Let’s just put this out there right off the bat: on paper the 2015 Kansas City Chiefs are a playoff team. The defense was the second best unit in terms of points allowed per game and seems poised to improve upon that achievement (on that note welcome back Eric Berry!!).
The offense now has arguably the most dynamic trio of skill players in the league: Jamaal Charles, Travis Kelce, and Jeremy Maclin. And lastly, their biggest weakness, the offensive line, should see improvement with the addition of Ben Grubbs and a healthy Jeff Allen. But unfortunately for Chiefs fans, and fortunately for environmentalists, pieces of paper don’t determine NFL playoff teams. So on that note, let’s look at some unsettling, but plausible scenarios which could seriously derail the Chiefs’ 2015 playoff hopes.
Smith Goes Down
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Whether you loathe his infatuation with check downs or extol his responsible game management skills, there’s one thing that us fans cannot debate – Alex Smith gives the Chiefs the best chance to make the playoffs. Over the course of his two seasons as our starter, he has a touchdown to interception ratio of 41:13, an average QB rating above 90, and most importantly, led the team to back-to-back winning seasons. While Chase Daniel has been serviceable in his annual Week 17 appearances, are you going to sleep well at night knowing our playoff hopes rest on the arms of a career backup who’s only thrown 66 regular season passes? Hellooo insomnia.
Now there are going be some who argue that losing Jamaal Charles would be a bigger blow to the team than losing Alex Smith, granted, a fair statement. But Andy Reid has tailored his system around Alex Smith’s game far more than Jamaal’s, and I trust Andy can better replace Jamaal Charles with a combination of Knile, West, and Sherman than he could replace Smith with Daniel. It’s a QB-driven league, and losing your starter is a deathblow for any playoff contender.
Andy Reid Gets Too Pass Happy
During a few games last season, we saw Andy Reid revert back to his Philly-McNabb era play calling tendencies. The game that sticks out the most was the Week 5 defeat against the 49ers. Andy Reid started the game perfectly by mixing up runs with screens and short passes. Result: a 10-3 lead and tons of momentum. But then Philly Andy took over, the run game was all but abandoned and passes were called on multiple 3rd & 1s, leading to nine yards of offense in the fourth quarter and an avoidable loss. A similar pattern unfolded in our games against the Titans and Steelers. A lack of a commitment to the run, especially in the redzone and short yardage situations, led to losses that cost us a playoff berth.
Playoff races are too close to let games slip because of bad play-calling, so the success of this offense will be greatly influenced by whether or not Andy Reid remembers Jamaal Charles exists.
Dec 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid looks to the scoreboard against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
Wilson and Conley Aren’t The Playmakers We Hoped
Last year the Chiefs group of wide receivers were by-far the best in the NFL. I hope to type that sentence at some point before 2050. Unfortunately last year was 2014, and our receiving corp was a nightmare. There is potential though with the signing of Jeremy Maclin, a man who has thrived in an Andy Reid offense before. But bringing in one guy isn’t enough to bring respectability to a group that was historically inept, and that’s why the two youngsters on the roster have to quickly develop into credible deep-threats in this offense.
Both Albert Wilson – who showed tremendous promise at the tail-end of last season – and Chris Conley – a freak athlete out of Georgia – may carry the hopes of the entire Chiefs Kingdom. For our offense to thrive, we have to presume one of them will grab hold of the WR2 role and blow the top off of opposing defenses. Without one of those two stepping up, teams can just run Cover 2 all game to nullify our short passes without fearing any deep ball repercussions. Our lethargic receiving corps already derailed last year’s playoffs hopes, let’s hope one of our rookies can flip the script for 2015.
Admittedly, I know I just listed all offensive scenarios, but as long as none of these three situations materialize this season, I see no reason for the Chiefs to be sitting at home when January rolls around.