Best, Worst Case Scenarios for a Kansas City Chiefs Playoff Run
Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are the most menacing pass-rushing tandem to don Chiefs uniforms since the late great Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith splintered.
Whether they're singing each other's praises or paying homage to Kid n' Play's House Party after sandwiching throwers of the pigskin, the two's tight-knit relationship is clearly evident.
Why is any of that relevant to a slideshow about the Kansas City Chiefs' playoff hopes? More times than not, when you pay homage to something, it's old. Collecting-dust-like-Furbies-in-hoarders'-attics old.
Kansas City's last postseason win came nine days after House Party 3 was released. "Kid" turns 50 in April.
And due to the impotence of their next-door neighbors, the Chiefs aren't even viewed as the city's annual postseason write-offs. For the sake of not putting half the population on suicide watch, we'll let that sleeping dog lie, though.
When the curtains close on the 2013 season, the Chiefs will likely boast one of the league's best records but be jilted by the NFL's playoff parameters. Although Kansas City may tout more wins than its first-round opponent, Andy Reid probably won't enjoy the privilege of strutting down an Arrowhead sideline this postseason.
The good news? With the way that the playoff picture is shaping up, the City of Fountains' winless postseason drought could finally come to an end.
Worst Case: Another Star Is Sidelined in the Remaining Weeks
Kansas City's roster is loaded with current and former Pro Bowlers, and if you take one out of the equation, the dynamic changes on their respective side of the ball.
Look no further than the aforementioned injuries to Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Their absence instantly exposed kinks in the Chiefs' armor, with defensive backs looking like they couldn't cover their own shadows for the better part of three weeks.
The same could easily hold true for the offense. Dwayne Bowe is the only receiver on the roster who demands double teams. If you scratch him from the lineup, you not only lose a playmaker, you lose one of the best blocking wideouts in the NFL, and suddenly Jamaal Charles finds himself staring at eight helmets inside the box.
And if Alex Smith is inactive? Wipe the DVR schedule, unplug your alarm and pop a couple of melatonin. Watching a Chase Daniel-led Chiefs team in the playoffs is only going to end in you unfollowing him on Twitter after the family cuss jar becomes a college fund.
Best Case: Justin Houston Returns Fully Healed
Despite missing two games, Justin Houston still ranks as Pro Football Focus' top 3-4 outside linebacker.
When you watch him play, there's little doubt as to why that is. He toys with linemen like a pass-rushing puppeteer and clubs them off-balance like they're life-sized Weeble Wobbles.
Before Houston (elbow) and Hali (ankle) were sidelined with injuries, Philip Rivers and the Chargers scored a meager three points. After? Thirty-eight. Simply put, the two, along with Derrick Johnson, are the heart of Kansas City's defense, and when they're out, the Chiefs can't stop the bleeding.
According to ESPN's Adam Teicher, No. 50's status has been upgraded to a limited participant in practice.
Worst Case: Andrew Luck Finishes the Season on a High Note
Postseason plot twists notwithstanding, it looks like the Chiefs will be traveling to Indianapolis for an AFC wild-card bout.
As noted earlier, Kansas City hasn't notched a playoff victory since 1994 (1993 season). Seven consecutive postseason losses, and nearly half of them (three) have come at the hands of the Colts. Even before Peyton Manning entered the draft, Indianapolis was trampling Kansas City's playoff aspirations with now-San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh under center.
Fast-forward nearly two decades: With Andrew Luck waiting in the wings, Peyton Manning ultimately landed in Denver after Indianapolis escorted him to the exit. Manning's decision left Kansas City combing for quarterbacks, which eventually resulted in the club signing Alex Smith, who was traded by Harbaugh, in the subsequent offseason.
The 2013 playoffs are basically a dysfunctional collage remembering 19 years of Chiefs postseason despondency.
But let's get to the point: Luck has played spectacularly pedestrian football since Reggie Wayne's Week 7 injury. At least, that was the case before his last outing.
Between Weeks 8 and 12, the sophomore slinger's touchdown total (five) matched his interception column, all the while completing just 55 percent of his passes. However, in a losing effort versus Cincinnati in Week 13 (Indianapolis had a bye in Week 14), Luck churned out 326 yards and four touchdowns with no picks.
