Titans vs Chiefs – NFL Pick for Saturday, January 6th
Spread: Chiefs -9
The Tennessee Titans stumbled into the playoffs by losing 3 of their last 4 games, though they still finished 9-7, which was good enough for a Wild Card spot in the weak AFC. Speaking of stumbling, their opponents, the Chiefs, finished 10-6 despite a 5-0 start, though they were still able to grind out an AFC West title over the likes of the L.A. Chargers. These 2 teams will kick off Wild Card weekend from Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Despite their struggles, the Chiefs are listed as heavy favorites at home in this one. Kansas City ended the season on a high, winning each of their final 4 games, though rookie Pat Mahomes started over a resting Alex Smith against the Broncos in the season finale.
Smith looked like a legitimate MVP frontrunner early in the season before his performance began to tail off around the halfway point. The 33-year-old veteran threw 16 touchdown passes before his first interception, which came in early November in a loss to the Cowboys. Smith has been notorious for being extra cautious with the football throughout his career, and his low interception total (5) this season is a testament to that.
Smith proclivity for taking care of the ball has limited his big play ability, though he did set a new career-high in averaging 8 yards per attempt this season. Smith used to be a dink-and-dunk type of game manager, but he has evolved over the course of his career into a passer more willing to take risks.
His 26 touchdown passes were also a career-high, and Smith can thank explosive playmakers Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce for that. Following an excellent rookie campaign during which he returned 3 kicks for touchdowns, Hill became a more integral part of the Chiefs’ offense in his second season. The diminutive speedster hauled in 75 passes for 1,183 yards with 7 touchdowns on the year.
As for Kelce, he has a legit claim as the league’s premier pass-catching tight end these days. Rob Gronkowski generates more headlines, but the 2 put up comparable numbers this season. Gronk finished with 69 catches for 1,084 yards and 8 scores, while Kelce countered with 83 catches for 1,038 yards and 8 TDs of his own. Kelce’s 83 receptions led all tight ends this season.
Just about everywhere you look, the talent scales dip in the direction of Kansas City in this one. The Titans never reached the heights many believed they would during the regular season, but they were still strong enough to grind out the franchise’s first playoff berth since 2008.
Marcus Mariota was a trendy preseason pick to win MVP, but the former Heisman winner had a disappointing year by just about any measure. Mariota set career-lows in yards per completion (7.1), touchdowns (13) and passer rating (79.3). Mariota additionally set a career-high in picks with 15. He was still a fairly effective runner with the football, but the Titans are still waiting for the former No. 2 overall pick to play like a franchise QB.
Mariota has struggled to stay healthy through his brief career to this point, and his dip in effectiveness this year may indicate that he’s been playing through some sort of injury.
The Titans just weren’t very good this season, which seems to indicate that their 9-7 record was fairly flukey. Tennessee and Buffalo are the only 2 teams among the 12 in the playoffs this season to have actually allowed more points than they’ve scored on the year.
One would imagine the Titans will try and slow the game down with the run game. The tandem of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry didn’t exactly light the league up this season, but pounding the ball effectively is likely Tennessee’s safest way to attack the Chiefs. Kansas City’s run defense actually ranked dead-last against the run this season, per Football Outsiders.
The line for this game was initially set at Chiefs -7.5, but it’s since ballooned to Chiefs -9. Kansas City has gone 10-6 against the spread this season, including an 8-5 mark when they’re favored. Tennessee went 8-7-1 against the spread this season and 2-1 as a ‘dog.
These are clearly a couple of teams trending in different directions. The Chiefs may not have fully rediscovered their dynamic early-season form, but they’re still a whole lot better than this Titans team with a potentially injured quarterback leading the way. This could always be closer than anticipated, but Kansas City still looks like a fine bet -9.