(CBS Miami) — The Kansas City Chiefs (12-1) were already set to return to the playoffs. But when the Chiefs scored 30 unanswered points and then held on to beat the Miami Dolphins 33-27, they clinched the AFC West as well. The New Orleans Saints (10-3) were the other team to clinch a playoff berth in Week 13. But their unfortunate loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday (and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ win) keeps the NFC South in play.
In Week 15, the Chiefs will visit The Big Easy for a matchup with the Saints that will be anything but. New Orleans has been getting along just fine in the absence of Drew Brees. The team’s longtime starting quarterback went on injured reserve a month ago after suffering multiple broken ribs over the course of two games. (He is questionable for this game.) The Saints continued their winning streak in the meantime — at least up until the Eagles loss — with Taysom Hill under center.
Hill has averaged 208.5 yards per game in those four games. That average would be a lot higher were it not for a 78-yard passing performance against the Denver Broncos that can’t really be held against him. The Broncos started wide receiver Kendall Hinton at quarterback that week after their three QBs were all forced to quarantine. Denver’s offense couldn’t move the ball, and all Hill needed to do was run or hand the ball to Latavius Murray and Alvin Kamara.
Hill, Murray and Kamara rushed for over 200 yards and four touchdowns that day. On the season, the Saints are one of the league’s better rushing teams and higher scoring teams, averaging 137.3 yards and 28.3 points respectively. Kamara remains among the NFL’s most dangerous offensive weapons on the ground and through the air. And the passing game must be respected, particularly when Brees is healthy. Whether he plays Sunday has yet to be announced. But his presence would clearly change the complexion of the Saints offense.
Believe it or not, though, the Saints’ strength this season is on the defensive side of the ball. The unit gives up the second-fewest yards in the league and the fourth-fewest points, and has improved as the season has progressed. The defense thrives on pressuring the quarterback, with 36 sacks on the season. This makes it all the more surprising that they were unable to get to Eagles rookie QB Jalen Hurts, literally or mentally. Hurts’ passing stat line was a pedestrian 17-30 for 167 yards and a touchdown, but he ran for another 106 yards.
“New Orleans did surprise me last week,” says NFL On CBS play-by-play man Andrew Catalon. “They just didn’t have it against Philadelphia, tip your cap to the Eagles. I’m very curious this week how New Orleans bounces back after that performance. That was one I did not see coming, and they have a lot to play for…”
“Can they slow down that Kansas City offense?” wondered Catalon. Miami tried as much as they could last week. There’s just so much speed and so many weapons for Patrick Mahomes. That’s going to be the key in that game. I don’t know if New Orleans, without Brees, can go toe-to-toe and win a track meet. They’re going to have to find a way to slow down Kansas City.”
That high-speed Chiefs offense starts with Patrick Mahomes. The reigning Super Bowl MVP is once again putting up stats that could lead his team back to the big game. Mahomes tops the league with 4,208 passing yards on the season. His 33 touchdown passes put him third. And that TD total is particularly impressive when contrasted with just five interceptions.
Mahomes threw three of those picks last week against the Dolphins, and still managed to pull out the win, piling up 393 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Travis Kelce had another big day, with eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill added two more TDs, one on the ground and another through the air. Kelce leads the NFL in receiving yards, with Hill fourth, but leading in receiving touchdowns. But they’re far from the only threats on this speedy offense.
The Chiefs defense still struggles defending the run. The Dolphins running backs were too banged up to press them last week, but Denver Broncos Melvin Gordon went for 131 yards the week before. On the season, they’re allowing 128.4 yards rushing per game, among the worst averages in the NFL.
Will the Saints have enough firepower to keep up with the Chiefs if Hill starts at quarterback? What if Brees is ready? Or will they opt to run the ball more and let Mahomes watch from the sidelines? That will be the challenge if the Saints want to keep pace with the Green Bay Packers for that first-round playoff bye in the NFC.
The Chiefs play the Saints Sunday, December 20 @ 4:25 p.m. ET on CBS.