Obviously, being that the Colts have already clinched a playoff berth, the passer's participation in the final trio of (regular-season) games remains up in the air. But a confident Luck is a dangerous Luck, and a dangerous Luck spoiled his predecessor's prime-time return to Indianapolis.
If he relapses back into a trend of post-Wayne mediocrity, though, Kansas City should be able to cancel its 20th anniversary of postseason shame.
Best Case: Broncos Add Another Loss, Chiefs Win out
This isn't likely, but in the wake of Denver's loss to San Diego, it's well within the realm of possibilities.
It's unlikely because the Broncos' final two opponents are bottom-of-the-barrel awful. That being said, Peyton Manning and Co. will be traveling on the road for both contests.
The Houston Texans have their eyes locked on the No. 1 selection of next year's draft. However, their last seven consecutive defeats have been stemmed from one-possession losses. Furthermore, they've lost to Seattle, Kansas City and New England by a combined margin of seven points.
Denver then finishes its road trip with a divisional matchup at Oakland. If the AFC West crown is still at stake, the Broncos will probably pick apart the Raiders with surgical precision, but far crazier things have happened.
The Chiefs' schedule is infinitely tougher, listing Oakland, Indianapolis and San Diego, but all three are undoubtedly winnable.
A first-round bye hasn't been demoted to an afterthought just yet.
Worst Case: Resting Starters Backfires
Sports media is basically a spiderweb of hypotheses. Fans, writers, analysts...Everyone aims to stroke their ego by accurately predicting the unpredictable, which leads to them deciphering stats and selectively skewing them to fit their respective narrative(s).
If their predictions ring true, they'll be the first to tweet out "Told ya so!" like they've convinced themselves that they're second coming of Nostradamus. If their predictions fall flat, they'll be the first to deflect the blame from the comfort of their armchair.
In the NFL, certain issues fuel these kind of back-and-forths every year, and deciding on whether to rest a team's starters just happens to be one of them.
Hypothetically, let's say that the Chiefs lose one of their two upcoming games but clinch a slot in the playoff picture.
If Andy Reid relieves his starters during Week 17 and the Chiefs fall in the wild card, thousands of amateur psychics will come out of Twitter's woodwork and call for him to be burned at the stake. That's why you don't rest your starters! Too rusty, idiot!
On the flip side, if he starts them through the remainder of the season and a marquee name gets carted off the field, same result; different witch hunters. Why was he even out there in the first place!
The Chiefs have no shortage of players (Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Branden Albert, Anthony Fasano, etc.) who could use an extra week or two of rest to bandage their wounds. But someone playing devil's advocate could also point out that, following Week 10's bye, Kansas City authored its flattest outing of the season at Denver.
Personally, I think playing starters in meaningless season finales is tempting fate. But considering all of the Week 11 miscues, one could easily make a case that the off week bore negative (short-term) ramifications for Kansas City.
Best Case: Alex Smith Continues His Hot Streak
If you asked fans who should be accredited with Kansas City's drastic turnaround, the list of candidates would evolve into a small scroll. Chief among them? Alex Smith. At least, he should be.
Andy Reid and John Dorsey laid the foundation—the Chiefs definitely wouldn't be 10-3 without Reid doubling as the conductor—but it's impossible to argue that Smith's acquisition hasn't proven to be the most striking upgrade.
Since Week 10's bye, No. 11 has shed the "game manager" label (a stigma as vague as it is lazy) and left any conservative demons in the rear-view. In fact, throughout the past four weeks, Smith has posted a commendable 94.4 quarterback rating, and only two passers (Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger) have accounted for more touchdowns than his nine. To frame the former stat into perspective: Matt Cassel's 2012 quarterback rating was 66.7.
The Chiefs defense has a tendency to be bipolar. But regardless of which version (potentially) surfaces throughout the playoffs, Smith has shown—in both San Francisco and Kansas City—that he can shoulder the offensive workload and successfully put a team on his back if the situation demands it.
Statistics provided by Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
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