NFL playoff picture, power rankings and Chiefs choke job


The Kansas City Chiefs told the nation what all their fans have known for years. If there is a way to lose a playoff game, that franchise will find it.

There are plenty of takeaways from Wild Card weekend. The Los Angeles Rams weren’t ready for the bright lights. The Carolina Panthers need a receiver. The Buffalo Bills need a ton.

But none of those takeaways, accurate and important as they may be, are the largest. That prestige is reserved for the Kansas City Chiefs, who blew a 21-3 lead to the underwhelming and overmatched Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium.

Without qualification, the Chiefs are the choke artists of the NFL.

Kansas City has hosted six playoff games since Jan. 1994, and lost all of them, some of the defeats in unspeakable fashions. In 1995, the top-seeded Chiefs lost 10-7 to the sixth-seeded Indianapolis Colts, largely due to kicker Lin Elliott missing three field goals. Two years later, again the top seed, Kansas City fell to the hated Denver Broncos in the Divisional round, losing in large part because of a controversial call taking away a Tony Gonzalez touchdown. The Chiefs lost 14-10.

Hell, Kansas City has lost playoff games at home without punting, and without allowing a touchdown. The Chiefs also lost the longest game in NFL history … on Christmas.

In the Andy Reid era, Kansas City has twice blown leads of 18 or more points, something that has happened only four times in the Super Bowl era. This one is almost worse than the 45-44 Wild Card loss to Andrew Luck and the Colts, when the Chiefs held a 38-10 lead in the third quarter. This time, Kansas City was clearly the better team, at home. It still didn’t matter.

Once Marcus Mariota completed a touchdown pass to himself — the first such occurrence in NFL postseason history — a collective hush fell over Arrowhead Stadium. Everybody knew they were no longer attending a football game, but a funeral.

The only question was the details of the demise. At that moment, the Chiefs led 21-9.

A year after allowing Le’Veon Bell to rush for 171 yards in a Divisional round defeat, Kansas City displayed zero learned lessons against Tennessee. Despite knowing the Titans had to run for any hope of a win, Derrick Henry ripped off 114 second-half yards and 156 throughout the game. All told, Tennessee averaged 6.5 yards per attempt, totaling 202 yards on the ground.

In the second half, the Titans faced seven third downs and converted them all. Tennessee held the ball for 19 minutes and four seconds over the final two quarters, aided by an atrocious run defense and a stagnant Chiefs offense. In that same span, Alex Smith went 5-of-10 for 33 yards. Kareem Hunt, the league’s leading rusher, carried five times for 20 yards.

For years, Kansas City was an irrelevant part of the national NFL conversation. Over the last two seasons that has changed, with the Chiefs playing 11 primetime games. With stars such as Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Eric Berry, Marcus Peters, Justin Houston and Hunt, Kansas City is one of the most highlightable teams in the league. The Chiefs will continue to be showcased by the powers that be, and because of that, their failures are increasingly realized and mocked.

Going forward, some things will change. Bob Sutton should be ousted as defensive coordinator. Longtime stalwarts Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali likely retire or play elsewhere. Most importantly, Smith will be traded before the draft. With Smith out, big-armed Patrick Mahomes steps to the forefront, the first home-grown quarterback the Chiefs have ever had.

Still, nothing will change for jaded Kansas City fans, who have been hurt both in past and present by historic playoff futility.

Until success in January comes, the Chiefs will remain regular-season contenders and playoff pretenders, always waiting to twist the knife in the backs of those who root for them.

Power rankings

Top 10 postseason-less teams that should get there in 2018

1. Green Bay Packers
2. Houston Texans
3. Los Angeles Chargers
4. Dallas Cowboys
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Oakland Raiders
7. San Francisco 49ers
8. New York Giants
9. Baltimore Ravens
10. Indianapolis Colts


“I got on Twitter after the game and everyone in my mentions were Bills fans. And a couple were like, ‘We’re going to donate to your foundation, we’re going to donate!’ I didn’t think much of it. But man, that thing just took off kind of out of nowhere. It’s just been amazing to see how generous people have been.”

– Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, talking about the donations to his foundation from Buffalo

Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd in a Week 17 win over the Ravens put the Buffalo Bills in the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Buffalo fans have been paying the favor back and then some, donating more than $340,000 to Dalton’s great cause, The Andy and Jordan Dalton Foundation.


Matt Verderame and Josh Hill record a new episode of the Stacking The Box podcast every Monday. This week, previews of the Divisional round, plus the coaching rumor mill and more!

Random stat

The only pre-merger teams not to appearance in a Super Bowl are the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. The franchise with the longest drought between appearances is the New York Jets, who last played in the Super Bowl in 1968.

