against the Chargers.

Here’s a deeper look at each of the potential matchups:

Indianapolis Colts (10-6, No. 6 seed)

The Chiefs have won zero playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium since 1993. The Colts have won two. It grows worse, actually: The Chiefs have lost four straight playoff games overall against the Colts.

The players insist the history doesn’t matter. Those were different teams than this one, after all. “Don’t let the past poison your future,” linebacker Justin Houston said.

OK, so let’s focus on the present. The Colts finished the regular season 9-1. Their offense and defense were both top-10 units over that time frame.

No, they don’t have the firepower the Chiefs possess with Patrick Mahomes, but quarterback Andrew Luck will almost certainly win the league’s comeback player of the year honor, throwing for 39 touchdowns and 4,593 yards. But the credit for his season can be shared. Luck has been kept clean by an offensive line playing as well as any in football.

The Colts went five straight games without allowing a sack at one point. That would present a strength-against-strength battle with the Chiefs’ pass rush. Kansas City tied for the NFL lead with 52 sacks, led by Chris Jones’ 15 1/2, and could disrupt the luxury of time that Luck operated with over the past three months.

And here’s an important note for the Colts’ defensive stature: While they ranked No. 10 in the NFL over the final 10 weeks in scoring defense, the Colts did not face any of the league’s top-14 offenses during the stretch. The Chiefs, of course, have the No. 1 offense in the NFL in both yardage and points.

Los Angeles Chargers (12-4, No. 5 seed)

Familiarity.

The Chiefs and the Chargers have already seen each other twice this season, splitting the two games. The Chargers, you might remember, erased a 14-point fourth-quarter lead to win inside Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 13, converting the game-sealing two-point conversion with 4 seconds left.

At age 37, quarterback Philip Rivers put together one of his best seasons, tying a career-high with a 105.5 quarterback rating. He threw 32 touchdowns. The Chargers offense is versatile, particularly when Rivers is connecting with multiple receivers as he’s done over the last half of the year. And keep in mind, starting running back Melvin Gordon sat out that game at Arrowhead last month and yet the Chargers still found a way to win without him.

On the other hand, the Chargers seemingly have no answer for Chris Jones this year, a dilemma they would need to address should the teams meet once more. And Patrick Mahomes has thrown for six touchdowns and zero interceptions in the two games against Los Angeles. For a quarterback who has never appeared in a playoff game, jitters become an obvious concern. Facing a defense he’s played well against (twice) would offer some immediate comfort.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6, No. 4 seed)

Ah, more familiarity.

The Chiefs defeated Baltimore 27-24 in overtime on Dec. 9. It took a miraculous throw from Patrick Mahomes — what’s new? — to prolong the last drive and send the game to overtime.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson has revitalized the Ravens’ offense and would present a particular problem for a Chiefs defense that is sixth-worst in the NFL against the run. Jackson is 6-1 as a starter in his rookie year. His only loss? That overtime defeat in Kansas City. The Ravens are averaging 229.6 rushing yards per game when he’s under center.

We haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. Baltimore is masterful with its blitz packages and ranks second in the NFL in scoring defense.

But whereas the Chiefs’ top-ranked offense has yet to reveal a weakness, the Ravens have an obvious one: Jackson’s deficiency is in the passing game. If the Chiefs see the Ravens in the Divisional Round, forcing Jackson into obvious passing situations would do them wonders. Making him play from behind? Even better.

The Ravens are favored 3 points in Sunday’s Wild Card round against the Chargers.

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