The Kansas City Chiefs are 4-0.
Let that soak in for a minute. Really think about where the Chiefs and their fans were less than a year ago. The team was the worst in football. Fans were flying banners over the stadium and the few that showed up to games were wearing black instead of their tradition “Sea of Red” attire. There was what felt like a never ending parade of games where KC never even had a lead. There was the Jovan Belcher tragedy. There was the Eric Winston rant. I don’t know if there is such a thing in the NFL as a lower “rock bottom” than what KC hit last season. I’m sure Lions fans would point towards their 0-16 season, but this somehow felt even worse.
Now, less than a year later, the Chiefs are 4-0 and life for the Chiefs and their fans is good.
There are no sure things in the NFL. No team can ever take anything for granted. Injuries can derail a team. Just as quickly as a team can build positive momentum, it can swing the other way. Technically, KC could still finish the season 4-12.
That having been said, I am now confident that the 2013 Chiefs will be a playoff team. I’m not saying that they are one of the elite teams in the NFL, or a Super Bowl contender, but this team is going to make the playoffs. This isn’t just the “cloud nine” rantings of a huge homer after the latest KC win. I actually didn’t think KC would make the playoffs before the season started. I had them going 9-7, and thought if things broke right for them that they might be in wild card contention down the stretch. I thought just competing for a playoff spot would be a massive upgrade coming off a 2-14 season. The thought of jumping all the way from the worst team in the NFL to a legit playoff team was too big of jump for one offseason, even with the returning talent that KC had.
Those doubts are now gone. I believe there are several reasons for EVERY KC fan (even the pessimists) to believe that this team will make the playoffs. In fact, I believe there are at least 10 of them.
Here they are, in order of significance:
10. John Dorsey has greatly improved KC’s depth.
On Saturday, I posted a special feature on GM John Dorsey. I listed several reasons why I believed he has been a huge part of KC’s new found success. One of those were the players he has added to the bottom of the roster. On Sunday, the Chiefs at one point were without the top three TEs from preseason (Fasano, Kelce, Moeaki), two offensive line starters (Allen, Fisher), and their best cover CB (Flowers). Despite these losses, KC was able to continue to play effectively. Sean McGrath looked great at TE. While the offensive line was still not fantastic, the drop off from the missing starters to Donald Stephenson and Geoff Schwartz was minimal at worst. Marcus Cooper, a rookie that was signed after being cut by the 49ers, did a fantastic job filling in for the injured Flowers. Remember Jake O’Connell and Jalil Brown? Those are the players that KC used to bring in off the bench. These Chiefs have been able to keep pace, even without some key players. Could KC survive any amount of injuries? Of course not, but this team is much better prepared to survive some players missing time then in previous years and John Dorsey deserves a ton of credit for that.
9. The Special Teams play helps keep KC in games.
The Special Teams haven’t been perfect. They have allowed a couple of blocked/tipped kicks and punter Dustin Colquitt was almost injured in Sunday’s game. However, the Chiefs have still been the clear winner on special teams each week. The kick coverage has been solid. The returns have been a huge advantage for KC. Dustin Colquitt has showed why KC made him the highest paid punter in the league, and has been HUGE in helping KC win the field position battle. During the game Sunday they showed a stat that kicker Ryan Succop is the current leader for franchise career FG percentage with over 80% of his FGs made. The signing of ST Coach Dave Toub looks like one of the best moves of the offseason.
8. The competition in the AFC is wide open this year.
Some seasons there are 3-4 teams in the AFC that you know you can pencil in for the playoffs before the season even starts. While injuries can always change things, it’s still usually a safe bet. This year there is only one team that everyone knows will be in the playoffs, and that’s the Denver Broncos. The Patriots are probably a close second, but because of all the offensive weapons they have lost, I don’t think you can put them in the “sure thing” category with Denver. After that, there are no sure things. The Texans were suppose to be one of those teams, but are just 2-2 and a couple of plays away from being 0-4. The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens were blown out in their opener and just lost to the Bills. The Bengals were another team many had penciled into the playoffs, but they’re just 2-2 and got punched in the mouth by the Browns. The other teams in the AFC with winning records are the Dolphins, Colts, and Titans. While these teams have looked good, I don’t know that an objective observer would classify any of them as being significantly better teams than KC. The AFC playoff spots are open for the taking.
