(5) Tennessee Titans @ (4) Kansas City Chiefs – Saturday 4:35 PM ET, ESPN
This game features a rematch from the 2016 season. In week 15 of the 2016 campaign, the Titans rolled into Arrowhead Stadium and upset the Chiefs by a final score of 19-17. Could another upset be in the works? Let’s take a look at each team:
Tennessee Titans (9-7)
Mike Mularkey, in his second full season as Tennessee’s head coach has led his team to another 9-7 finish. This time, that 9-7 record has resulted in a postseason berth.
Mularkey has spent much of his time in the league as an offensive coordinator. Unfortunately for Mularkey and the Tennessee faithful, his team’s offense has been rather underwhelming this season. The Titans finished 2017 ranked 23rd in total offense, 23rd in passing yards per game, 15th in rush yards per game, and only managed to average scoring 20.9 points per game (19th). Marcus Mariota seems to have taken a step back in his development. In Mariota’s sophomore campaign in 2016, he threw 26 touchdown passes against only nine interceptions. This season Mariota mustered a measly 13 touchdown passes while throwing 15 interceptions. DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry combined for 1,805 scrimmage yards and 13 total touchdowns this season. But with Murray out with a knee injury, the 2015 Heisman winner will have to carry the load.
Meanwhile, the Titans’ saving grace this year has undoubtedly been their defense. The Titans are 13th in the league in total defense, allowing an average of 328 total yards per game. Most notably, they have the fourth best run defense in the NFL, allowing only 88.1 rushing yards per contest. This unit’s defensive Achilles heel is their passing defense, allowing 239.3 net passing yards per game, good for 25th in the league. Tennessee’s performance against the pass does not bode well for them, especially in a field of AFC teams that consists of their share of pass-happy teams. One of those teams happens to be their opponent this Saturday.
Kansas City Chiefs (10-6)
The Chiefs certainly didn’t get to this point without having a bit of a roller-coaster-type season. Kansas City made short work of the Patriots in week one and started their season 5-0. If you do the math, you can figure out that Kansas City went 5-6 over their final 11 games, including a stretch where they lost six out of seven games from week 6 to week 13. Fortunately for the Chiefs, they managed to win their final four games to clinch the AFC West.
One determining factor for their mid-season slide could be the play of their defense. The Chiefs finished 2017 ranked 28th in total defense, allowing a whopping 365.1 total yards per game. They are ranked in the bottom four in terms of pass defense and in the bottom quarter in defending against the run. There are a couple of silver linings, however. Kansas City is (albeit, barely) in the top half of the league in scoring defense (15th) surrendering 21.2 points per game. The Chiefs have also forced 26 turnovers in 16 games this season.
Kansas City’s offense, on the other hand, has been a juggernaut. They finish in the top ten in total yards (5th), net passing yards (7th), rushing yards (9th), and in scoring (6th). Alex Smith emerged as an early MVP candidate during KC’s 5-0 start. His name has long since been removed from consideration, most likely due to his team’s mid-season slump. Smith still had himself a good season: in 15 starts he passed for 4,042 yards throwing 26 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions, by far the best single season TD-INT ratio of his career. He also posted the league’s highest passer rating (104.7). Kareem Hunt had an impressive rookie campaign. Hunt captured the NFL rushing title while gaining 1,782 total scrimmage yards and 11 total touchdowns. Putting him on the field with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce makes the Chiefs offense incredibly dangerous.
So it’s the Titans lackluster offense and solid defense against the high-flying Chiefs offense and mediocre defensive unit. What will be the determining factor of this matchup? Turnovers. The Chiefs have a +15 turnover margin, second best in the league. The Titans, however, give the ball away far too much, posting a turnover margin of -4 on the season (24th in the NFL). The Titans may come out strongly and make it a contest in the first half, but their penchant for mistakes and lack of experience will get the best of them in the end.
Kansas City 30 – Tennessee 16