The Chiefs Can Conquer The AFC

If you’re team is the 49ers, the Seahawks, the Saints, or the Panthers you have to feel pretty good about your team’s chances to make it too the NFC Championship game. Teams in the NFC are loaded at the top. In the AFC, unless you’re team is the Broncos, then any of many different teams look like they could end up playing Denver in the AFC finale. Those are the popular assumptions.

Now, if your team is the Kansas City Chiefs you have to feel pretty good that you could beat the Broncos, should you face them again, if for no other reason than, the third time’s the charm. Plus, there are plenty of other reasons to believe the Chiefs will beat the Broncos the next time they face them besides… charm.

The Chiefs can’t win the AFC West, that ship has sailed. Maybe not mathematically, but for all intents and purposes the regular season race is all but over.

However, the Chiefs can win the AFC crown outright by blazing through the playoffs. By the time we’re done visiting here today, you may come away thinking… Kansas City is the team to beat and that the Chiefs can conquer the AFC.

If the playoffs began today, here are the teams they’d face…

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The Baltimore Ravens

Let’s begin with the AFC’s reigning kingpins and defending Super Bowl Champions’ the Baltimore Ravens. Since last season, a lot has happened and this year’s team is not to be feared like last year’s squad. They are a very beatable 7-6 right now having barely eked out a last minute win over 3rd string QB Matt Cassel and the hapless Minnesota Vikings, in Baltimore no less. I watched the game and it looked very different than the Baltimore Ravens of three years ago who knocked Cassel and the K.C. Chiefs back into the dark ages during the 2010 playoffs, in a game played at Arrowhead.

Consider that their best receiver from last year is now in San Francisco. You want to know why their million dollar marquee QB, Joe Flacco, was so good last year? Not just because of Anquan Boldin but last year the Ravens running game ranked 11th best in the league and this year they are 29th best. They’ve lost games to 4 teams with losing records.

You’d have to be happy if your team was playing the Ravens in the playoffs. Could they get hot like last year? It doesn’t seem likely without Boldin, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Paul Kruger and Bernard Pollard all living elsewhere this year.

There’s an obvious changing of the guard going on in the AFC North and the Ravens and the Steelers are no longer the class of the division. That would be the Bengals at 9-4 but, it’s hard to call the Bengals the “class” of anything.

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The Cincinnati Bengals

Seven of the Bengals nine wins have been to losing teams. While the Bengals defense may be the best defense the Chiefs have faced this season, if they meet in the playoffs, it probably won’t be in the first round.

The Bengals defense is a good one, as mentioned, but they’ve not seen a balanced attack such as the Chiefs offense imposes all season. Plus, the home field advantage for the Chiefs would be more than the Bengals could handle and besides, they’re currently 3-4 on the road this year.

The Bengals would have to deal with the Chiefs defense. At Arrowhead, with the crowd noise and the pressure they can place on QB Andy Dalton, it’s hard to predict a win for the Bengals. Dalton has 22 TD’s this year to go with 16 INTs and his 61.4% completion rate is not going to be better under the red hot lights of Arrowhead, it’s going to be somewhere south of 60.

The real problem the Bengals have is Andy Dalton as their QB. He reminds me of Matt Cassel in 2010. His challenge is consistency. One weeks his QB Rating is 105.5 and the next week it’s 58.2. Another week his QB Rating is 125.7 and the next weeks it’s 54.4. This season Dalton once had a QB Rating of 135.5 and two weeks later he began a 3 week span of 55.4… 52.3… and 62.7.

ProFootball Focus has determined that Andy Dalton’s Achilles heel is extra pressure on the pocket,

Entering this game (against Indy) he’d graded at -11.9 when defenses sent extra men, but on Sunday completed 13-of-15 passes and two of his three touchdowns on such plays (16 blitzes in his 37 dropbacks).

Was Andy Dalton’s performance last Sunday the rule of thumb for him now or was it atypical behavior? I’m going with  less than typical. It was a clear patch of skin on an otherwise mostly blemished face. Fans shouldn’t feel comfortable relying on Dalton to perform the same from week to week especially in the playoffs when the pressure is heightened the challenges intensified.

Defensively, the Bengals will be without star DT Geno Atkins who sent out an instagram that he had successful ACL surgery on November 14th. Obviously, he’ll be sidelined throughout the playoffs.

Overall, the Chiefs lead the AFC with a +15 in the Giveaway/Takeaway department. The Bengals are -1 and that’s not going to get better for them if Justin Houston is on the prowl. It’s all about match-ups and the Bengals don’t match-up well with the Chiefs, especially if they’re playing at Arrowhead.

Important Note: there are only three other AFC teams who have a “plus” in the giveaway/takeaway department and that would be the Pats and Indy with + 6.

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The New England Patriots

Take a look at the once invincible New England Patriots. Yes, Brady is as good as ever but his ensemble is not. Aaron Hernandez? Jail. Gronk? Injured, again. Welker? In Denver. Danny Woodhead? With the Bolts. Brandon Lloyd, their 2nd leading receiver in 2012? A Free Agent.