7. The Chiefs remaining schedule is favorable.
There are still 12 games remaining in the Chiefs 2013 schedule. A lot can happen in that many games. However, even though you can’t take any game for granted, the Chiefs don’t have a murderers row of opponents on their remaining schedule. Of those 12 games, only four are against teams that have a winning record right now. Two of them are the home and road match ups with Denver, one is against the Colts who have to come to Arrowhead late in the year, and the other is next week’s match up with the Titans in Tennessee. That will be a tough game, but it looks like the Titans may be without their starting QB Jake Locker who was a HUGE part of their 3-1 start before injuring his hip against the Jets. Two of the games that I had as loses before the season started were at home against Houston and at Washington. While those could both be difficult games, those teams have struggled out of the gate so far. If you compare KC’s schedule with those of New England, Miami, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Houston, Indianapolis, and Tennessee I think most would agree that KC’s schedule is the easiest on paper.
6. The Arrowhead Advantage Is Back
Arrowhead was rocking on Sunday against the Giants. It was clear that the noise was bothering Eli Manning, especially any time he was backed up against his own goalline. KC fans are some of the most passionate fans in the NFL. They made their point last season when they felt that the team was going in the wrong direction, but now that the ship has been righted, they are back and stronger than ever. As the wins continue to mount, the crowds will continue to get bigger and louder. While checking the price of tickets online, I’ve noticed that the cost of some of the games have almost doubled since before the season started. The other thing that Arrowhead has going in it’s favor is that home field crowds help the defense more than the offense. The fact that KC boasts one of the best defenses in the NFL makes the Arrowhead faithful all the more intimidating to opposing teams.
5. The Chiefs are dominating the turnover battle.
Teams that win the turnover battle usually win the game. Thus far the Chiefs are an impressive +9 in the turnover margin through four weeks. Even though they turned the ball over three times against the Giants, they still broke even for the game. What the Chiefs proved Sunday is that because their defense is so good, they can survive an occasional turnover. The Chiefs new attacking style defense has proven to be effective at creating turnovers, largely because of the constant pressure the opposing quarterback is under. Meanwhile, Alex Smith has done a great job of protecting the football. This is a great formula for winning the turnover battle, and as we all know, that puts you in a great position to win games.
4. The Chiefs are 4-0.
This may go without saying, but teams that are 4-0 have great odds of making the playoffs. Since 1990, 82% of teams that started out 4-0 have gone on to make the playoffs. Again, nothing is for sure and the Chiefs absolutely shouldn’t get overconfident since 18% of 4-0 teams (about 1 in 5) don’t make the playoffs. However, the odds are now heavily in KC’s favor. The Chiefs have put themselves in outstanding position to keep playing in January.
3. The combination of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston is almost unstoppable.
I was originally planning on having the Chiefs defense all lumped into one spot on the countdown, but I feel like the pressure that Hali and Houston apply is such a game changer, that it deserves its own spot. I’ll go so far to say that Hali and Houston are two of the four most vital players on the Chiefs along with Alex Smith and Jamaal Charles. Neither of KC’s OLBs can effectively be blocked by one man. That means that opposing teams have to pick their poison. If they double Hali, like some teams did to start the season, then Houston will get you. If you double Houston (like the Giants often did), then Hali will get you. The only other alternative is to commit 4 of your 11 offensive players to blocking these two men, and that essentially leaves too few offensive play makers available to be successful. It allows KC to get away with single coverage on the outside. It allows overload blitzes to get to the QB, because the protection is worried about two players. These two are an offensive coordinator’s worst nightmare and a huge reason that no team is going to be happy to be facing KC.
