Chiefs Wilting Down The Stretch (Again)

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Just 11 days ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were four games above .500 and riding a five-game win streak. Today, they’re reeling after two straight losses to division rivals. The final quarter of the regular season starts next Sunday and they’ve gone from having a share of first place to bunking with the Oakland Raiders in the cellar of the AFC West. Qualifying for the postseason at this point will probably require them to go 3-1 to finish the year. Dark clouds are hovering over One Arrowhead Drive.

Losing two consecutive games is one thing. It’s how the Chiefs have lost that’s left the Kingdom with a bitter taste in its mouth. Over the past two weeks, the Chiefs have twice fallen behind by two touchdowns. In the first halves of those games, they’ve scored just a total of 10 points. Kansas City’s defense has surrendered 393 yards on the ground in those games. The Chiefs offense has converted only 3-of-23 third-down situations. The team formerly the toast of the NFL is coming apart at the seams.

It was Nov. 17 when the Chiefs began to come unglued in 2013. This year, it was just three days later (in the Nov. 20 matchup with Oakland). This team is again stumbling at a time where it ought to be peaking and gearing up for a run in the postseason tournament. Right now, making the playoffs — let alone making a run — may even be too lofty a goal for this football team.

Here’s a list of factoids and statistics I’ve compiled that suggest they’re unraveling:

1. Alex Smith hasn’t had a big game, against a good football team, since Week 4. 

Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, the offensive line is spotty and inconsistent, but it’s also clear that this franchise has the wide receiver talent of a Division II college. That said, Alex Smith still isn’t playing well. This is especially disconcerting considering the contract extension he received earlier this year. You have to go all the way back to the Monday night game against the New England Patriots to find a game where he threw for more than 234 yards and two touchdowns in a big game. That simply isn’t going to cut it for a football team that shares a division with the Chargers and Broncos.

2. The Chiefs are struggling again to win late-season divisional games. 

Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Since the Dorsey-Reid administration began, the Chiefs are just 3-7 in divisional games. It’s tough to win your division when you struggle to beat the best teams within it. In 2014, Kansas City has only scored more than 20 points in an AFC West game once. Incidentally, that’s the one game they won (over San Diego in Week 7). The Chiefs are still in the hunt for a wild-card spot, but the AFC playoff picture is crowded this year. Reid and Company have had two good opportunities to claim the division title, but appear to be prepared to let it slip through their fingers for the second time in as many years after two consecutive division losses.

3. The holes in the offensive line have recently re-appeared.

Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

In the past four games, Alex Smith has been sacked 14 times. Mind you, he wasn’t sacked at all by Seattle’s defense. That means, in the remaining three games, he’s been dumped an average of 4.5 times per contest. We knew this makeshift line would be problematic, but they had a stretch of games where they showed noticeable improvement. Lately, as they’ve confronted some of the toughest front seven groups in the league, they’ve folded under pressure (literally).

There’s still time for this football team to finish strong and qualify for another wild-card berth. They draw the Arizona Cardinals this week (losers of two straight). Backup quarterback Drew Stanton’s left a lot to be desired in his three starts since Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending injury. In those games, he’s thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions. Defensively, they’re susceptible to the pass. Arizona has the worst pass defense in the NFL. They’re also in the bottom-half of the league in team sacks. A win breathes life back into the Chiefs’ playoff hopes.

Something has to give. It’s too late in the year for the Chiefs to continue to play flat. The Chargers are now one game ahead of Kansas City. Luckily, the Chiefs can deal with them when they come to town at the end of the month (for another Week 17 game likely to have playoff implications). They may need help in the meantime though. If the Chargers win out, they’ll claim one of the two wild-card spots available.

There are also four other teams in the conference with a 7-5 record. Kansas City only holds a head-to-head tie-breaker over one of them. They own a conference record tie-breaker over two others. The two, six-win teams have the longest path to the playoffs, but winning out gives at least one of them a fighting chance. The Chiefs beat the Dolphins, but they haven’t played the Texans and can only hope they’ll have the advantage in the secondary step on the tie-breaker schedule (conference wins).

Can the Chiefs rebound in time enough to claim a wild-card spot or are they at the point of no return? Will Kansas City finish 3-1 and make a 10-win case for the fifth or sixth seed in the conference? Is Andy Reid capable of stopping the bleeding before the Chiefs dig a hole they can’t get out of? Use the comment section below to weigh in. As always, we appreciate your readership and support.

Until next time, Addicts!