Soon after the Kansas City Chiefs pillaged the Houston Texans, 30-0, at NRG Stadium, winning the team’s first playoff game in 22 years, Andy Reid’s outfit likely turned its sights to the nightcap. And were probably hoping the Pittsburgh Steelers take care of business against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Why? Because with a Steelers win, the Chiefs would be plugged into a matchup with the New England Patriots — while the Steelers would play the Denver Broncos. A Pittsburgh loss would pit Cincinnati against New England, and Kansas City against Denver.
Teams are bound to draw difficult matchups in the playoffs — it is the playoffs, after all — but should the Chiefs want to continue their fairy-tale-like season, which absolutely nobody expected, they should be cheering on Ben Roethlisberger instead of AJ McCarron.
The Chiefs split their meetings with the Broncos this season, but Kansas City matches up better against New England. Not only did Bill Belichick’s team stumble to the finish line of the regular season, losing two of its last three games and hemorrhaging players by the snap — but the loss of leading rusher LeGarrette Blount left a void where a running threat used to be. Wide receiver Julian Edelman and tackle Sebastian Vollmer may not be available next week, either.
New England averages 3.7 yards per carry, a figure that ranks 29th in the NFL and the second lowest average of any playoff team. Denver, meanwhile, averages 4.2, putting the team in the top half of the league in the metric. The Broncos also piled up 314 more rushing yards this season than the Patriots.
While Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s unit ranks near the apex of the league leader board in a number of metrics—total defense, scoring defense and takeaways, to name a few—it also allows more than four yards per carry. In losses this season, the Chiefs allowed nearly 100 yards per contest.
Kansas City’s 22 percent stuff rate, of the percentage of runs where the team tackled the opposing running back at or behind the line of scrimmage, ranks 10th in the league, which is certainly commendable. However, the defensive line is far superior in its capacity to rush opposing quarterbacks: Kansas City’s 7.7 percent adjusted sack rate, which gives sacks plus intentional grounding penalties per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance and opponent, ranks fourth in the NFL, and the team amassed 47 sacks during the regular season, the fourth most of any team. Denver gave up one more sack than New England did, but Tom Brady was sacked at least twice in each of the past six games, and without Vollmer that streak would likely continue.
On the other side of the ball, Kansas City’s offensive line ranks 28th in pass protection. Alex Smith was sacked three times by the Texans on Saturday, and was sacked a career high 45 times during the regular season.
Denver and New England both tout elite defensive lines, ranking first and second in adjusted sack rate, respectively, but the Patriots allow 0.54 more adjusted line yards than the Broncos, so Kansas City is likely to find more success on the ground versus Denver.
Worth noting, though, is that Kansas City will take shots through the air throughout the AFC Divisional Playoff: Alex Smith set new career highs this regular season in yards (3,486), touchdowns (20) and quarterback rating (66.5). Denver racked up six more takeaways and two more interceptions than New England, as cornerbacks Chris Harris and Aqib Talib were selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Chiefs take an 11-game winning streak into next week’s matchup, but are better suited for handling the Patriots than the Broncos.
Josh Planos has been published at the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, the Guardian, the Pacific Standard and VICE, among other publications. He has been heard on CBS Sports Radio, Fox Sports Radio and ESPN Radio. Planos is currently a Digital Editor at KETV NewsWatch 7 and a freelance writer.