The Chiefs are back where they started.
On Sept. 13, the Chiefs opened their season with a 27-20 win over the Texans in Houston. It was a fleeting moment of success, and things turned sour. The Texans also had troubles early in the season, and at one point neither team seemed like a good bet to make the playoffs.
However, both teams got things straightened out and will play on Saturday (3:35 p.m. on ESPN and ABC) in an AFC Wild Card Game in Houston. Here is each team’s road to the playoffs.
High point: The Texans were sitting at 2-5 amid rumors there could be a coaching change when they beat Tennessee 15-12 on Nov. 1 going into their bye. That preceded a “Monday Night Football” game at unbeaten Cincinnati. T.J. Yates came off the bench and threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins for a 10-6 win, the second in a four-game winning streak.
Low point: Houston fell behind 31-0 at halftime and lost 44-26 at Miami, dropping the Texans to 2-5. Houston managed just 65 yards of offense in the first half, while quarterback Brian Hoyer threw a pick-six and the defense surrendered an 85-yard touchdown run and allowed Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill to complete 18 of 19 passes for 282 yards, four touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
Play of the year: Almost anytime Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins caught a pass was a candidate, but his two best receptions were one-handed touchdown grabs against Cincinnati and the New York Jets in successive weeks in November. Hopkins got behind Jets’ All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, snared the ball with his left hand 40 yards downfield and escaped a tackle for a 61-yard score; and he caught a 24-yard TD pass against the Bengals with his left hand while cornerback Pacman Jones held his right.
Team MVP: Defensive end J.J. Watt may be the most dominant defensive player since Lawrence Taylor in the 1980s. Despite playing several weeks with a broken left hand, Watt still led the NFL in sacks with 17 1/2 and his 69 career sacks passed Derrick Thomas (66) for the second-most career sacks in a player’s first five seasons in NFL history to Reggie White’s 70.
Best coaching move: Coach Bill O’Brien may have erred when he pulled Hoyer from the season opener against the Chiefs in favor of Ryan Mallett. Mallett proved to be a disaster and was released on Oct. 27. O’Brien reinstated Hoyer and added former Texan T.J. Yates to the roster, which proved to be a good move after Hoyer missed two games due to concussions. Yates won his two starts before he was sidelined for the season because of a knee injury.
Defining moment: Journeyman Brandon Weeden, claimed on Nov. 19 on waivers from Dallas, came off the bench in place of an injured Yates and engineered the Texans’ 16-10 win over the Colts on Dec. 20, the franchise’s first win ever in Indianapolis. Weeden, the fourth quarterback to play for Houston this season, threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Jaelen Strong for the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter as the Texans took control of the AFC South.
High point: The Chiefs, who buried themselves with a 1-5 start, clinched a spot in the playoffs with a hard-fought 17-13 win over the Cleveland Browns on a frigid day at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs scored in their first two possessions for a 10-0 lead and withstood a frantic drive led by Cleveland quarterback Johnny Manziel that ended at the Kansas City 32 as time ran out. The victory was the Chiefs’ ninth straight, tying a club record they would break the next week against Oakland.
Low point: The Chiefs dropped their fifth straight, falling to 1-5 in a lackluster 16-10 loss at Minnesota. The loss was punctuated by one of the most bizarre plays of the season. The Chiefs, trailing 16-10, were at the Minnesota 46 with 4:38 remaining in regulation when running back Charcandrick West, making his first NFL start in place of injured Jamaal Charles, collided with offensive tackle Donald Stephenson, who was pulling on the play. The ball was jarred loose and recovered by the Vikings at the 43. Adding insult to the play, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was called for an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty after the whistle.
Play of the year: Chiefs rookie cornerback Marcus Peters, a native of Oakland and lifelong Raiders fan, may have been a little too fired up for the Chiefs game in Oakland on Dec. 6. Peters, assessed an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty after Oakland took a 20-14 lead with a touchdown late in the third quarter, atoned for the penalty midway through the fourth quarters. With the score tied at 20, Peters, playing in front of friends and family, intercepted a Derek Carr pass and returned it 58 yards to the Oakland 13, setting up the go-ahead touchdown in the Chiefs’ 34-20 win that extended Kansas City’s winning streak to eight straight.
Team MVP: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has been the most impactful unrestricted free agent signed by the Chiefs since Priest Holmes in 2001. The Chiefs were a running national joke in 2014 when they failed to complete a touchdown pass to a receiver. Maclin, who spent six seasons with Philadelphia, changed the narrative. In his first season, Maclin caught 87 passes, a club record for a wide receiver, including eight touchdowns, for 1,088 yards. His presence opened up the offense, and his leadership skills were vital to the Chiefs’ turning around their season.
Best coaching move: It wasn’t so much what Andy Reid did, but what he didn’t do. After the Chiefs started 1-5, after they lost running back Jamaal Charles for the season in week five, he didn’t panic. He didn’t make wholesale changes to the starting lineups other than tinkering for the right combination in the offensive line, or even think about playing for the future. He stayed true to his belief in his schemes and system, and it paid off with a second playoff berth in his three years in Kansas City.
Defining moment: The Chiefs took a little momentum into their Nov. 15 game at Denver, having beaten Pittsburgh at home and Detroit in London, and they shocked the NFL world by going on the road and blowing out the Denver Broncos 29-13, snapping a six-game losing streak to their AFC West rivals and avenging a painful loss at Arrowhead Stadium on Sept. 17. The Chiefs jumped to a 29-0 lead as they intercepted a hobbled Peyton Manning four times before he went to the bench enduring the worst game of his 18-year career and just second loss to Kansas City in 14 starts. The Chiefs, at 4-5, served notice they would be a factor in the AFC playoff picture.
Randy Covitz: @randycovitz