When Patrick Mahomes walked off the field following a loss in the AFC Championship game last season, season-ending memories from college and high school crossed his mind.

Mahomes had just finished his first season as an NFL starting quarterback destined to become the league's MVP and capable of taking Kansas City to heights it last experienced a half-century ago, when the Chiefs were winners of Super Bowl IV.

His next thought? Get back to the postseason and cross the highest threshold.

"When you're that close, you want to make sure you give yourself an opportunity to get back," Mahomes said.

"We've done that this year. We're in the playoffs. We understand we're still far away from our ultimate goal."

That process begins on Sunday in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs when the Chiefs, coming off a first-round bye, play host to the Houston Texans, 22-19 overtime winners over Buffalo last weekend.

The Chiefs are the only team remaining in the playoffs that reached the divisional round a year ago. They advanced as AFC West champion for the fourth consecutive season, but only after Mahomes overcame injuries to lead a once-battered team to six straight victories.

"I loved it," gushed Kansas City coach Andy Reid, "because the second year (starting) is a tough year for quarterbacks - a tough, tough year.

"These guys have great minds in the National Football League who are coaching the defensive side of the ball. They've had a whole offseason to study and they're going to come back with their absolute best against you, and he answered it."

Mahomes' numbers are not as sparkly as last season, but he's more tested after overcoming a tender ankle, bruised hand and, most critically, a dislocated kneecap that kept him out of just two games.

"He didn't flinch," Reid said.

"He kept the same attitude, the same work ethic, and he went after it. He had a major injury that he pushed through."

Other Chiefs who battled injuries included an assortment of running backs, as well as Mahomes' blindside tackle Eric Fisher and receiver Tyreek Hil).

The offence still ranked second in the NFL with a 6.22-yard average per play.

Defensively, tackle Chris Jones and end Frank Clark overcame injuries, safety Tyrann Mathieu asserted leadership and first-year coordinator Steve Spagnuolo shaped the group into a fierce unit that is allowing 11.5 points on average during its six-game streak.

Houston handed Kansas City one of only four defeats, 31-24 on 13 October before going on to capture a fourth AFC South title in five years.

The Texans allowed just seven points over the final three quarters, gained 472 yards and controlled the ball for almost 40 minutes in that first appearance at Arrowhead Stadium after spotting the Chiefs a 17-3 lead.

When asked to appraise the Texans' offence, quarterback Deshaun Watson said: "There's really no style honestly. We can run the ball, we can throw the ball, we can finesse, we can run downhill - we can pretty much do everything. That's the way we're built."

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins can provide a big-play lift at any moment after snagging 104 receptions for 1,165 yards.

Carlos Hyde rushed for 1,070 yards and posted one of his three 100-yard performances at Kansas City.

"Whether it's injuries or scheme or whatever, things can change," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said, "but you definitely have to go back and look at that as a reference point."

The pass-rushing tandem of Whitney Mercilus and JJ Watt lead Houston's effort to slow Mahomes and quiet the Arrowhead sellout.

Two Houston players who missed the win over Buffalo, wide receiver Will Fuller (groin) and cornerback Johnathan Joseph (hamstring), were limited at practice this week. So too was Watt (shoulder). Linebacker Jacob Martin(illness) did not practice.

Kansas City's biggest loss will be rookie safety Juan Thornhill, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the final regular-season game.

Tight end Travis Kelce, the Chiefs' top receiver with 97 catches for 1,229 yards, was limited on Wednesday at practice because of a knee issue.

SUNDAY 12 JANUARY 
Kansas City Chiefs v Houston Texans , Arrowhead Stadium, 8.05pm