2. Andy Reid / Alex Smith (tie)
I debated for a long time whether Reid should be #1 or #2 on this list. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. The truth is that Andy Reid brought a credibility, a confidence, and a proven way of doing things that has brought together the talented individuals on this roster and made them into a team. The Chiefs weren’t really a team last year. They were a group of individuals that bumbled and stumbled their way through the season and NEVER looked like they were all on the same page. That changed from the get go when Reid arrived. Players are listening to Reid and following his plan. The fact that there is a plan at all is an upgrade. The fact that it is a plan that has proven success and that the players have fully embraced it just up the ante even more.
Alex Smith’s impact on the team is similar. Ever since Trent Green left town, KC has lacked a true leader at the QB position. I’m not here to debate what you think of Smith’s throwing ability and rehash the “game manager/captain checkdown” criticisms. I’m talking about the Chiefs having a guy in the huddle that the rest of the team looks to and respects as the leader of this team. Think about the QBs this team has endured: Matt Cassel, Brady Quinn, Tyler Palko, Brodie Croyle. This team was so starved for a true NFL QB that Kyle Orton was seen as a savior at one point. Alex Smith will never be Peyton Manning, but the Chiefs didn’t have to get a Manning to seriously upgrade their QB position. They just needed someone that could take control of the huddle and lead this team. They needed someone that they could trust would not lose the game that the rest of the team had fought to win. They have that now in Alex Smith.
1. The Defense
This defense is special. This defense is the #1 reason that I believe the Chiefs won’t squander their 4-0 start to the season. I believe when the season is over that we’ll be able to say that the Chiefs defense was one of the most elite units in the NFL this season. They just have too many great pieces that compliment each other so well. It starts with Houston and Hali, like I mentioned already. The next key is the ability for KC to cover the outside WRs 1 on 1. Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith are both excellent at manning up at the line of scrimmage and doing battle. I was worried about Flowers being out Sunday (these worries were confirmed when Robinson was torched deep), but Marcus Cooper showed great promise of playing the same physical 1 on 1 style that the starting CBs use. Regardless, the combination of elite edge rushers and great coverage corners allows a TON of freedom for DC Bob Sutton to use the other pieces of his defense as he sees fit. Then you add Dontari Poe becoming a dominant force in the middle, Derrick Johnson being one of the best ILBs in all the NFL, and Eric Berry flying all over the field and you have a defense that can stop you in so many different ways. This defense will keep the Chiefs in almost every game they play and is the main reason I think this Chiefs team will make the playoffs.
So get excited KC fans. This is not just a fluke start. I understand that KC’s first four opponents are a combined 3-13 thus far. That doesn’t change anything in my mind. Everything I stated above still holds true. The Chiefs 4 wins still count as much as any other win in the NFL does. With how this team is built, with how their schedule plays out, with how the AFC is shaping up, I believe this team will make the playoffs. You can say its too early for that kind of talk, you can tell me I’m “jinxing” it if you like.
I believe, and I think you should too.
If you don’t have tickets to a game this season yet, get some. If you set your expectations for this team low, so you wouldn’t be disappointed, it’s time to raise the bar. This team is now in the drivers seat for a playoff spot. The Chiefs Kingdom should ALL be 100% behind them. I don’t know if they have a shot to beat Denver, who looks incredible so far, but you don’t have to be better than Denver to make the playoffs. In fact, being able to beat other playoff teams isn’t a requirement to make the playoffs. The Chiefs just have to have a better win/loss record then the other AFC teams they are competing with. For all the reasons I listed above, I believe the Chiefs will.
How about you Addicts? Are you all in on making the playoffs? Am I off base? Is it too soon? Am I drinking the Kool Aid too much? Do you agree, but think by Top Ten is out of order? Did I leave a key reason off the list?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!