Info learned this week

1. Titans, Jags move on as heavy underdogs

The New England Patriots have to be thrilled with how things played out over the weekend, drawing the Titans instead of the Chiefs. Tennessee comes into Foxborough as a double-digit underdog and barring a miracle, the Patriots will go to the AFC Championship Game for the seventh straight season.

On the other side of the bracket, the Pittsburgh Steelers draw the Jacksonville Jaguars after their uninspiring 10-3 victory over the Bills. Blake Bortles couldn’t top 100 passing yards on Sunday, something that also worked in a 30-9 win over Pittsburgh in Week 5.

The guess here? Pittsburgh doesn’t stumble twice against Bortles, and the Patriots are hosting Big Ben and Co. a week from Sunday.

2. NFC Divisional matchups

After beating the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night, the Atlanta Falcons earned a trip to Philadelphia for a date with the Eagles. While Philadelphia is 13-3 and the NFC’s top seed, it is extremely vulnerable with Carson Wentz sidelined. The Eagles will be hard-pressed to hold off the high-flying attack of Matt Ryan, Tevin Coleman, Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones.

Meanwhile, the New Orleans Saints finished off the Carolina Panthers, and now visit the second-seeded Minnesota Vikings. This could very well be the best game of the playoffs. A rematch of Week 1, the Vikings and Saints are both terrific in their own rights. Whoever wins the battles of New Orleans’ running backs against Minnesota’s front seven will walk away victorious.

3. Carson Palmer calls it quits

On Tuesday, Arizona Cardinals quarterback retired following 15 years in the NFL. The 2003 first-overall pick out of USC lived up to his billing, having a very success career before leaving the game. All told, Palmer was named to three Pro Bowls and was a second-team All-Pro in 2015.

The California native won’t go to the Hall of Fame, but there’s no shame in that. Palmer was one of the better quarterbacks of his generation, throwing for 46,247 yards and 287 touchdowns between his years with the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders and Cardinals.

His departure isn’t unexpected, but now leaves a serious hole at quarterback for Arizona. The Cardinals don’t have anybody under contract at that position, making them a prime candidate to throw big money at a free agent, or aggressive target someone in the draft.

4. Raiders, Gruden make it official

On Saturday night, the Oakland Raiders and Jon Gruden officially became a partnership fo the second time. After firing Jack Del Rio in the immediate aftermath of a Week 17 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, owner Mark Davis circled around and made Gruden an offer he couldn’t refuse.

Gruden is now signed up for 10 years and a whopping $100 million, something that is both dangerous and potentially disastrous. Gruden is a good coach, but one that hasn’t enjoyed a single playoff victory since beating the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII.

The Raiders are getting a big personality and an upgrade over Del Rio, but for the cost of the hire, it’s a risky move.

5. Packers promote Gutekunst to general manager

After a comprehensive search, the Green Bay Packers decided to stay in-house for their next general manager, promoting Brian Gutekunst to replace Ted Thompson in the role of general manager.

Gutekunst has been with the Packers front office for 19 years, working in the scouting and personnel departments over that span. The 44-year-old inherits an enviable job considering his quarterback is Aaron Rodgers and his predecessor, Thompson, spent almost no money in free agency. The result is a projected $26 million in cap space for the upcoming offseason.

History lesson

Steve DeBerg played in the NFL from 1977-93 before coming back for one season in 1998. over that span, he was on a roster with the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers, Denver Broncos, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (twice), Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.

DeBerg, who threw for more than 34,000 yards in an underrated career, played with four future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, including Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, John Elway and Dan Marino.

In his final year with the Falcons in ’98, he backed up Chris Chandler, who took Atlanta to the Super Bowl. It was the first and only trip for DeBerg, who missed San Francisco’s Super Bowl XVI victory by a single year.

Parting shot

The Cincinnati Bengals are perfectly content with being mediocre. They told all of us as much on Tuesday when they signed head coach Marvin Lewis to a two-year extension. Lewis, who has been with the club since 2003, has four division titles and zero playoff wins.

How owner/general manager Mike Brown came to the conclusion that Lewis is the right man to move forward with boggles the mind. Cincinnati hasn’t won a postseason game since 1990 and is coming off two consecutive losing seasons. The roster is average and even when the talent was superb, nothing came of it.

How the Bengals are handling this situation is how NFL teams stay rudderless. Cincinnati could have stripped away some pieces and gone young, or hired an experienced head coach, spent some money for once, and made a run in the AFC North. Instead, they did neither, choosing the middle ground.

In 2018, the AFC have 14 teams competing for the playoffs. The two teams in Ohio aren’t worth discussing.

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