KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One quarterback in Saturday’s playoff game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans led the NFL in passer rating this season. The other threw more interceptions than touchdown passes in 2017.
One of these quarterbacks once threw for four touchdowns and almost 400 yards in a playoff game. The other has never played in the postseason.
It’s nothing new for Kansas City to go into a playoff game facing a deficit at quarterback. The twist for Saturday’s wild-card game at Arrowhead Stadium (4:20 p.m. ET, ESPN) is that this time the more experienced and more accomplished quarterback and the one who had the better season -- Alex Smith -- plays for the Chiefs.
The Titans, with the turnover-prone Marcus Mariota, are the ones with the bigger worries at the game’s most important position.
“I think for that position [playoff experience] does help," coach Andy Reid said. “Alex has been there and done well there. It sure doesn’t hurt for him to have been there and done well."
The Chiefs are 1-10 in their past 11 playoff games, one big reason being that they’ve almost always been on the losing side of the quarterback battle. Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, John Elway, Peyton Manning (twice), Andrew Luck, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger are some of the quarterbacks who have beaten the Chiefs in those games.
The Chiefs countered with a collection of quarterbacks who were rejected by other teams by the time they arrived in Kansas City. That includes Smith, who was benched by the San Francisco 49ers before being traded to the Chiefs in 2013.
Smith was surrounded this season by the best cast of skill players he’s had and responded with his best season. Not only did he lead the NFL in passer rating at 104.7, but he set personal records for passing yardage (4,042) and touchdown passes (26).
Smith has generally played well in the playoffs, both for the 49ers and Chiefs. In six games, he has 12 touchdown passes and two interceptions. His big postseason game came after the 2013 season, when he threw for 378 yards and four touchdowns against the Colts.
It was his bad luck -- and typical of that for Chiefs quarterbacks in the playoffs -- to have gone up that day against a quarterback who was even better. Luck threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns and the Chiefs lost, 45-44.
Mariota was the second player drafted in 2015 and by last season seemed well on his way toward proving deserving of that lofty status. Mariota and the Titans beat Smith and the Chiefs at Arrowhead late last season. But this season, with 12 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions, he seems to have regressed.
“The turnovers are something we’ve got to clean up," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “He knows that. I don’t have to harp on that with him. He knows we have to do a better job of taking care of the football, especially at this time of year."