Before moving to Kansas and becoming a Kansas City Chiefs fan, I spent a good part of my life in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Kentucky Derby. We haven’t lived there in over a decade, but we still make it a point to watch the Derby every year. And every year there is one part of the race that never ceases to give me a bit of a thrill. It occurs when the horses make the final turn and are on the straightaway to the finish line. It is at that moment the announcer booms into his microphone, “And down the stretch they come!” As I look at the Chiefs with three games left, I can’t help but imagine the announcer saying those words.
To begin with, I never thought the Chiefs would make it this far. I didn’t think they were competitors for the AFC West title this year. I thought it would be at least another year. However, we started off 3-0 and in particular by defeating the heir apparent San Diego Chargers. We came out of the gate quickly and have maintained a fairly steady win pace throughout the season. The question is whether we’ve kept a good enough pace to win the AFC West.
Last week’s loss to the Chargers was terrible but not unexpected. In a rare moment I am actually beholden to the Oakland Raiders for beating the Chargers the week before so that we were able to lose this game and still have a shot at winning the division. That being said, the gap is closing between the Chiefs and the Chargers. And looking at the Chiefs remaining games, I have no certainty that we will make the playoffs.
This Sunday we find the Chiefs playing their last game on the road versus their state rival the St. Louis Rams. If this year’s Chiefs were playing last year’s Rams, I would have no question as to whether we win the game. However, this year all the Chiefs losses have come on the road. Also, even if Chiefs’ quarterback Matt Cassel is the starter, I have no idea what condition he’ll be in. And those are just self inflicted problems the Chiefs have.
This year’s Rams are no push over. Reinvigorated by the presence of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, St. Louis is actually competing for the NFC West title. Bradford has looked very good at times. The Rams defense has also looked not too bad. It is roughly comparable to our defense, statistically. While I think the Chiefs need to be careful going into this game, it does bode well for us that we have yet to lose to a NFC West team.
After the Rams game, the Chiefs come home, sweet home. And make no mistake; home has been sweet for the Chiefs this year. We have yet to lose at home and if we hope to get into the playoffs we must remain undefeated at home.
In our second to last game we play the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead Stadium. Of all the games the Chiefs have left to play, this is the game I think we are most likely to win. However, I should mention that it is not so much because I think the Chiefs are better than the Titans, but because the Titans, as a team, are a mess right now.
They have issues with unstable quarterback Vince Young and so are starting rickety quarterback Kerry Collins. There are also issues that exist between Titans head coach Jeff Fisher and owner Bud Adams. Not to mention they recently acquired locker room diva Randy Moss. Add the fact that the Titans are out of the playoff race and I think they will have a hard time finding any kind of reason to make an effort in their game against the Chiefs.
And in the Chiefs final game of the regular season we find the piece de resistance. Could the stage be better set for the Chiefs game against the Raiders in three weeks? The Chiefs are (hopefully) unbeaten at home. The Raiders are unbeaten in their division. That’s what it comes down to. If the Chiefs beat the Rams and the Titans, they must face their nemesis the Oakland Raiders. Previously this year when the two met it was a sloppy game that ended with the Chiefs being narrowly defeated. However, this time they face each other in Arrowhead. As excited as I am about that game now, I worry that my heart may give out before the game is played.
So as the Kansas City Chiefs enter the final stretch they find themselves in the lead, but the Chargers are making their move and the Raiders are not completely out of it yet. I hope that as the teams thunder towards the end of the regular season, the Chargers and Raiders both lose and the Chiefs win Sunday. However, there is a part of me that wants it to come down to a photo finish with the Raiders game. Not that I want the game to be close, but that the game will hold a great deal of impact. Because I want to get the same feeling I get when I hear the announcer say, “And down the stretch they come!”