The idea that the Kansas City Chiefs can easily dismiss their midseason loss to the Houston Texans is a misguided notion.
In Week 6, the Houston Texans visited the Kansas City Chiefs and served them a second consecutive loss, 31-24, at Arrowhead Stadium. It was sloppy. It was embarrassing.
It was also a turning point.
When the Chiefs emerged just a few days later at Mile High Stadium, forced to play again that following Thursday night against their rivals, the Denver Broncos, they came out a different team.
Stomach punches at home aren’t typically par for the Chiefs’ course, and two in a row was just too much to take. Fortunately, the Broncos provided a carcass on which the Chiefs defense would feast in a 30-6 victory. Steve Spagnuolo’s unit literally hasn’t let up since that game.
The Chiefs’ Surge
What the typical Chiefs fan seems to remember about this season is largely that Broncos game and everything that’s come since. In the days and weeks since that loss, the Chiefs have put together an incredible 10-2 run marred only by the odd meltdown against the Tennessee Titans. The other defeat? A close loss to the Green Bay Packers with Matt Moore making his first start in two years while an ailing Patrick Mahomes sat with a dislocated kneecap.
During this span, the Chiefs have come together as a well-rounded team, a loaded roster with Pro Bowlers on both sides of the ball. Andy Reid’s team no longer has to score on every possession, although the potential to do so remains firmly in place with so many weapons. The defense can now carry the team from time to time and is capable of winning games when necessary. Special teams miscues have been solved and those units look as sharp as ever in 2019.
Even more important is the overall health of the team. Given another bye week, head coach Andy Reid says everyone is practicing in anticipation of hosting the Texans once again in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Lingering injuries have healed. Tired players have rested.
The last time the Chiefs hosted the Texans, Patrick Mahomes was playing on one good ankle, Sammy Watkins was out, and Tyreek Hill was easing back into the lineup after missing several weeks with a clavicle injury. Eric Fisher and Andrew Wylie were both missing from the offensive front, while Chris Jones and Anthony Hitchens were out on the defense. Frank Clark couldn’t feel his fingers, and Kendall Fuller would be lost during the game.
This time, not only are every single one of those players back and ready to play this time around, but they’re playing better than ever. Clark has emerged as an All-Pro cornerstone in the season’s second half for Spagnuolo. Tyrann Mathieu has been one of the NFL’s best defensive backs in the last 8-10 games. Terrell Suggs and Mike Pennel have been added to the mix.
In short, Chiefs fans have been quick to look over these health reports, glance at the current win streak, and assume this game will turn out to be nothing like the last one. That certainly could be true, but the Houston Texans have reasons to feel the same way—optimistic about the outcome of Sunday afternoon’s game.
The Texans’ Counter
During the first matchup in October, the Texans played just as sloppy as the Chiefs yet somehow dominated K.C. in a number of categories. Due to the seven point difference in the score, its easy to believe the game was relatively close, but the Texans should have run away with that game by 20 or more.
The Texans turned the ball over three times (compared to two turnovers from the Chiefs) yet still outgained the Chiefs by 164 yards. The Chiefs committed 11 penalties, but the Texans were executing just as poorly with 10 of their own. The Texans racked up an incredible 35 first downs on the Chiefs defense (K.C. had 20) and held the ball for over 40 minutes of the 60 minute contest. They were even 2 of 3 on fourth downs.
DeAndre Hopkins dropped one touchdown and Will Fuller failed to pull in a couple key deep throws that would have been scores. And despite the fact that the Chiefs knew the Texans were going to run the ball late, the defense simply couldn’t stop them. The biggest talking point, at the time, was Frank Clark’s inability to stop DeShaun Watson on this play—a frustration that the Texans could do what they want.
Of course, some of these drives ended with a score of some kind anyway, so this isn’t to say the Texans could have added 21 more points if three catches were made instead of dropped.
All of this is simply intended to point out that the Houston Texans didn’t have to play a perfect game to beat the Chiefs on their home turf. In fact, they played just as poorly or even worse (see turnovers) than the Chiefs yet still came away with a win. It’s the sort of victory that makes most teams feel good about their ability to “win ugly.”
The Bottom Line
The Kansas City Chiefs are the better overall team when compared to the Houston Texans. They have more talent on both sides of the ball. They are healthy and well-rested versus the fatigued Houston team forced to play well into overtime just last weeks. The Chiefs have the coaching advantage as well as the home field advantage. They’re also red hot at the right time with a healthy roster ready to make their Super Bowl dreams come true.
That said, dismissing the Texans outright because the Chiefs played sloppy and/or suffered some injuries the first time around is glossing over the fact that Houston wasn’t even close to playing as well as they can and still roughed up the Chiefs at home. Houston has gotten to the Divisional Round for good reasons and have impressive wins over the Patriots, Titans, Bills, Chiefs and won the competitive AFC South.
Nothing in the NFL is a gimme, especially in the postseason. The Chiefs should emerge the victor on Sunday but it will take a hard fought effort against an opponent that feels largely overlooked.