AFC playoff picture: Road to Super Bowl goes through Kansas City
For the first time in 21 years, the road to the Super Bowl for AFC teams will go through Arrowhead Stadium.
There’s no time like the present for a team tortured by its past.
In Kansas City, the Chiefs celebrated a third consecutive division title on Sunday. They plowed the Oakland Raiders in a 35-3 victory that saw the 50th touchdown and 5,000th yard of Patrick Mahomes brilliant season. Everything seemed perfect for a team clinching a No. 1 seed for the first time since 1997.
Yet there is no time to feel at ease.
For Kansas City, the pain runs deep. The Chiefs have hosted a Divisional playoff five times in their history. 0-5. For all the talk of its grandeur and noise, Arrowhead Stadium has been the site of pain and misfortune far more than glory come January. At least for the home team.
Need proof? Arrowhead opened in 1972. The Chiefs and Colts have the same amount of postseason wins there.
Now Kansas City attempts to finally buck history. The Chiefs have a franchise quarterback for the first time since Len Dawson. Mahomes is surrounded by supreme talents in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the duo becoming the first in NFL history to each go for more than 1,300 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions in a single season.
Still, history looms. So does a defense that gave up a league record for first downs along with ranking 31st in yards allowed per game. Mahomes and his charges will have to overcome all of that against an AFC field boasting some of the top quarterback play on earth.
The aforementioned Colts won’t be an easy out with Andrew Luck. As the sixth seed, one win in Houston and Luck will be making his playoff debut in Kansas City. The Chiefs and their fans are familiar with his work, with Luck engineering the second-largest playoff comeback in league history against them in 2013.
Speaking of the Texans, they climbed out of an 0-3 hole to win the division at 11-5. Houston has its warts with a middling offensive supporting cast and a questionable secondary, but the strengths are also undeniable. Houston brings a brooding front seven to any equation alongside Deshaun Watson, Lamar Miller and DeAndre Hopkins.
Then there is Tom Brady. Brady, 41, hasn’t enjoyed anything close to his best season. Yet here the Patriots are, one win from another AFC Championship Game. Considering they will play host in the Divisional round at a stadium they are undefeated in this season, reaching Championship Sunday is a good bet.
It would also be folly to forget about the Chargers. Los Angeles is the No. 5 seed but only because it had the bad luck of playing in the AFC West. At 12-4, the Chargers share the conference’s best record with Kansas City, a team they beat only a few weeks ago in a come-from-behind 29-28 thriller at Arrowhead.
In the Wild Card round, the Ravens welcome Los Angeles to town. Baltimore is hoping to beat the Chargers for the second time in three weeks, with this tilt at hime. Lamar Jackson is the least-dangerous of the quarterbacks in terms of passing attack, but his legs and the threat they pose are deadly. Factor in the AFC’s best defense, and the Ravens are formidable.
As we enter January, the Super Bowl trek must go through Arrowhead Stadium.
Historically speaking, the Chiefs should be the team most afraid of that sentence.