KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs closed out the regular season with a 23-17 win over the Oakland Raiders Sunday. They move on to the playoffs against the Houston Texans as the first of the AFC’s two wild-card teams.
Reasons to be excited: The 11-5 Chiefs certainly have momentum on their side as they've won 10 straight games after their dismal 1-5 start. They beat the Broncos 29-13 in Denver on Nov. 15. The Chiefs are getting back to full health defensively. One of their top pass-rushers, Tamba Hali, played against the Raiders for the first time since breaking his thumb. The other, Justin Houston, returned to practice last week, though he didn’t play against the Raiders. Houston didn’t play in the team's last five regular season games because of a knee injury.
Kansas City has allowed more than 17 points just twice during their winning streak. Only once during the 10 games was their margin of victory fewer than seven points. The Chiefs have a nice rotation between Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware going as their featured running back. Kansas City rushed for more than 150 yards against the Raiders.
Reasons to be concerned: The Chiefs have depended on winning the turnover battle. The games in which they struggled for a victory during their winning streak were the ones in which they didn’t have a decided advantage in turnovers.
The Chiefs have also had trouble finishing recent games against inferior opponents. They had double-digit leads against the Chargers, Browns and Raiders but had to sweat the finish each time. How will they fare against better competition? The Chiefs beat only two playoff teams, the Broncos and the Steelers, during their winning streak, so the competition takes a definite step up in the playoffs. Quarterback Alex Smith had been playing well and at one point this season had a streak of 312 passes without an interception. But he threw back-to-back picks against Oakland, the second one being returned for a 24-yard touchdown by David Amerson.
How far they can go: The Chiefs have no reason to fear their first-round playoff opponents. They beat the Texans 27-20 in Houston in September. The Chiefs have nothing to fear on the road in the first round. A strong case can be made that they’ve been better on the road than at home this season. Despite Smith’s struggles against Oakland, he’s clearly behind only New England’s Tom Brady and Roethlisberger among AFC playoff quarterbacks. He should be good enough to help the Chiefs get one playoff victory, if not more.