Amid a 30-0 blowout victory over the Houston Texans in the AFC wild-card game, the Kansas City Chiefs may have lost their go-to wide receiver for the foreseeable future.
During the third quarter, the game decidedly out of reach, Jeremy Maclin caught a short pass and was injured on the subsequent tackle. Maclin, the team’s leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, was carted off the field and visibly distraught on the sideline. According to ESPN’s Ed Werder, the Chiefs believe it may be a significant ACL injury; some reporters have already said it is. Maclin will have an MRI exam on Sunday and the Chiefs will know whether or not they’ll have the services of the team’s first 1,000-yard receiver since Dwayne Bowe in 2011.
Andy Reid’s outfit snapped an NFL-record eight-game playoff losing streak with the win.
“Was it 1994? I didn’t feel it, but I know how important it is, too,” coach Andy Reid said after the game, about the streak. “You get to the playoffs, and first round, if things don’t go well, that rips your heart out.”
Here’s why the team, with or without Maclin, can make a deep playoff run.
Kansas City’s defense is among the best of the remaining playoff teams
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s unit pitched a shutout Saturday, crystallizing the obvious: the Chiefs’ defense is downright unfettered—jumping routes, running blitz-heavy packages, wreaking havoc.
“We wanted to come in and dominate,” Chiefs safety Eric Berry said after the game. “Right now we are locked in and ready for next week.
The Chiefs rank sixth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing every play’s success to a league average, based on situation and opponent. Sutton’s unit ranks second in weighted defense, which adjusts so that early-season production becomes gradually less important. Either way you spin it, Kansas City’s defense is near the league lead in a number of defensive metrics and can keep an opposing offense in check.
Only the Denver Broncos’ defense ranks higher than Kansas City in Football Outsiders’ weighted metric, and only the Seattle Seahawks allowed fewer total points over the final four games of the regular season.
Alex Smith’s career year isn’t done, and he takes care of the ball in the postseason
Maclin accounted for more than 31 percent of Smith’s career-high 3,486 passing yards this season, but Kansas City had two other players rack up more than 450 receiving yards, marking the first time since 2013 that the team had three players with 450-plus receiving yards in a season.
One of those players is Travis Kelce, who finished the regular season with 24 fewer targets than Maclin. However, he amassed a career-high 875 receiving yards, and ranked in the top 10 among tight ends in yards, targets, receptions and touchdowns. In the team’s win over Houston, he hauled in eight receptions for 128 yards. He became the first Kansas City tight end to have a 100-yard receiving performance in a playoff game, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and he amassed more yards after catch (73) than the rest of the team had combined.
Albert Wilson and Chris Conley are also serviceable receivers for Smith; Conley had a touchdown reception following Maclin’s injury.
Smith, by the way, has now thrown 10 touchdowns and one interception in his playoff career. He’s notorious for keeping the ball secure, but he ostensibly takes it to another level in the playoffs. In a hard-fought game, coaches need to have a quarterback who can make intelligent decisions in the pocket and protect the ball, which is Smith’s calling card.
Kansas City’s specials teams unit is peaking at the right time
Knile Davis took the opening kickoff of the playoffs 106 yards for a touchdown. Cairo Santos, one of the least accurate kickers in the league this season (81.1 percent), has successfully connected on his last six, including all three in the team’s win over the Texans.
If Davis can continue to put the offense in optimal field position, the punting unit can pin opponents deep, and Santos can maintain his accuracy, the Chiefs will have the top special teams unit of any remaining team.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Albert Wilson as Albert West.
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.