If you’re still betting against the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s time you realize that they’re viable contenders to win Super Bowl 51
Article continues below ...
The Kansas City Chiefs successfully defended their home turf on Thursday Night Football in Week 14, completing a season sweep of the Oakland Raiders. Though you can say they benefited from Derek Carr being at less than 100 percent, that pinky injury didn’t prevent Oakland from dropping 38 on the Buffalo Bills in the previous week.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs snapped the Raiders six-game winning streak, overcoming one of the best teams in the NFL and weathering an early injury to star linebacker Derrick Johnson to do so. They jumped out to a big first half lead after scoring 21 unanswered points and never relinquished it, despite facing seemingly long odds at times.
At 10-3, the Chiefs are one of the best teams in the league, but like the NFL’s Rodney Dangerfield, they still can’t get no respect. Detractors, for some reason, point to their quarterback, bringing up the same arguments about Alex Smith and the Chiefs that we have heard for years. Yet they just keep winning and looking poised to make a run into the postseason.
Sure, the Chiefs aren’t even the best team in the AFC—but they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. That was the case before the Chiefs beat the Raiders, 21-13, in Week 14, but it’s even more clear after that victory.
Here are five reasons why it’s time to start taking the Kansas City Chiefs seriously as contenders.
Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) looks to pass during the second half against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
5. Alex Smith Is Not A Problem
The notion that a game-manager at quarterback holds a team back is laughable. No, bad quarterbacks or mistake-prone quarterbacks, such as Blake Bortles and Ryan Fitzpatrick, undermine teams. Heck, Carson “Fourth-Quarter Interception” Palmer is more of a risk to his team’s success than Alex Smith, who is regularly among the league’s best at avoiding interceptions.
When the New England Patriots won their first two Super Bowls, Tom Brady was technically a game-manager. In 2013 when the Seattle Seahawks scored their first championship, Russell Wilson played a game-manager role, buoyed by Marshawn Lynch and a strong defense.
Just last year, we saw Peyton Manning—who was interception-prone—win a ring by being carried by the defense. Yes, Manning stunk, but he played well enough in the playoffs to avoid making back-breaking errors. Recall that Manning threw just one interception in three postseason games after tossing 17 in 10 regular season outings.
In short, you can win Super Bowls with quarterbacks who aren’t driving the ball downfield or racking up big passing yardage.
Smith hasn’t been great this year, but he throws an interception on just 1.3 percent of his passes. He also averages 7.1 yards per pass attempt with a 67.1 percent completion percentage. More importantly, Smith is starting to hit his stride. He threw just four incomplete passes in a Week 13 win over the Atlanta Falcons, notching 10.8 yards per pass attempt in a 270-yard day.
Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston (50) and defensive tackle Rakeem Nunez-Roches (99) during the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
4. Um, Have You Watched The Chiefs Defense?
Maybe some of Carr’s struggles on Thursday had to do with his pinky injury, but the Chiefs defense did a perfect job of stifling the Raiders juggernaut offense. Even though the Chiefs pass rush recorded just one sack against the league’s second-best offensive line, they held Carr to under 2.9 yards per attempt. The Raiders could only successfully complete short passes. Carr was 0-of-7 on deep passes and the Raiders averaged just 6.9 yards per completion. Suffice it to say, drops weren’t Oakland’s only undoing.
Credit should go to the Chiefs defensive backs for playing perfect coverage and the inside linebackers also deserve credit for stepping up after Johnson went down with an injury. Terrance Mitchell‘s performance, in particular, was inspiring. He didn’t give the Raiders receivers, including Amari Cooper, any breathing room. Mitchell’s game has always been based around strength, physicality, and short-area quickness. If he follows up this dominant performance, he could be the Chiefs next Sean Smith working across from Marcus Peters.
The Chiefs are seventh in the NFL in points per game allowed and second in turnovers forced. Justin Houston has been a monster since returning to the field, but the crazy thing is that Dee Ford might be even more of a standout this season with 10 sacks in 11 starts.
Meanwhile, Eric Berry, Steven Nelson, and Ron Parker are legit playmakers in the secondary. If the aforementioned Mitchell can establish himself as an every-down starter on the outside, then the Chiefs could effectively have no weaknesses in the secondary.
Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs wide receivers Tyreek Hill (10) and Chris Conley (17) gesture after a first down in the second quarter against the Oakland Raiders during a NFL football game at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
3. Don’t Sleep On Their Receivers
Last season, the Chiefs relied on expensive offseason signing Jeremy Maclin to carry the day for their passing attack. Maclin shined even brighter than he did with the Philadelphia Eagles and he might have been the team’s MVP. The former first-round pick out of Missouri caught 87 passes, including eight touchdowns and was Smith’s clear go-to weapon.
However, Maclin has regressed badly in 2016. Nagging injuries have held Maclin back, so that may be part of the story. After catching 70.2 percent of Smith’s passes last year, Maclin’s catch rate is at 52.5 percent this season, which would be the lowest mark of his seven-year career. In 2015, Maclin carried the offense in some ways, but he’s been their least effective player this season.
Could you imagine the impact on the Pittsburgh Steelers offense if Antonio Brown started struggling badly? Or how about the Indianapolis Colts if T.Y. Hilton had a dud of a season?
The Chiefs haven’t been worse for wear on offense with Maclin having issues. However, they’ve recently found an excellent sparkplug in Tyreek Hill, who added another offensive touchdown to his tally on Thursday night. Chris Conley is one of the most underrated wide receivers in the game and Smith might be starting to realize how much margin for error there is with a player that athletic. Once Conley truly learns how to use his gifts, watch out.
Of course, the mainstay in the Chiefs passing attack is Travis Kelce, who can be impossible to defend. Kelce single-handedly carved up the Atlanta Falcons, and he had another 100-yard performance against Oakland. Few tight ends in this league are as athletic or as dangerous after that catch than Kelce, who owns the seams and truly does seem like a Rob Gronkowski copy when he runs routes.
The Chiefs have a diverse portfolio of pass-catchers—you can include Spencer Ware and gadget player Albert Wilson in there, as well. With that array of weapons, they’re a more dangerous offense than many would give them credit for.
Dec 8, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs fans react during a NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
2. The Chiefs Are Resilient
Kansas City can consider themselves lucky this season. They barely walked out with a win over the Denver Broncos and they did need a favorable bounce off the goalpost to net the victory. You could say the same for their pick-two to beat the Atlanta Falcons or Peters’ strip of Kelvin Benjamin in their win over the Carolina Panthers.
None of these wins seem lucky to me. First of all, Smith had to engineer a clutch, eight-point drive to take the Chiefs to overtime against Denver. Secondly, it is unfair to count the plays by Berry and Peters as being lucky. Moments of individual brilliance in clutch situations are something elite players produce. Nobody would call a clutch circus catch from Antonio Brown lucky or a fluke, would they? The same respect should be given to defensive players and the Chiefs defense is stocked with clutch playmakers.
Not only have the Chiefs come out on top in several close games this season, but they have also bounced back from a devastating loss.
In Week 4, the Chiefs dropped to 2-2 after being demolished 43-14 on Sunday Night Football by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Following the Week 5 bye, the Chiefs reeled off five-straight wins. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers broke that streak up with a 19-17 win in Week 11, but the Chiefs have notched three-straight wins over the Broncos, Falcons, and Raiders since. Whenever you hit them in the mouth, they get up swinging harder than before.
Dec 4, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry (29) celebrates with fans after defeating the Atlanta Falcons 29-28 at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
1. Undefeated In AFC West
Following Thursday’s win over the rival Raiders, the Chiefs are now 4-0 against AFC West teams. They have beaten all of their division foes at least once this season and they join the Houston Texans and Baltimore Ravens as the only teams to be undefeated in their divisions.
The AFC West is the best division in the league, whereas the AFC South and AFC North are absolute jokes. I mean, no team in the AFC South has a winning record and the AFC North has a team that hasn’t won a game yet—and doesn’t care about winning either.
Why is the Chiefs undefeated record in the division so important? First of all, these are dang good teams they are beating. Even the 5-7 Chargers are no cakewalk. Like every other team in the AFC West, the Chargers have a positive point differential and they are third in the NFL in points per game.
Additionally, division games have huge playoff and personal stakes. Being able to beat three difficult teams—including the 10-3 Raiders twice—is no short feat. The Chiefs elevate themselves in important parts of games, and they elevate themselves against teams they must beat. This is a sign of great leadership and coaching, and these are intangibles that can aid the Chiefs. They already have the great defense, dependable skill position players, experienced quarterback, and favorable turnover margin.