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Considering the chances that Andy Reid took during the offseason, it’s impossible to argue that the Chiefs had anything but a hugely successful regular season. Kansas City jettisoned two of their top players, quarterback Alex Smith and defensive back Marcus Peters, and turned the franchise over to an unproven second-year signal caller from Texas Tech.

Offensively, that gambit worked out just fine.

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Patrick Mahomes, who played in a spread offense in college and had just one start in a meaningless game during his rookie season, turned in one of the greatest seasons by a quarterback in history. The former Red Raider joined his top weapons, wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, along with right tackle Mitchell Schwartz on the All-Pro first team.

The decision to part ways with Peters didn’t have the same positive effect. In 2017, the Chiefs defense was uninspiring, giving up 247 passing yards and 21.2 points per game. In 2018, defensive coordinator Bob Sutton‘s group was just flat out bad, surrendering 273.4 yards through the air and allowing 26.3 points a contest.

Having an offense that puts up 35.3 points a game covers up for a whole bunch of deficiencies, but the old adage about the playoffs being a “different season” didn’t come from nowhere. There are countless examples throughout NFL history of teams with spectacular offenses who couldn’t recreate the magic once the intensity and the icy January wind picked up.

Now that their first playoff opponent is set, after the Indianapolis Colts dropped the Houston Texans 21-7, Kansas City is about to put all of its hard work up until this point to the test.

As it was before the season began, it’s hard to say for sure which way the postseason will go for Kansas City. This time, however, it seems clear that there are two clear outcomes.

Best Case: Mahomes Saves the Day

The Chiefs offense was spectacular throughout the year, and it goes beyond the staggering numbers that the quarterback put up.

Throwing for 50 touchdowns and 5,097 in the first season as a starter is the kind of thing that would be ridiculous in Madden NFL 19, never mind in real life. Mahomes was so good that the team managed to overcome the stunning mid-season release of former NFL rushing leader Kareem Hunt.

The quarterback wasn’t the only member of the offense that had a historically great season.

Kelce set the NFL record for receiving yards by a tight end at 1,336. Hill set the franchise mark for receiving yards with 1,479. The rushing attack could have fallen off the table without Hunt, but Damien Williams came on late to stabilize the backfield.

Even with home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs in hand, points become harder to come by once the calendar flips to a new year. Arrowhead Stadium will be loud, but it’s not a dome. The weather can jump up and become a factor at any time.

Yet, this offense has been so good that it’s capable of outscoring any opponent in two home games to reach the Super Bowl. First up will be a showdown with Andrew Luck and the Colts.

The Indianapolis defense has been playing well, especially their rookie tackling machine Darius Leonard, but hasn’t seen anything like the Kansas City attack this season. Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has done a remarkable job shifting pieces into a makeshift scheme that has surrendered an average of 13 points per game in its last six games.

If Eberflus can do that to the Chiefs, then he deserves a head coaching gig. Past that, even defensive genius Bill Belichick is going to be hard-pressed to shut down Reid’s offense this time around.

Get to the Super Bowl and probably only Chicago in the NFC had a defense that can stand up to Mahomes, Hill, and Kelce. New Orleans and Los Angeles have offenses that can outscore the Chiefs, but Reid would be more than happy to get into a shootout with any team in the NFL (even if the Rams did already outdo them once).

If Mahomes can keep his special season going for three more games, then it’s entirely possible that Reid could finally take care of the one glaring omission on his resume — a championship.

Worst Case: The Defense Stops Nobody

Oddly, for as bad as the stats look, a number of Kansas City defensive players had good seasons. Linebacker Dee Ford had 13 sacks and led the league with seven forced fumbles. His counterpart Justin Houston looked more like his old self with nine sacks. Then there was Chris Jones putting together a career year.

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The defensive end’s 15.5 sacks were good for third in the NFL behind superstars Aaron Donald and J.J. Watt. That earned the Mississippi State product second-team All-Pro honors.

That’s the good. The bad is that Kansas City was one of only two teams, with Cincinnati, to give up more than 400 yards a game. Their ranking as the second-worst defense in the league was well earned.

Kendall Fuller was brought in to replace Peters and wasn’t terrible. He wasn’t a difference maker, either. The defensive backfield played most of the season without former Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry again. Opposing offenses were forced to keep throwing to keep up with the Chiefs’ scoring, but the counter to the team’s 52 sacks is the boatload of receptions the corners allowed.

The defense’s conundrum was on full display in the Rams game. Watching it live, Kansas City’s defense didn’t look bad. They sacked Jared Goff five times and harassed him throughout the contest. By the end, though, they had given up 489 yards and five touchdowns.

Sutton and Reid would point to the team’s AFC West championship and 12-4 record to excuse the defense’s play. Now that they’re into the postseason, however, the team can’t afford a total meltdown by the defense.

As much as it’s a possibility that the Chiefs offense could carry them, it’s just as likely that the defense could make their playoff run a short one.

Luck was second to Mahomes with 39 touchdowns. The last time that Kansas City met the quarterback in the playoffs, back in 2014, the Colts came back from 28 points down to win. It would be shocking if Kansas City’s defense can keep Indy down enough to ever be up by four scores this time.

The Colts offensive line has been improving throughout the season, thanks largely to rookie Quenton Nelson, and now has its running game rolling with Marlon Mack. Indianapolis is going score, it’s just a matter of how much.

Manage to get past Luck, New England’s Tom Brady might be looming. Or, possibly Philip Rivers, who has already thrown for 737 yards and five touchdowns against the Chiefs defense this season.

Making it to the Super Bowl would be a huge win for this defense, but get there and those same Rams or Drew Brees‘ New Orleans offensive machine would be salivating at facing KC.

Can Kansas City’s defense keep from imploding and giving up more points than their offense can match? Reid, Mahomes, and the rest of the crew will be quietly saying prayers every day from here on asking for some divine assistance for Sutton’s beleaguered group.

Brendon McCullin

Author Brendon McCullin

Once a mover & shaker in Los Angeles, I made the bold move to move to the Midwest, where I now write about sports and entertainment industry topics. A long suffering Philadelphia sports fan, I've learned to trust the process but never trust Pete Rose.

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