Playing “53” Pick-up” with their roster was coach Belichick’s big idea and so was the goal of making it younger. The Patriots have 18 Rookies on their roster this year. Does that bode well for their future? Yes, however, this year may not be that future.

Julian Edelman has the most receptions for the Pats with 76 but the next highest total is Danny Amendola with 41. The Pats are 13th in rushing which helps their passing game immeasurably but the injury bug is playing havoc with their chances most notably including: Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer, and Jerod Mayo.

The New England Patriots lost to a pretty bad New York Jets team in New York and have allowed a pretty good Carolina Panthers team to come into New England and beat them at home. Neither game is the kind of loss you would expect in years past. The Pats are not to be taken lightly, but they are also not the team they used to be.

Since the Patriots last won the Super Bowl in 2004, nine years ago, their playoff record is 8-7 with two Super Bowl losses included. Also included in their playoff record during that span is 4 home losses. The Pats simply aren’t the team they used to be. While some have been arguing that Pat’s QB Tom Brady is the greatest QB in the history of the league, I think it’s going to take another Super Bowl victory and MVP to persuade most. I’m a Joe Montana advocate.

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The Indianapolis Colts

Who are the Indianapolis Colts? Are they the team that lost to the whimpy 5-8 St. Louis Rams 38-8… at home? Or are they the team that marched into San Francisco and stomped the high powered 49ers, 27-7 on their own turf? Really, this team is up and down and their trade for RB Trent Richardson was a mystery to me and seems to be as much a symbol of this team as anything: great unrealized potential.

The Colts have lost 5 games at home this year and any team playing them there should feel comfortable going there and coming away with a victory. Home is just no advantage for them whatsoever.

The Indianapolis Colts are 22nd in the league in rushing. Their inability to run the ball and use the clock at any point in the game leaves them totally unable to control the game when needed. Time of possession, only having the ball for 22:15 this past Sunday against the Bengals is a prime example of that and makes them vulnerable to every team in any given week much less facing a playoff team with championship aspirations.

While the Colts are 18th in the league in passing yards per game at 232, a low stats like that usually exists for a team because they are good at running the ball. The Colts are not. Since they’re only 22nd in the league in rushing yards per game, it’s going to allow most any team facing them in the playoffs the opportunity to key in on stopping the passing game.

The Indianapolis Colts are on a downward trend right now and have lost 3 of their past 5 games. The game the Chiefs have with the Colts at Arrowhead in 11 days will tell a lot about how they match up going forward. The Colts currently have 13 players on the Injured Reserve list including star WR Reggie Wayne. I like the Chiefs odds, especially if Justin Houston is back in red and gold by then… to terrorize ya’lls neighborhood.

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The Denver Broncos

Going into Denver and facing the Broncos will be a daunting task for any team during the playoffs this year. However, several Chiefs have stated following their two games against the Broncos that they know they can beat them now… that they weren’t too far apart.

Before climbing inside of the psychological ramifications of a rematch/rematch it’s only fair to address the “Weather Readiness” of one said Bronco who is notorious for not playing well in inclement environments. Just when the Broncos appear to have built an invincible offensive weapon against which no one can defend… old man winter arrives early and says not so fast. And that actually is the issue here: speed. During one of the snow related games on Sunday, the game day announcers shared a Farmer’s Almanac factoid about the weather the day of Super Bowl this coming February in the MetLife Stadium because it calls for heavy snow.  It also wouldn’t surprise me at all if many of the coming games as well as the playoff game outcomes over the next 6 weeks are dictated by winter weather and the players ability to adapt to it.

In a piece called, “Peyton Manning Plays Lousy in Cold Weather! Myth or Fact?” BroncoMike for SB Nation shares these facts taken from Pro Football reference game logs,

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Homer BroncoMike goes on to interpret the numbers to be “Inconclusive” but I think it’s apparent that based on “low temperatures” alone, there is a fall off in Peyton Manning’s winning percentage of those games.

It may be more revealing to look at what the snowy or icy weather would do to him and his offensive cohorts. An offense built upon timing routes is going to be less effective on snow and ice plus the ability of WRs like Wes Welker or Eric Decker to “out quick” defenders is going to be diminished as well. Players who rely upon sudden moves often find themselves on the ground in such weather. Dexter McCluster seemed to figure it out on Sunday but for many it takes half the game to make their adjustments

While the Chiefs 45-10 win in the snow and ice of Washington should offer some proof that they’re weather ready, we don’t know that about the Broncos yet but I would have to project some kind of drop off in performance and therefore production. The result would be an open door for whoever plays them that day.

As much as the Chiefs defense took a hit over three weeks, so has the Broncos defense. In the meantime, perhaps their offense is as strong as ever but, the Chiefs offense has made tons of progress in the past month and I’d love to see the Chiefs match-up against the Broncos again this year, no matter where that takes place, although it regrettably looks like that may be in Denver.

