Last week, Sports Illustrated writer Tom Mantzouranis suggested that our very own Chiefs are Super Bowl contenders.
We all are hoping and praying that Tom is right. In the meantime, here are a few make-or-break factors standing between us and our lifelong dreams.
1. Home field advantage throughout the playoffs
You’d be hard pressed to argue that the Chiefs can make it to the Super Bowl without home field advantage throughout the playoffs. That means not only winning the West, but winning it in dominant fashion so our record outpaces that of the other division winners. Last week, I suggested that the Chiefs can go 10-6, with a huge win over the Ravens. To earn home field advantage through the playoffs, I think the benchmark is at minimum, 12-4. How do we get there?
Last year, the AFC West was the second worst division, measured by total games won by all teams in the division. Here’s how the AFC played out last year:
- North: 37 wins
- East: 35 wins
- West: 31 wins
- South: 26 wins
But on closer inspection, it may only have been Peyton Manning’s injury that prevented the West from being the worst division. The Colts went an astonishing 2-14 last year. It’s reasonable to conclude that the Chiefs may be playing in the worst division in the AFC right now, which is certainly good for our home field possibilities, should we win our division.
Of course, there’s no way to get to 12-4 without at least 2 sweeps of our three AFC West rivals – Denver, San Diego and Oakland. Of these, my money would be on sweeping San Diego and Oakland. Oakland always seems to bite us each year, and they have a GM and new coach now that don’t mess around. But we are a smarter, more disciplined and more talented team. We can take the Raiders this year. With San Diego, we are getting a team in decline. Their talent is aging, and we seem to have had their number more than in years past. With the Broncos, I just can’t imagine beating Peyton twice in one year. Which leads me to…
2. The Broncos need to fall flat
For us to get to 12-4 and win the West, the Broncos need to fall a bit flat under Peyton. If we can keep them to 10-6 or 9-7, then we’re good. Peyton, even at 36 years old, will perform at a high level. But will he have the surrounding cast to succeed? A key player for the Broncos, other than Peyton, will be Von Miller. Will he become a dominant, disruptive linebacker that can inspire his defense and give the ball back to Peyton?
3. Big Plays under pressure
Clearly, to get to 12-4, the Chiefs will need to make big plays when it matters most. Who needs to step up to get us to the Super Bowl? On offense, the easy choices are Cassel, Charles, Bowe, Baldwin and Hillis. They will be our playmakers. But I think the secret to winning 12 games is, overall, not to need big plays. We need a steamroller for an offensive line, one that keeps the lanes open for Charles and Hillis, protects Cassel and demoralizes our opponents.
On defense, while Crennel is famous for his bend-but-don’t-break defenses, I think here is where we need big plays every single game. With Hali, Johnson, Houston and Flowers, we need 2-3 big defensive plays per game that change momentum, cause turnovers and force offenses into one-dimensional playmaking.
3. Consistent Coaching
To win consistently, week after week, the coaching has to be superb. Not average – superb. There are play-calling, game management and game-time adjustments – and for special teams teams too. There is excellent preparation, scouting and planning in advance of each game. There is injury and wear-and-tear management. Like the players, the coaches cannot take one single minute off.
4. Win three big games
We all know that every game is big. But we’ll need three, larger-than-life games if we are to make it to the Super Bowl. Last week, I hypothesized that to get to 10-6 in the regular season, the Ravens game would be the make-or-break game for the Chiefs. Now, as we look towards what it would take to get us to the Super Bowl, we’ll need one more big game in the regular season – my choice is at the Chargers – and one more in the playoffs, when the Patriots or Texans come to town for the AFC Conference Championship game! We will likely be underdogs for both – but these are the games that separate champions from contenders.
So Addicts, those are my benchmarks on the way to the Super Bowl. Which of these tests will we pass, and which will we fail?