By Sam McPherson
On the list of all-time NFL postseason quarterback success, as determined by the league’s QB rating formula, there are names like Bart Starr, Kurt Warner, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson and Joe Montana. In fact, those are the top six qualifiers for the list based on games played/passes attempted in the postseason. What the list doesn’t say is that current Kansas City Chiefs QB Alex Smith has been better than them all in his own postseason career.
Smith has only been in three playoff games, however, tossing a total of 114 passes over two games with the San Francisco 49ers in 2011 and one game with the Chiefs in 2013. Evidently, that’s not enough to qualify for the list of top playoff QBs in the history of the league. Yet Smith’s 108.6 QB rating in those three games tops Starr (104.8), Warner (102.8), Rodgers (101.0), Brees (100.7), Wilson (97.8) and Montana (95.6)—all quarterbacks that led their teams to at least one Super Bowl title during their careers.
Is it Alex Smith’s turn in 2015 to join that list? The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since Montana was their QB back in the 1993 playoffs, and if Kansas City is to break that seven-game, postseason losing streak, Smith will have to keep playing at the top level he’s shown the league during January play in 2011 and 2013. Smith posted a career-best QB rating (95.4) over a 16-game season this year with the Chiefs, so there’s no reason to think he cannot continue his postseason success against the Houston Texans on the road this Saturday.
Smith’s Playoff Game History
The first thing that stands out about Smith in the postseason is that he’s never thrown an interception in a playoff game. Meanwhile, he’s tossed nine touchdown passes in three games against the New Orleans Saints at home, the New York Giants at home and the Indianapolis Colts on the road. The home games came with the 49ers in 2011, as San Francisco lost the NFC Championship Game to Eli Manning and the Giants in overtime after punt returner Kyle Williams fumbled a kick deep in his own territory. Otherwise, Smith might already have a Super Bowl win on his record.
In that 2011 postseason, he threw for 495 yards in two games with five TDs and no INTs. Smith also ran for 70 yards on just seven attempts in the two games. The 2013 road playoff loss to the Colts still stings Chiefs fans and players alike, as Indianapolis overcame a 38-10 third-quarter deficit to beat Kansas City, 45-44. Smith’s stat line from the game looks pretty good: 378 yards, four TDs, no INTs and 57 yards rushing. He did fumble once, though, and the Chiefs defense couldn’t stop Colts QB Andrew Luck in the final quarter and a half.
Formula: No Turnovers, Rushing Yards
Smith will have to keep playing at this level for the Chiefs to win in Houston on Saturday. He has thrown just 30 interceptions since the start of the 2011 season, spanning 75 games now including the playoffs. Smith’s record as a starter in that same time frame is 50-23-1. QBs who don’t throw many interceptions while winning over two thirds of their starts are hard to come by in the NFL. Yet because he was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, Smith will never “live up to expectations” until he wins a Super Bowl (or at least leads his team to one).
To do that, the Chiefs QB must avoid mistakes like he usually does, which means no INTs and no fumbles. Smith also has to stay light on his feet. He has taken nine sacks in those three NFL playoff games, which is too many. With Texans stud J.J. Watt bearing down on him this weekend, Smith will have to be able to evade the rush and turn plays like that into positive yardage with his feet. He’s shown the ability to run in both his college and his NFL careers. Smith has run for 1,183 yards in his Kansas City regular-season career, averaging 5.7 yards per attempt.
Prediction: Chiefs Will Win
Looking back to Week 1 of the 2015 NFL season, the Chiefs went to NRG Stadium in Houston and beat the Texans, 27-20. Kansas City built a 27-6 lead with 20 minutes left in the game and cruised to the finish as Houston scored the final 14 points of the game to make it look close. Both teams are different now, the Chiefs more so without running back Jamaal Charles, who had 103 yards from scrimmage and scored a TD. Both defenses are better as well.
On a neutral field, Kansas City would be favored by a touchdown, as the Chiefs played a tougher schedule this year and won two more games than the Texans did. Overall, Kansas City also has a better offense/defense balance than Houston does. Finally, the Chiefs remember 2013: They had that game almost in the bag, and they let it get away from them. That motivation alone is enough to carry Smith and his K.C. teammates to the win on Saturday, and then maybe Smith will start getting the recognition he deserves for his postseason prowess.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.