AFC Playoff Primer: Who Are The Biggest Threats To Kansas City?

January 10, 2022

The NFL’s playoff field is set. Week 18 in the NFL saw plenty of action, including thrilling victories by both the Raiders and Steelers to catapult them into the playoffs. The Titans locked up the AFC’s #1 seed and will get the Conference’s lone bye week. For Kansas City, a playoff field with the Raiders and Steelers (instead of the Chargers and Ravens) seems like a best-case scenario.

However, if there’s anything we’ve learned over the years in the NFL, it’s that anything can happen. Any given Sunday! Let’s look at the rest of the AFC playoff field and how they match up against the Chiefs.

Pittsburgh Steelers (#7 seed, 9-7-1)

The Steelers are arguably the best-case matchup for Kansas City in AFC Wild-Card weekend. Entering Week 18, the likeliest opponent for Kansas City looked to be the Chargers. With the events that unfolded Sunday, the Chiefs will now play host to the Steelers instead. In Week 16, the two teams faced off. Kansas City was dominant in that one, winning 36-10.

The Steeler’s offensive line is poor. Big Ben’s arm is not even half of what it used to be. However, Pittsburgh does have a great room of receivers that can support the offense if given a chance. Although worse than the 2020 version, their defense is still stocked full of playmakers, including T.J Watt, fresh off of a record-tying 22.5 sack performance in 2021.

In 2021, Pittsburgh ranked 17th in passing yards and 28th in rushing yards on offense. Their 327 points scored on the season ranked 22nd. On defense, the Steelers allowed 385 points on the season, ranking 21st in the NFL. Pittsburgh carries a strong secondary that allowed the tenth fewest passing yards of any team this season, even with the points allowed.

The Chiefs will likely look to exploit the Steeler’s 31st ranked rush defense while looking to slow down their mediocre offense. I don’t view Pittsburgh as a large threat to a Chief’s third straight Super Bowl appearance. Look for Kansas City to win handily.

Cincinnatti Bengals (#4 seed, 10-7)

The Bengals are no stranger to the Chiefs and Chiefs fans alike. In Week 17, the Bengals snuck by the Chiefs for a 34-31 victory. The loss prevented the Chiefs from locking up the AFC’s top seed and earning the lone bye week in the AFC playoffs. The game, however, was heavily impacted by the officials with many questionable calls.

Even though the Bengals snuck by the Chiefs in Week 17, they’ve dominated other opponents this season. Joe Burrow finished off a breakout season in 2021, finishing with 4611 yards and 34 touchdowns. Ja’marr Chase finished the season as the unquestionable Offensive Rookie of the Year (sorry, Creed!).

The Bengals finished the season fifth in the NFL in points scored. They ranked seventh in passing yards and 22nd in rushing. The Bengals are a pass-happy offense that will require a better game plan from Steve Spagnuolo to be contained. In Week 17, Spags focused heavily on the blitz and getting to Joe Burrow. It worked, without a doubt. The Chiefs pressured Burrow on nearly every dropback but didn’t slow the offense. 3rd and 27 blitzes won’t work in the playoff rematch.

On defense, the Bengals ranked 18th in points allowed. They allowed the sixth-most passing yards and ranked 5th in run defense. They stop the run well but can be beaten through the air. The Chiefs offense (after a run-first attack in the Wild Card round) would look to flip the script and pass early and often against Cincy. The Chiefs match up well against the Bengals thanks to their ability to pressure the quarterback and their passing prowess on offense. I expect the Bengals to handle the Raiders with ease before facing off against Kansas City in the Divisional round.

Buffalo Bills (#3 seed, 11-6)

If the Chiefs and Bills both win next Sunday, they’ll face off in the AFC’s Divisional round. A rematch of the 2020 AFC Championship game, it seems like these two teams are destined to face off every January. The Bills trounced Kansas City in Week Five to the tune of 38-20.

Josh Allen finished his 2021 regular season with 5,170 total yards and 42 touchdowns. After a mid-season stretch that saw Buffalo go on a 3-5 run with losses to Jacksonville, Indianapolis, New England, and Tampa, the Bills won their final four games to capture the AFC East Crown.

Led by Allen, the Bills finished fourth in the NFL in points scored this season. They ranked tenth in passing yards and seventh in rushing yards. Only the Cowboys and Bills finished top-ten in both passing and rushing. The Bills led the league with the fewest points allowed this season to pair with their elite, balanced offense. They ranked top in the NFL with the fewest yards allowed and third with 30 takeaways this season.

The Bills make a tough matchup for Kansas City in the AFC, ranking first in the NFL this season in passing yards allowed. Only the Bills allowed fewer than 3,000 total passing yards all season. The Bills only allowed twelve passing touchdowns all season.

