Considering they’ve been one of the most successful NFL franchises in recent years, the Chiefs don’t have a lot of scores to settle.
Sunday night at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs (5-2) will host the Titans (5-2), will be an exception. On several levels.
Most recently, the Titans waxed the Chiefs, 27-3, last season.
“We weren’t ready,” Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters this week when asked about that previous meeting. “And they beat our ass.”
The Chiefs, who enter the game with a one-game lead over the Chargers in the AFC West, have the Super Bowl appearances (two in the past three seasons), but the Titans have had their number — and the number of their head coach Andy Reid, against whom they’re 7-1.
“They have that mentality that they’re going to come in and win, and a lot of times in this league when you don’t have the confidence coming in, you’re going to lose,’’ Mahomes said. “But when you have a team that is as confident as you, it’s going to be a battle. You watch that on film and see how you played, it wasn’t just them beating us. We played bad and they just put it down on us at the end of the day. We have to understand they’re going to be ready to go.”
The Titans, who have a two-game lead over the Colts in the AFC South, have won five of the past six meetings between the teams, including playoffs. Kansas City’s one win came in the 2019 AFC Championship game, which sent the Chiefs to Super Bowl LIV.
Tennessee also comes into the game as the hottest team in the league, other than undefeated Philadelphia, having won five in a row after starting 0-2.
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who hopes to return after missing the win over Houston last week with an ankle injury, called Arrowhead Stadium a “tough [and] fun place to play.’’
“It’s an atmosphere that you dream about when you’re a kid, going into a rowdy road environment,’’ he said. “They love football. They’re loud. They’re into it the whole game.”
One way for the Titans to quiet the rabid Kansas City faithful is with running back Derrick Henry, who rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Texans last Sunday. Henry has rushed for 563 yards in 112 attempts with five TDs in Tennessee’s past four games.
He was held to 69 rushing yards rushing in the Chiefs’ win in the AFC title game in January 2020. Henry gained just 86 rushing yards in the meeting last season, and the Titans won big anyway.
“There are going to be things that you’re going to do to try and stop him — I think the whole NFL has tried that somewhere,” Reid said. “He’s a great player, and you’re not going to stop him on every play. You just want to get the numbers up where it’s a reasonable number of stops.”
One number that’s difficult to ignore is Reid’s uncanny 20-3 career record as a head coach in games after a bye week. And the Chiefs are coming off their bye week.
Tannehill was replaced last week by third-round pick Malik Willis — who wasn’t asked to do a lot in the passing game, going 6-for-10 for 55 yards with an interception.
Something to watch Sunday will be how much the Chiefs incorporate receiver Kadarius Toney, whom they acquired in a trade with the Giants before the trade deadline. Toney, who had trouble staying on the field with hamstring injuries and other issues, has claimed he’s healthy and ready to play.
This week is the first of two games the Chiefs will be playing without defensive end Frank Clark, who was suspended for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. But their first-round pick, cornerback Trent McDuffie, is expected to play for the first time since hurting his hamstring in the season opener at Arizona.
The Titans and Chiefs are tied for the second-best record in the AFC behind the Bills, who have beaten them both, which means this game could have playoff implications in terms of seeding and home-field advantage should they meet again.
“I just focus on ways that we think we can beat the Chiefs and how we can prepare,’’ Titans coach Mike Vrabel told reporters this week. “All that stuff really takes care of itself.’’