Kansas City Chiefs Prove They Are Legit Contenders in the AFC

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Kansas City Chiefs Prove They Are Legit Contenders in the AFC
John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports

With a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs move to 3-0 and have proved themselves legitimate contenders in the AFC. 

Call it knee-jerk, early-season reaction all you'd like, but many smart football minds bought into this football team early—myself included. That said, preseason predictions are always made with caveats: "The Chiefs can be contenders," or "If everything clicks, the Chiefs should be able to make the playoffs."

Guess what? The Chiefs are that good—no ifs, ands or buts about it. 

This isn't about believing in quarterback Alex Smith. You don't have to forget all of head coach Andy Reid's former missteps in Philadelphia. Yes, this takes into account the fact that the Chiefs are coming off of a two-win season and first overall pick in the draft. 

But don't call it blind faith anymore when it come to the Chiefs. They're legit and ready to prove it to the rest of the NFL

 

Built on a Solid Defensive Foundation

The Chiefs created five turnovers in Week 3.

Elsa/Getty Images

While it's easy to say "same old Eagles" or "same old Michael Vick," the truth is that the Eagles had taken care of the ball this season. Before his first interception on Thursday night, Vick had thrown 94 passes without an interception. The color commentator literally said so right before he dropped back to throw the pick. 

This was the vaunted Eagles offense. Head coach Chip Kelly rolled into town with his pedal to the metal, and the Chiefs defense sent that bus careening off the nearest cliff.

That defense, led by defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, has taken a talented unit from 2012 and improved upon it with sound coaching and even more talented additions. Remember, this team had four defensive Pro Bowl players last season. This year, it's converting those individual efforts into team success. 

It starts up front with a massive early-season effort from big man Dontari Poe. Quickly becoming a fan favorite, Poe has drawn plenty of national attention as the media looks to examine the Chiefs' success. Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar wrote about Poe in Sutton's scheme:

Poe was also a nose tackle in Kansas City’s base 3-4 defense last season, but Sutton gives him and his teammates more opportunities to make plays with variable fronts and blitz packages. Sutton learned that in 13 years with the Jets, especially in the last few years under Rex Ryan, and he’s making it pay off in his new home.

Poe as a disruptive force opens up all sorts of opportunities for the other linemen, like Mike DeVito (Pro Football Focus'ssubscription required—top Chiefs defender through two weeks) and Tyson Jackson. More importantly, collapsing the pocket so suddenly forces quarterbacks out of their comfort zone and into the waiting arms of the Chiefs' talented pass-rushers—Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. 

Overall, pressure up front causes quarterbacks to make mistakes, which turns into turnovers for the secondary. This happened against Philadelphia as well as Dallas and Jacksonville, who both had two turnovers apiece. 

It isn't just turnovers, either. In terms of total yardage, the Chiefs had the third-ranked defense through two weeks. Their scoring defense was second-best. Even if Week 3 bumps them around a little bit, it's still clear they have one of the best and most talented defenses in all of football. 

 

Alex Smith Is the Ultimate Caretaker QB

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

This is where I make the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and Trent Dilfer comparisons, right? 

Wrong. 

Alex Smith is not Trent Dilfer. He's not even close, unless one counts the public perception of the two. For some reason, the general public (at least the representative sample on Twitter) feels just about as warm and fuzzy when Smith steps under center as they do when Dilfer sits near a microphone. 

In reality, however, Smith is both a better game manager than Dilfer was and is even more than that as quarterback for the Chiefs. 

On Thursday, Smith completed 62.8 percent of his passes (22-of-35) and didn't throw an interception. Of course, he didn't throw a touchdown either, and hurt the team at times with the throws he wouldn't make and chances he wouldn't take, especially in the red zone. 

A few years ago, Smith's line would've looked drastically different. He'd have thrown a touchdown or two against the porous Eagles secondary, but he'd only have completed 52 percent of those hypothetical passes and probably thrown an interception along the way. That was Smith's M.O. for much of his career, but no longer. 

Smith now understands who he is and who the Chiefs need him to be. 

The "caretaker" label is much more fitting for Smith than the game manager tag. Game managers are not usually one of the team's more successful rushers (33 yards) as well. It is that added dimension to Smith's game that has the potential to set this Chiefs team apart. 

No, scoring 26 against the Eagles defense is not very impressive. Yes, the offense sputtered, stopped and stalled to the point of embarrassment at times on Thursday night. Sure, Reid still looks utterly inept when it comes to featuring a back like Jamaal Charles. Certainly, the inability to get wide receiver Dwayne Bowe going in the offense could hurt this team in the future. 

In the next few weeks, the Chiefs face the New York Giants, Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders—three games that can easily be won by low-scoring, ball-control offense and a stout defensive effort. See, the Chiefs don't need Smith and the offense to do much more than they're accomplishing right now. 

Hopefully, four weeks from now, when the Houston Texans roll into town, Smith and the offense will have some of the kinks worked out. 

 

Everything Seems to Be Coming Together Perfectly

Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Look, the AFC is down this year. 

We just mentioned the three very winnable games coming up. After that, even pessimistically assuming a loss to the Texans still puts the Chiefs in a great position with the tanking Cleveland Browns and the rookie-led Buffalo Bills before their Week 10 bye. 

At that point, we could conceivably be talking about an 8-1 team. Cart before the horse? Maybe, but it's not exactly a far-fetched notion. After the bye, they face Denver twice in three weeks—a schedule quirk that should send the Chiefs hurtling back to Earth. Still, even assuming the wheels come off at some point, this is still a 10-win team and that should be enough for a wild-card spot. 

Another interesting facet of the Chiefs' schedule is how back-loaded the tough games are. For many different teams, that could be considered a blessing or a curse. For the Chiefs, however, it seems like the best possible scenario. 

These days, we tend to forget how epic the Arrowhead Stadium crowds used to be back when Priest Holmes was lighting up the league. In terms of decibel level and general quarterback discomfort, the Chiefs had a home-field advantage like none other.

Have you seen what the Seattle Seahawks have been able to do at home? The Chiefs could get there by season's end, especially once the fanbase realizes that the win total is getting higher and higher. 

The schedule also helps, as the Chiefs will end up playing both the Broncos and Chargers twice in the colder part of the season. Again, it's early, but this Chiefs team (even with Smith's arm-strength shortcomings) seems better prepared for cold weather than most. 

Seriously, the thought of a snow-covered Arrowhead rocking back and forth as Peyton Manning tries to bark out orders just makes me excited to watch this team see it through to the end. 

The AFC is ripe for the picking. The schedule is favorable, the defense is stout, and the quarterback is able to do just enough to win a lot of football games. The Chiefs, at 3-0, are no longer dark horses, underdogs or any other animal-related nomenclature. No, these Chiefs are contenders and are ready to prove it in 2013. 

 

Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route 

 

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