As the NFL Playoff Schedule comes into focus, we already know the New York Jets will play the NEw England Patriots next weekend in one AFC Game. Who the Pittsburgh Steelers host with be decided today when the Baltimore Ravens travel to Arrowhead Stadium to face the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Chiefs find themselves in the playoffs for the first time since 2006 after orchestrating one of the NFL's best turnarounds this year. After winning a mere four games during head coach Todd Haley's debut campaign of 2009 and 10 times total over the previous three seasons, Kansas City broke out with a 10-6 record that was good enough to earn the previously-fallen franchise its first AFC West title since it recorded 13 victories under Dick Vermeil in 2003.
A dynamic ground game that produced the most rushing yards in the league and the sound play under center from quarterback Matt Cassel have been two factors in the Chiefs' about-face, as has a renewed dominance on home turf. Kansas City went 7-1 at Arrowhead Stadium over the course of the regular season, with the lone blemish a 31-10 setback to Oakland in last week's finale, and have held the opposition to 14 points or less in all but one of those triumphs.
That impressive record still won't likely faze the battle-tested Ravens, a team that finds itself in a very familiar position heading into this year's Super Bowl tournament. Baltimore earned a Wild Card berth in the AFC for the third straight season after being edged out by rival Pittsburgh for the North Division crown, and will take to the road in a playoff setting for the sixth time in the accomplished three-year tenure of head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco.
The Ravens won twice in enemy venues as a sixth seed to advance to the 2008 AFC Championship Game in Harbaugh's first season, and overpowered favored New England in an authoritative 33-14 victory during a first-round clash last January. That result stands as the Patriots' only loss in their last 31 outings at Gillette Stadium in which Tom Brady has started at quarterback.
Baltimore is seeded fifth in this year's AFC group and enters Sunday's matchup riding a four-game winning streak. The Ravens forced five Cincinnati turnovers in a 13-7 home verdict over the fellow division member Bengals last Sunday, one week after coming up with four takeaways in a 20-10 decision at Cleveland.
While Baltimore has a proven track record at this all-important time of the season, the Chiefs will be out to end a painfully-long winless drought in the postseason. Kansas City has lost its last six playoff tests, including three at home, since Hall of Famer Joe Montana led the team to a defeat of the Houston Oilers in a 1993 AFC Divisional Round bout.
The Chiefs' most recent postseason appearance was a 23-8 opening-round loss at Indianapolis on Jan. 6, 2007, and they haven't played at Arrowhead in the playoffs since a 38-31 besting by the Colts on Jan. 11, 2004.