As a Chiefs fan, I hope the Patriots take care of Buffalo for us in Wild Card Weekend. The Bills are perhaps the most complete team in the playoffs. They rank top-ten in nearly every major offensive and defensive category. Not only that, the Bills had some bad blood against Kansas City after their Championship Game loss last season. The Chiefs will need their best game of the season to defeat Buffalo in these playoffs.

Las Vegas Raiders (#5 seed, 10-7)

The Raiders snuck into the playoffs for the first time since 2016 after an incredible Overtime win against the Chargers in week 18. The Raiders won their final four games of the season to storm into the playoffs, where they’ll face off against the Bengals on Wild Card Weekend. If both the Patriots and Raiders win next weekend, Vegas will head to Kansas City to face off in the Divisional round. Unless both teams win, the only matchup between Kansas City and Vegas would be the AFC Championship game.

The Raiders seem to be very similar to the Steelers. They are an “odd-man-out” playoff team that doesn’t seem to do anything extremely well. What they do have is a clutch factor. Derek Carr appears to come alive when the game matters most and plays. Carr enters the playoffs fresh off a Franchise record for passing yards this season. He finished the regular season with 4,804 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions.

The Raiders rank 18th in points scored but sixth in passing yards. They move the ball very well through the air this season. However, they rank just 17th in passing touchdowns. Vegas ranks 29th in rushing yards. Their offense is very one-dimensional and can be stopped, as we’ve seen in both matchups with Kansas City this season. This season, they have committed 24 turnovers, the tenth most in the NFL. Defensively, the Raiders leave little to be feared as they allowed the seventh-most points this season. The Chiefs would relish a third chance to play the Raiders this season.

Tennessee Titans (#1 seed, 12-5)

After starting the season 8-2, the Titans stumbled into the playoffs after countless injuries. Losses to the Texans and Steelers marred the second half of their season. Even still, thanks to the Bengals, the Titans enter the playoffs with a well-needed bye week and the top seed in the AFC. Derrick Henry will return for the Titans in the playoffs, accompanied by a healthier Julio Jones and AJ Brown. Perhaps for the first time this season, Tennessee will have all three of their playmakers healthy in these playoffs.

Although the Titans entered the playoffs as the top seed, I don’t view them as one of the top two or three teams in these playoffs. The Titans got the benefit of playing the Jaguars and Texans each twice this season. Tennessee played one of the easiest schedules in the NFL this season and ranked just 15th in points scored. On offense, they ranked third in rushing but just 27th in the passing attack. Only the Steelers and Saints had a lower ranking offense this season in these playoffs.

On defense, the Titans finished the year ranked sixth in points allowed. However, the defense is one-sided as well. They allowed the second-fewest rushing yards this season but eighth-most passing yards. I don’t expect the Titans to escape the Divisional round this season. Both New England and Cincy could knock them out. If they do somehow make it to the Championship game, I feel strongly that Kansas City can beat them handily in a rematch on their way to another Super Bowl Appearance.

New England Patriots (#6 seed, 10-7)

The New England Patriots have made it back to the playoffs. This time, with no Tom Brady. After a down year last year with Cam Newton and many Covid opt-outs, the Patriots struggled. This year with Mac Jones at the helm, they’ve been an entirely different team. There was a time this season that the Patriots seemed like the favorite to win the bye. However, they struggled down the stretch with losses in three of their final four games of the season.

On offense, the Patriots scored the ninth most points in the NFL this season. Mac Jones capped off a solid season and should finish second in Rookie of the Year voting. His season line finished at 3,801 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. The Patriots ranked tenth in rushing yards this season. Their offense is fairly balanced but relies slightly more on the run.

The real bread and butter for the Patriots have been their defense this season. They rank second this season, behind only the Bills, in points allowed. The Patriots allow the third-lowest yards per play in the league and the second-fewest passing yards. They are, however, somewhat susceptible to the run. They’ve allowed the 11th most rushing yards this season.

A year or two from now, the Patriots could very well be what the Bills are today. They’re a balanced team with an elite defense. What they lack is the offensive upside that Buffalo carries. Mac Jones turns the ball over a lot lately, and the Chiefs’ defense could capitalize on rookie mistakes in a playoff atmosphere. It would be a great game, but I don’t think the Chiefs would lose that one.

How It’ll Shake Out

We will find out how the playoffs shake out starting this Saturday! The Raiders and Bengals kick off the playoffs on Saturday at 3 pm Central. The Patriots and Bills face off Saturday night. The Chiefs will know their opponent (if they win) heading into their Sunday night matchup with the Steelers.

My hope is the Raiders and Patriots both pull off the upset, but of course, that’s unlikely. I expect the Patriots and Bengals to win on Saturday, setting up a rematch with Cincy in the AFC Divisional round for KC.

Only one thing is for certain; the best part of the NFL season is finally upon us.

Who do you think is the biggest threat in the AFC for the Chiefs in these playoffs? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.

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