by Will Strome, NFLWeather.com | 01-04-2018 20:00
Arctic temperatures and blizzards have swept through much of the East Coast and the Midwest this week and Saturday late afternoon in Kansas City will be no different when the Chiefs host the Tennessee Titans in a Wildcard weekend ice bowl opener.
According to NFLWeather.com, clear skies are expected in Arrowhead Stadium for Saturday’s 4:35pm EST kickoff but the grass surface will resemble a frozen tundra given temperatures will feel more like 15 degrees despite a thermometer reading of about 10 degrees higher. The breeze is expected to pick up as the evening goes on but for now the wind will likely swirl in the 10-12mph range. As of Wednesday, there was less than a 5% chance of precipitation but with rain/snow in the Sunday forecast, there’s a good chance flurries could make a cameo appearance.
Just over a year ago, the Titans stormed into Kansas City on a freezing afternoon and stunned the Chiefs in identical playing conditions (if not colder). The Titans didn’t play the perfect game, tossing a pick and fumbling twice, but they successfully grinded out a difficult win in an extremely tough atmosphere to snag a coveted road win. If they can cut back on the turnovers, Tennessee has the potential to pull off a massive playoff upset and escape Arrowhead with another shocking win in less than favorable winter conditions.
Prior to beating the Chiefs last season, fourth-seeded Tennessee (9-7) was 0-4 in their previous four games when temps dipped below freezing but the Titans have been victorious in their last two straight. The most recent being a 15-10 win over Jacksonville to seal a spot in the playoffs and sweep the AFC South champions. Tennessee did it not by pounding the ball nor picking apart the Jags’ stout D thru the air, they did it by simply winning the turnover and time of possession battle.
Whether the team can pull it off again will all come down to the play and decision-making of quarterback Marcus Mariota whose inconsistency has been the team’s Achilles heel all year. Against the Jaguars last week in the freezing conditions, the former Heisman winner had a humble 12-for-21 afternoon for only 134 yards and a touchdown (10 rushes for 60 yards as well) but the goose egg in the INT department was really the only statistic that mattered. He’ll need to be more of a presence against the KC D and the only way to do so is having his top targets, wideout Rishard Matthews and tight end Delanie Walker, find some space in the Chiefs’ secondary. Especially with running back DeMarco Murray still a bit dinged up, the ground game may have to rely on Derrick Henry who’s been a stud the second half of the second but without an impactful aerial assault, the Titans’ offense could freeze up in the cold.
Like Tennessee, fifth-seeded Kansas City (10-6) has had tremendous success pounding the football all season. The Chiefs’ running back Kareem Hunt stormed onto the scene this season and is a genuine candidate for rookie of the year. USA Today’s Steve Gardner pointed out in his most recent article that Hunt wasn’t expected to be much of a factor last week, surprising fantasy owners when he found the end zone. “Hunt wasn’t expected to play much, if at all with the Kansas City Chiefs’ playoff position secure,” Gardner wrote. “He touched the ball once – a 35-yard touchdown run – and that was it.” He’ll be the go-to back this week and being a $1,600 cheaper play in Draft Kings than Todd Gurley this week makes Hunt a solid start in daily fantasy likely to see tons of action, especially given the winter wonderland setting on Saturday which could lead to increasingly awful passing conditions in the wind picks up or rain/snow arrives.
According to NFLWeather.com Historical Analytics, since 2010 the Chiefs are 9-8 in games featuring freezing temperatures including a 6-5 record at home over that span. In fact, the last two KC wins this season have been in back-to-back weeks, with the most recent victory being a 27-24 win in Denver last week where all the KC starters were rested for the playoffs. The week before the Chiefs solidified the AFC West title following a 29-13 drumming of Miami where QB Alex Smith had his best game of the season by completing 25-of-39 attempts for 304 yards and a TD.
Smith had a terrible outing the last time KC hosted a playoff game so all eyes will be on the former first overall pick to shine. The loss to Pittsburgh in the Divisional round last season was a rough one, which featuring Travis Kelce picking up a personal foul penalty at the worst possible moment late in the fourth quarter. Time for Kelce and company to redeem themselves, and this time around the team has Tyreek Hill ready to be the explosive offensive weapon he’s been all season.
If you go by what Vegas thinks, Kansas City is expected to be the frontrunner to advance this weekend with a -8.5 opening line, the largest of any of the four wildcard matchup spreads. But this, my friends, is the playoffs and with Mother Nature rearing her ugly head in Missouri, anything and everything can happen on Saturday!
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