In a re-match, I’d expect DC Bob Sutton to pull out all the stops and use schemes Peyton Manning has rarely, perhaps never, seen before. The one big defensive lesson the Chiefs talked about following those losses is their own inability to “get to Peyton Manning.” Peyton Manning has been sacked 15 times this season, more than once per game.

Pressure “up the middle” is what it will take to beat Manning because that will require him to move off his spot. Two years ago when the Romeo Crennel lead Chiefs beat the unbeaten Green Bay Packers it was exactly that prescription that Crennel used to whip Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is known for being good on the run but, Manning isn’t as “creative” and must be forced out of the pocket all costs for the Chiefs to have a chance.

The question is, can the Chiefs do that enough in one game to make a difference. I not only believe that’s possible but I think if Peyton is on the move it will also create turnovers that weren’t there before.

The Chiefs offense is improving while the Broncos defense is not. This is the main reason I think the Chiefs have a chance going into Denver. However, the offense has to take advantage of every red zone opportunity or it’s lights out — game over — unless Manning and his OL have one breakdown after another.

The Broncos defense is allowing 26.5 points per game. There are only 6 teams in the league worse when it comes to allowing other teams to score against them. Because of this, Manning knows he has to score. In the past three games the Chiefs have averaged 37 points per game and it doesn’t look like the Broncos defense will be offering more resistance in a re-match so the question becomes… how many points can the Chiefs defense hold Manning down to. If you’re paying attention to the positive progression of the Chiefs offense, there’s no reason to believe they can’t keep pace. Whether they will remains to be seen but it’s not at all beyond reason to believe it can happen.

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The Chiefs

There are only three teams in the NFL who have allowed fewer total points than the Chiefs: the Panthers, the 49ers, and the Seahawks, and they all play in the NFC. So, after the Chiefs three week losing streak… in which they gave up 27, 41, and 35 points… they are still the best defense in the AFC when it comes to total points allowed. In fact, the Bengals is the only other AFC team that ranks in the top seven besides the Chiefs.

Ascending Players

In recent years past it has been difficult to determine players who are progressing and who might be given a chance once a new season arrives and the eternal shedding process takes place like a caterpillar leaving it’s cocoon behind giving wings to a better future. However, in 2013, the Reid & Dorsey Chiefs are different. The growth process is in full force. Donald Stephenson looks like someone who can step up and eventually be more than serviceable but actually be a standout along the offensive line. The same goes for Geoff Schwartz.

Ron Parker, Junior Hemingway, Sean McGrath, Marcus Cooper, Knile Davis, Mike Catapano, Frank Zombo and James-Michael Johnson are all young players whose improvement this season can be documented. More importantly these players show that this organization is growing and has a deep number of players ready to step, up and in, when the opportunity calls.

There are advantages to having one of your top players go out with an injury because it gives younger players a chance to gain valuable experience that can be utilized during the playoffs. Justin Houston going down, while unfortunate in every way, has given players like Frank Zombo some critical experience which can be helpful come playoff time. Players like Tamba Hali and Houston rarely come off the field but with someone like Zombo who could give them a blow, it allows Hali and Houston to remain fresh come 4th quarter crunch time.

Aside from the developmental players mentioned, the Chiefs have had a number of front line players improve this season including: Tyson Jackson, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Alex Smith, Eric Fisher, Jon Asamoah, Eric Berry, Dexter McCluster and Jamaal Charles (how does he get better and better and better?). The coaches the Chiefs have teaching the game of football are some of the best in the NFL and the individual growth of each of these players is the evidence.

Yes, the Chiefs have a high number of “new” players on their roster but all the front line players I mentioned above were here last year with the exception of first round pick LT Eric Fisher.

Personally, being part of the teaching/learning community myself I can fully appreciate what real, effective and good teaching truly is. As with a Teacher of the Year (TOY) award recently given to a teacher — who was nominated by another teacher, who I must say has never watched that other teacher teach for any significant amount of time — I can honestly say the award is a popularity contest. In the field of sports, especially team sports, you can see the real progress made by the coaches (teachers). Plus, everyone knows it… because everyone can see it.

I believe Alex Smith is a better QB right now, today, in this moment, than Colin Kaepernick. For whatever reasons that it has taken AS11 this long to explode into the KCQB position it’s clear he is light years ahead of so many QBs. The TV game day announcers had it right when they said Alex Smith is not just a “Game Manager”… he is a “Wins Manager.” At this point, I could care less if you called him a Kitchen Manager because… Alex Smith really cooks and I’m thrilled he’s the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs. And… more importantly, I think he gives the Chiefs a major advantage going into the “Playoffs”… a mystical land where he’s dallied and had success... while most Chiefs players have not.

It’s monumental to think about the amount of progress the Kansas City Chiefs organization has made this season. Will they be the AFC representative in the Super Bowl? I don’t know but, I know they have the talent, the coaching and the chutzpah to pull it off.

I believe this team can conquer the AFC and make it to the Super Bowl. What do you think Addict fans? Is a Super Bowl asking too much of this team, or do they have a legitimate chance?

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