KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s straight Looney Tunes, but then again, the NFL has had a run on Looney Tunes lately. The league that brought you CSI: Aaron Hernandez, Chad Johnson’s courtroom buttslap, and “Pacman” Jones tossed another nugget onto the fire Thursday, declaring that the Kansas City Chiefs now have almost three times as many players listed among the NFL’s Top 100 (five) as they did victories in 2012 (two).
See? Who says Roger Goodell doesn’t have a sense of humor?
The running player-poll-slash-NFL Network series unveiled the stars ranked 11-20 on Thursday evening, with Chiefs tailback Jamaal Charles checking in at 20th — the highest position in the series’ three-year history for a Kansas City player.
Fairly cool, right? And absolutely deserved. With no passing game to speak of, on a team seemed to be playing from behind every stinking week, against defenses programmed pretty much to stop him and stop him alone, the shifty Texan still collected 1,509 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards a carry. It was one of the greatest single-season offensive performances in Chiefs history, particularly in the context in which it transpired.
NFL players admire transcendence. They crave bling. They also respect the hell out of the poor cappers who rise above the rest of the garbage roster they just happen to be stuck with.
Only hang on a tick. According to the players who voted, this isn’t a garbage roster. At all.
The Chiefs constitute roughly 3 percent of the NFL while accounting for 5 percent of the league’s 100 biggest studs. And Kansas City’s four players ranked between Nos. 21 and 100 — linebacker Justin Houston (49), linebacker Derrick Johnson (59), wideout Dwayne Bowe (65) and cornerback Brandon Flowers (75) — were the most in the AFC West.
Quantity is groovy. But quality — real, honest-to-God quality — in the most critical positions on the field is better.
If the Pioli and post-Pioli Chiefs taught us anything, it’s this: The NFL is a quarterbacks league and a coaches league, now more than ever. Belichick and Brady. Coughlin and Eli. Fox and Manning. East Coast Harbaugh and Flacco. West Coast Harbaugh and whomever.
Get one of the two wrong, my friend, and you’re headed for an uphill climb. Misfire on both? Oh, doctor.
Open grocery sack, insert head. Dumpster-fire city.
To put it in NASCAR terms, the Chiefs of ’12 had a killer engine, a sound body and four good tires. But when you then turn around and stick Mister Magoo in the driver’s seat, bad things are probably going to happen.
Which brings us back around, back to the whole optimism narrative, a groundswell that’s been floating around Chiefsland for months now. And one the Top 100 only affirms.
For one, things can’t get any worse. Second, history is about to plant a giant playoff lottery ticket on somebody’s backside. For 10 straight seasons now, at least one NFL franchise has gone from worst to first in back-to-back years. It’s pro football’s wacky circle of life, captured at the apex: land a softer schedule, draft right, import a few key free agents, overhaul your coaching staff, tweak the system, and anything’s possible.
The Broncos did it in 2011; Washington turned the same trick last fall. Criminy, it’s happened four times in the AFC West alone since 2002, and the Chiefs pulled it off twice (’02 to ’03, and ’09 to ’10) during that span.
And you’ve got to admit, on paper, all the pieces would seem to be in place. The slate seems manageable: Jacksonville in Week 1, Philadelphia in Week 3, Tennessee, Cleveland and Buffalo, plus the usual home-and-home dances with San Diego and Oakland. The parts of the ship that most badly needed an overhaul, and there were some biggies — the front office, the coaching staff, the quarterbacks, the secondary — were almost completely (if not entirely) overhauled.
There’s a “name” coach in Andy Reid, and a “name” … well, OK, maybe not a “name” signal-caller, per se, but Alex Smith gets a leg up with the locals, sight unseen, just by the virtue of not being Matt Cassel.
Over the winter, six Pro Bowlers. Six months later, five players among the NFL’s Top 100.
It’s not the talent.
Then again, it never was.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at email@example.com.