The New England Patriots have the AFC exactly where they want them.
There were two possible teams that could have come out of the wild card round to knock out the Broncos in the divisional: the Steelers and the Chiefs; both were victorious.
While Pittsburgh has to hope that Antonio Brown clears concussion protocol (and let's be serious, even if he were injured, the league would look the other way so a premier name could take the field), and that Ben Roethlisberger's shoulder is fine (he finished the game), they have a great chance of winning next week.
The Steelers had to operate without running back DeAngelo Williams, who will be available for next week. The three-headed monster of Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Markus Wheaton is as dangerous of a trio as any in the entire league, and the defense just stuffed a legitimately talented Bengals attack (albeit one led by a back-up quarterback). It also doesn't hurt that Pittsburgh defeated the Broncos 34-27 in week 15.
Kansas City matches up well against the Broncos, but instead they will be traveling to New England. The Chiefs defense has been absolutely stifling, ranking third in the league, but the opposing offenses haven't been great. Over the 11-game winning streak, the Chiefs have faced the Chargers (twice), Raiders (twice), Browns, Ravens, Bills, Texans, pre-Jim Bob Cooter Lions, Landry Jones Steelers, and the imploding Peyton Manning Broncos. Still, winning eleven straight is impressive, regardless of opposition.
The Chiefs blanked the Texans in the wild card round 30-0, but Houston was just absolutely atrocious and heartless. Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer threw an interception from inside his own 10-yard line, as well as another on the Chiefs goal line. Hoyer had four interceptions and two fumbles on the day.
The Patriots will likely face a Chiefs defense with a hobbled trio of pass rushers in Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, and Dee Ford, but the defense is the real deal. New England will need everyone on offense to be a contributing member of the team in order to put points on the board.
Kansas City's offense could take a major hit as wide receiver Jeremy Maclin suffered a major knee injury on Saturday. More will be known on Sunday, but initial reports point to a knee sprain or even an ACL tear. If Maclin is unable to play, the Chiefs offense will be severely limited.
Outside of Maclin, the Chiefs have just two receivers worth covering: tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Albert Wilson. Kelce is one of the better tight ends in the league, and the 5'9 Wilson is a shifty #2 receiver. Wilson will see fewer than five targets per game. The Patriots are definitely capable of slowing down these two players, allowing the rest of the defense to focus on stopping the Chiefs rushing attack.
The Patriots can't take the Chiefs lightly, but there's no question that the New England defense matches up extremely well against the Chiefs. While the Steelers need to be at full strength next week for the Patriots to reclaim homefield in the AFC, New England is in a great position to take a big step forward next Saturday.
Saturday, Jan. 16
AFC Divisional Round Game 1: (5) Kansas City Chiefs vs. (2) New England Patriots, 4:35 p.m., CBS
NFC Divisional Round Game 1: (2) Arizona Cardinals vs. highest seed, 8:15 p.m., NBC
Sunday, Jan. 17
NFC Divisional Round Game 2: (1) Carolina Panthers vs. lowest seed, 1:05 p.m., FOX
AFC Divisional Round Game 2: (6) Pittsburgh Steelers vs. (1) Denver Broncos 4:40 p.m., CBS