Matt Cassel(notes) and the Kansas City Chiefs bounced back from a blowout loss to their closest pursuers in the AFC West. With a little help this week, they can add to their improbable turnaround season by securing their first division title in eight years.
The Chiefs try to put themselves in position to clinch when they host a Tennessee Titans team that’s looking to keep its postseason hopes alive Sunday.
Kansas City (9-5) rebounded from a 31-0 road loss to San Diego - the second-place team in the West - with a 27-13 victory over St. Louis last week, its fourth in five games. That allows the Chiefs to win the division if they beat Tennessee and the Chargers lose at Cincinnati.
The Chiefs were inspired by the stunning return of Cassel, who faced the Rams just 11 days after undergoing an emergency appendectomy. Cassel, who sat out against San Diego, threw for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
“For a guy to come back after having an organ removed from his body, playing the next week, yeah it’s definitely extraordinary,” said running back Thomas Jones(notes), who had 62 yards and a touchdown. “I’m proud of him, really proud of him.”
While Cassel was solid, Jamaal Charles(notes) was the main cog for the Chiefs offensively with 126 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 11 carries. Kansas City’s top-ranked ground attack, averaging 168.6 yards, rolled up 210 versus St. Louis.
Charles is third in the NFL with 1,303 yards rushing and first with 6.4 yards per carry. He’ll face a challenge against Tennessee’s defense, which limited Houston’s Arian Foster(notes) - the league’s leading rusher - to a season-low 15 yards last week.
Tennessee has allowed 58.5 rushing yards in its last two games compared to 123.4 in its first 12. Shutting down Foster helped the team break a six-game losing streak with a 31-17 victory and remain on the fringes of the playoff picture.
The Titans (6-8) must win their final two games and need Indianapolis - which they visit Jan. 2 - and Jacksonville to lose out in order to make the postseason.
“We understand what our situation is, who needs to do what,” quarterback Kerry Collins(notes) said. “Is it a long shot? Yeah, it is but that’s not going to change our M.O. (We) want to come out, keep playing. Crazier things have happened but we’ve got to take care of our business and we did that.”
Collins and the Titans will be trying to deal the Chiefs their first home loss in seven games this season. Kansas City, surrendering an NFL-low 12.2 points per game at home, last went undefeated at Arrowhead Stadium in 2003, when it won its most recent division title.
Winning at Kansas City, however, hasn’t been a problem for Tennessee recently. The Titans took the last two meetings there in 2007 and ’08, winning the most recent one 34-10 behind 168 yards rushing from Chris Johnson and 149 from now-departed LenDale White(notes).
Tennessee has won three of the last four matchups.
Collins went 14 of 24 for 237 yards with two touchdowns and an interception last week while Johnson rushed for 130 yards and a TD. They’ll try to duplicate those performances against a Chiefs team that held the Rams to an opponent season-low 224 yards of offense, improving to 6-0 when allowing 300 or fewer.
Kansas City’s 27 wins against the Titans franchise are its second most against any non-division opponent.