Some of my TAS colleagues remain incredulous when it comes to the Kansas City Chiefs. Perhaps it’s true that the Chiefs have had the benefit of a creampuff schedule thus far, having played the Jaguars, Giants, Eagles, Titans, Raiders, and Cowboys, all of whom combine for a record of 10-26—the Giants and Jaguars are to be thanked for such a skew.
But the Chiefs are here to stay. Why, you ask?
The Chiefs’ defense is what makes the team go, and makes the relatively limited offensive skills of Alex Smith that much more effective.
The Chiefs lead the league in “takeaways” and are +12 overall in the takeaway/giveaway department.
Justin Houston leads the league in sacks and Tamba Hali isn’t far behind. The Chiefs defense as a whole, in fact, leads the league in sacks with 31 and has cost opponents 198 yards. Good pass rushes mean rushed QB decision-making. As a result, the Chiefs are tied for the league lead in interceptions and interceptions returned for touchdowns, they have successfully defended the most passes in the league, and they have allowed the least points per game of any defense with a stout 10.8.
Dustin Colquitt leads the league in pinning teams inside the 20-yard line with his punts. A product of a sputtering offense you say? It’s true: The Chiefs do lead the league in total punts. But if their defense, and particularly their pass rush, is their true strength, then having the ability to cut losses and attack teams inside their own 20 is a gift not a curse. Just about half—19/40—of Colquitt’s punts end with the opponent trapped inside the 20.
Having a shorter field to work with is generally what results, whether by turnover or punt, and the latter means getting the ball in Dexter McCluster’s hands—a proven threat to take a punt to the house.
Alex Smith is as good a game manager as it gets. Through six games he’s turned the ball over only three times. Everyone knows what Smith is and isn’t capable of, which is why a short field is so important for his skill set.
His west coast-style passing attack, predominated by slants, screens, and other quick patterns, combined with the dynamic running and pass catching of Jamal Charles, a bona fide star in this league, makes for great clock management and ball security—which is supported by the fact that the Chiefs' offense is fourth in the league in average ball possession per game at 32:00.
Charles thrives on screens as much as he does on handoffs and has generated 775 yards of total offense. That’s right folks, he’s on pace for 2,067 yards of total offense for the season.
The real concern is this: Will things change as the season wears on?
The Chiefs have four things going for them. First, Andy Reid is a good coach. Second, a good defense is a good defense. Third, the offense should only improve the longer the new parts, like Smith, have to assimilate. And fourth, the teams the Chiefs will face will not get much better overall than the ones they’ve already beaten.
They’ll face Houston, Cleveland, and Buffalo over the next three weeks, which should all be wins. ESPN’s Merril Hoge agrees on this point. The combined records of these teams are 7-11 and, in each case, things seem like they’ll be getting worse before they get any better. We have every reason to think the Chiefs will be 9-0 by the bye in week 10.
Things get a little trickier over the last seven games with two divisional match-ups each against the Broncos and Chargers, as well as one against the Colts. Games against the Redskins and Raiders are particularly winnable.
I think they’ll win their home game against the Broncos. The Broncos have a target on their backs, and now that Arrowhead Stadium holds the Guinness Book of World Records distinction of loudest sports arena, home-field advantage could be huge. Additionally, seeing that the pass rush is the Chiefs’ chief weapon, it must be noted that the Broncos have lost their Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady for the season, as well as former Pro Bowl center Dan Koppen. The Chargers match-ups and the Colts game are coin tosses this far away from game day. Who knows what will transpire in between?
If things go as I’ve anticipated it’d be a tough sell to think that the Chiefs can’t go at least 3-4 over their last seven games against the Broncos, Chargers, Redskins, Raiders, and Colts.
Thus, if I had to make a bold prediction, which I don’t—but I will—I’d say the Chiefs go 12-4. Since things don’t normally go as anticipated—this is the nature of the NFL after all—I say the Chiefs pull out a difficult game or two and drop a couple in kind.
And once the playoffs come calling, the Chiefs' win formula should only be that much more successful. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Here’s hoping that my colleagues have respect for me by season’s end.