NFL Handicapping: Kansas City Chiefs
by Trevor Whenham - 12/5/2013
The Kansas City Chiefs have been a perfect example this year of how fickle fans and public bettors can be. Before the season they were getting very little attention at all, and they would have been getting absolutely none if it weren’t for Andy Reid and some interest around the raw deal Alex Smith got in San Francisco. After they started winning some games, though, and were the last unbeaten standing, people started jumping on the bandwagon. Their futures odds fell like a rock, and the hype built. After going 0-for-November, though, the bandwagon is again a lonely place to be, and people will rush to tell you that they knew all along that this team had issues and was in trouble. If they were to win their last four, people would start to believe again, but if they lost those last four they would be universally damned. There is no such thing as patience or perspective in the public eye.
When you try to intelligently handicap this team going forward this year, here are six factors to consider:
Schedule: Though it is a slight simplification, the team has basically won the easier games and lost the tougher ones. The best team they beat is Dallas. Philadelphia is probably better than Dallas right now, but they weren’t when the Chiefs faced them. The Giants were lousy back then, too. Denver is clearly the best team they have faced. San Diego probably isn’t second best, but the gap between them and the rest isn’t huge, so the loss isn’t completely humiliating. In short, the Chiefs have played two games in which the opponent was better than them, and they lost both. In games in which the Chiefs were as good as or better than the opponent they are a strong 9-1. They have done exactly what they should be doing against their schedule if they want to be what they are — a decent, but not elite team. They are benefitting from the schedule of a team that finished dead last in the league last year. With at least two remaining games against teams worse than the Chiefs, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them wind up with 11 wins or more if they can find their focus again.
Alex Smith: Smith is a reliable quarterback who has been solid in his first year under Andy Reid. He has been good, and there is lots of room for him to be much better. The biggest issue he has is that he doesn’t have a playmaking receiver — an explosive No. 1 guy who can be a difference-maker. Instead he has a group of receivers who have made a science of dropping passes. Given the circumstances, Smith is a good fit and is performing well. Despite the three losses, the offense has been playing well and is rounding into some solid form — handy for them in their pursuit of the fifth seed. Smith is an asset, and the more comfortable he gets, the better — even if his receivers don’t step up and do their jobs.
Jamaal Charles: One of the better rushers in the league right now. The third-leading receiver on the team. The guy is a weapon, and he is playing like it. There is a mild concern that he is on pace to amass the most carries he has had in a year. Last year he had one of his best performances of the year in Week 16, though, so there is no particular reason to be concerned that he will wilt as the season progresses.
Andy Reid: Herm Edwards, Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel had each found a way to trump their predecessor when it came to finding ways to run this franchise into the ground. Reid has had a major mess to clean up, and he hasn’t had a long time to do it. He’s not just having to undo a losing culture but also change the offense and defensive approach as well — all while breaking in a new quarterback and new talent on both sides of the ball. Given all he has faced, it is absolutely remarkable that Reid is where he is at — a testament to how good he is at coaching. It’s stunningly naive to think that there won’t be bumps in the road along the way, though — even the best coaches and teams face that every year. It’s important to measure Reid and this team against what is reasonable to assume less than a year into a dramatic new regime, not what is to be expected after a team wins nine straight. By the former measure they are doing amazing work. The latter measure is just meaningless.
Unrealistic expectations of fast start: The people who are most concerned by the three-game losing streak are the ones who had unrealistic expectations and got too excited after the nine wins. Just think about all that is facing this team. They had the worst record in the league last year. They are working with a new coach who is overhauling both systems and culture radically, and they have a new quarterback to build chemistry with. They had a schedule that was extremely soft, so it shouldn’t have been surprising that they would win some games given their talent and the upgrades they made in the offseason. There was no real reason despite the record, though, to truly believe that they were good enough to compete with a very good, veteran Denver team. When you are handicapping this team, then, the important thing is to take a deep breath and gain some perspective. They aren’t as good as they seemed in October or as bad as they seemed in November. This is a team that will have double-digit wins and will have beaten a lot more teams they should have beaten than they lost to. Nothing wrong with that — even if they aren’t the Super Bowl contender some got ahead of themselves and thought they were.
Remaining schedule: The bad news is that three of the four remaining games are on the road. The good news trumps that, though — those games are in Washington, Oakland and San Diego. The Chargers are a talented-but-underachieving team, so that could be tough. The other two, though, are not nearly so challenging if the Chiefs play their game. Washington is reeling and on the verge of total implosion. Oakland is feisty, but their QB situation is a mess, and they will be outmatched — just as they were earlier in the year when Kansas City beat them, 24-7. The sole remaining home game is against the Colts. Who knows what we will see from a maddeningly-inconsistent Colts squad by then. They will have long clinched a playoff spot by that Week 16 meeting, though, so it is quite possible that they will be playing well below their full intensity. That is a very manageable slate — much like most of their season has been when they aren’t dealing with a future hall of famer at the peak of his game. This is not a team that is going to fall to 9-7.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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