Three Key Matchups: Chiefs vs. Seahawks

Brendon McCullin
Kansas City Chiefs Tyreek Hill
Kansas City Chiefs Wide Receiver Tyreek Hill Photo Credit: Brook Ward | Under Creative Commons License

Despite allowing Philip Rivers and Los Angeles to come from behind in a 29-28 Thursday night loss, Kansas City is still in good shape for the AFC playoffs. There is no more margin for error, though, if the Chiefs want the road to Super Bowl 53 to go through Arrowhead.

The Chargers might have pulled even with Andy Reid‘s squad but they have to play a tough Baltimore Ravens team this week. Kansas City doesn’t get an easy draw either, playing in Seattle on Sunday Night. At 8-6, the Seahawks have their own Wild Card reasons for bringing their A-game against Patrick Mahomes and company.

If the Chiefs win in the Pacific Northwest, there are a staggering number of scenarios that could net them home field advantage throughout the playoffs. First things first, though: they have to beat Seattle to keep from potentially ceding control of the conference to Los Angeles or the Houston Texans.

How can Kansas City keep the Seahawks from playing Scrooge and ruining Chiefs’ fans Christmas? Coming out ahead in these matchups would help.

Patrick Mahomes vs. The 12th Man

With his 45 touchdowns and 4,543 yards passing, it’s easy to forget that Mahomes is only in his first season as a starter, and just his second year in the NFL. The Texas Tech product just became a Pro Bowler for the first time, so he’s getting his fair share of recognition.

It’s impossible to overstate, however, how different the environment becomes in the NFL when its playoff time. The Chiefs know that they’re going to the post-season, they just don’t know what it will look like.

The Los Angeles Rams have already won the NFC West so Seattle is left with a Wild Card berth. Because the rest of the NFC hasn’t lived up to expectations, the Seahawks are leading the field in that regard, but their path through the playoffs will not be an easy one.

After Mike Holmgren began truly building Seattle football, and once Pete Carroll made them the darlings of the NFL, Century Link Field became a viper’s pit for opponents. The fans, a.k.a. “The 12th Man”, can cause enough noise to impact even the most seasoned quarterback.

Regardless of which stadium is actually louder, Mahomes is used to the noise-makers being for him, not against him. The Seahawks defense isn’t what it was during their Super Bowl years, but Carroll has a deserved reputation for his defensive inventiveness.

Mahomes won’t be playing with a full deck, either. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is battling a knee injury. Spencer Ware is doubtful. Sammy Watkins is out.

Kansas City’s quarterback has been proving himself all season. This is just his latest chance to show that he’s got the poise to go with that elastic right arm.

Chris Jones vs. Russell Wilson

OK, so it’s really Jones vs. German Ifedi, Seattle’s right tackle. However, if you’ve watched Wilson over the years, then you already know that just beating an offensive lineman isn’t good enough. The defensive end and his partners, linebackers Dee Ford and Justin Houston, will have to actually keep the Seahawks quarterback from eluding them until someone gets open.

Wearing gloves that apparently smell horrendously, Jones has notched a sack in 10 straight games and is third in the NFL with 14 quarterback takedowns.

Despite the gaudy numbers, Jones was left off the Pro Bowl roster (he’s an alternate). Of course, if the Chiefs defense can find a way to stop giving up 27 points a game, the team’s Pro Bowl selections could become a moot point.

Wilson is having a quietly good season, with 31 touchdowns. He’s not the rushing threat that he was when he was younger, but he can still extend a play as well as anyone. The strength of the Seattle offense has been the rushing attack led by Chris Carson, which is a problem for a Kansas City unit giving up nearly 130 yards a game to opponents on the ground.

Still, Wilson’s passing weapons are good, not great, so Kansas City’s defensive backs at least have a fighting chance.

If Jones can make it 11 games in a row, and if the Chiefs pass rush can make Wilson uncomfortable, there’s a chance defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s group might be able to hold Seattle in check. (Which, for them, really means giving up 24 points, instead of 34.)

Travis Kelce vs. Seattle’s Safeties

So, um, who exactly are the Seahawks safeties? Seattle used to have the Legion of Boom, but those days are gone. Kam Chancellor might never play again. Earl Thomas is on injured reserve. Tedric Thompson has been ruled out this week with a chest injury. Bradley McDougald is questionable with a knee injury.

That puts Delano Hill and former practice squader Akeem King in line to play a lot of snaps. Having to go that deep in the defensive backfield is an issue any week. It becomes a glaring problem when Kelce is lining up on the opposite side.

The Pro Bowl tight end is a nightmare for any team to cover. Carroll might need to have a few tricks up his sleeve to keep Kelce from hitting the century mark in catches this week.

With the crowd noise that he’ll be facing, Mahomes might be well served to repeatedly play pitch-and-catch with his tight end against the Seahawks. If Kelce puts up big numbers, that’s a recipe for disaster for Seattle’s banged up safety corps.