September 09, 2015

Alex Smith claims he didn't know until this week that it's been 22 years since the Kansas City Chiefs last won a playoff game. It came in Houston against that city's first NFL team.

Riding a franchise-record 10-game winning streak, Smith and the Chiefs are back there poised to end their lengthy postseason drought in Saturday's AFC wild-card round against a Texans team that's on a roll of its own thanks to some defensive dominance.

Joe Montana threw for 299 yards with two touchdowns and fellow Hall of Famer Marcus Allen capped Kansas City's 21-point fourth quarter with a 21-yard TD run for a 28-20 division-round victory over the Oilers in the Astrodome on Jan. 16, 1994. The Chiefs lost at Buffalo a week later and the seven playoff games that have followed.

In an appropriate coincidence, the NFL's hottest team has another chance to exorcise those playoff demons in the stadium next door to where they last triumphed in the postseason.

For a group that started 1-5, it's never been about living in the past.

"I don't think this team's carrying that weight, to be honest," said Smith, who threw for 378 yards and four TDs two years ago when Kansas City blew a 28-point second-half lead in a 45-44 wild-card loss at Indianapolis.

"Those were the other 22 years and 22 teams. This is us ... we're just trying to go out and win a ballgame. All that other stuff, we'll see."

The Chiefs opened with a 27-20 victory at Houston, as Smith threw three TDs - two to tight end Travis Kelce - and his teammates sacked Brian Hoyer four times and intercepted him once. Kansas City then dropped the next five, yielding an average of 27.8 points. It also lost star running back Jamaal Charles to a season-ending knee injury in Week 5.

But the Chiefs regrouped and never looked back en route to an 11-5 finish - one game behind West champion Denver.

''Clearly when you're 1-5, you're not thinking about the playoffs or Super Bowl. You're thinking about getting a victory,'' owner Clark Hunt said. ''Once you start stringing victories together, I was optimistic we could carry it all the way to the end and make the playoffs.''

Kansas City did so by allowing an average of 12.8 points and posting a plus-16 turnover differential in the last 10 games.

Little-known backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware have combined for 1,037 rushing yards and 10 TDs to help overcome the loss of Charles. Jeremy Maclin set a career high with 87 receptions while totaling 1,088 yards and eight touchdowns. Smith's 20 TDs passes are the second most in his 10-year career, and he went nine straight games without throwing an interception.

"I think this team, like I said, is very confident in our capabilities," said Smith, who has thrown nine TDs without a pick despite a 1-2 playoff record. "If we play the way we know we can play, we can play with anybody, beat anybody."

Houston also overcame some early adversity in the form of a 2-5 start and the loss of its own star running back Arian Foster, who played just four games and suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 7. Despite Foster's absence and the fact they're the only team since 1950 to make the playoffs with four different quarterbacks winning games, the Texans rallied to finish 9-7 and win their third South title in five seasons as the only division team above .500.

''We expect to win the division, expect to be in the playoffs,'' said defensive end J.J. Watt, who looks to help the Texans improve to 3-0 in home playoff games. ''We aren't satisfied with where we are right now. We expect to be where we are right now and we look forward to moving even farther forward.''

Watt has reason to feel good about his team, especially the defense he leads.

Houston allowed an average of 28.4 points and 370.9 yards in the first seven games but 12.7 and 263 in the last nine. The Texans yielded 220.7 yards per game and forced 10 turnovers while outscoring division foes Indianapolis, Tennessee and Jacksonville 80-22 to close the regular season on a three-game winning streak.

''There's a lot of trust on that side of the ball among each other and with the coaches,'' coach Bill O'Brien said. ''You've got some guys playing some great football. All the things that you need to play good football in this league and good defense in this league, you're having it.''

Watt led the NFL with 17 1/2 sacks to join Reggie White as the only players with three 15-sack seasons in their first five years. Despite recovering from a broken hand, Watt had three sacks, forced a fumble and recovered another in Sunday's 30-6 rout of the Jaguars.

"Every game he plays in he makes plays, finds ways to make plays," Smith said of Watt, who sacked him twice in September. "He's disruptive and they are as a whole ... Definitely a big challenge for us."

Hoyer, who was benched during the loss to Kansas City, is 5-4 as a starter this season and returned Sunday after missing two games with his second concussion in less than a month. He'll be looking to connect with DeAndre Hopkins, who finished third in the league in both receptions (111) and yards (1,521) and added to his career season with 11 TDs. He had nine catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns in the opener.

Alfred Blue has averaged 4.5 yards per carry while rushing for at least 100 in two of the last three games. He had 42 yards on nine carries against a Chiefs defense that didn't allow any back to gain 100 while going 5-3 on the road.

While Houston's offense will be without left tackle Duane Brown (quad) for the postseason, Kansas City is expected to have All-Pro pass rusher Justin Houston back after he missed the last five games with a knee injury. Houston recorded the first of his 7 1/2 sacks this season against the Texans.

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