The Kansas City Chiefs are officially going to the playoffs. After pounding the Oakland Raiders 56-31 on the West Coast to move to 11-3, the team that had the No. 1 overall pick last year will be one of a select few that have a chance to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy at the end of this season.
Powering the Chiefs was multi-talented running back Jamaal Charles, who scored five touchdowns on 215 yards from scrimmage. Charles did most of his work in the passing game, with eight receptions for 195 yards and four receiving touchdowns—the latter an NFL record for a running back.
An offense that many people doubted early this season has put up 101 points on the road over the last two games. During the last four games, Charles has put the offense on his back. He is averaging 162.5 yards from scrimmage and 2.5 touchdowns per game.
The offense is clearly rolling into the playoffs and Charles is the engine making it go. He carried the offense Sunday. Quarterback Alex Smith’s five touchdown passes had to travel a combined 13 yards downfield, according to Josh Dubow of the Associated Press. Six of those yards came on tight end Sean McGrath’s touchdown catch, leaving Charles to score four touchdowns on just seven air yards from Smith.
Many doubted the Chiefs because they won with defense against teams with bad offenses early in the season. Now, they are proving they can win games with offense against teams with bad defenses.
It took 14 games, but the Chiefs may have finally proven to everyone that they just know how to win games by exploiting the weaknesses of their opponents. That weakness could be on offense, defense or special teams—it doesn’t seem to matter.
It’s true that Kansas City’s defense has shown some cracks in recent weeks, but the Chiefs also played a couple really good offenses and have been without one of their best defenders—linebacker Justin Houston—for the past few games.
Giving up 31 points to the Raiders is probably the defense's worst performance of the season given the quality of the opponent, but with the big lead after the first quarter, complacency is somewhat understandable.
The Chiefs still forced seven turnovers and the special teams had great returns that set up the offense with great field position. Charles didn’t really need the field position; it would have only added to his yardage total on the day.
But the Raiders are also far from a playoff-caliber team.
The Chiefs’ ability to win games and perform in all phases of the game will serve them well in the playoffs. No possible postseason team in the AFC is without a serious flaw in one phase of the game.
Many assumed that in the pass-happy NFL, Smith would eventually have to carry the team if the defense faltered, but that hasn’t really been the case. Charles has led the offense, which has helped Smith and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe produce.
Next week’s game against the Indianapolis Colts is another chance for the Chiefs to prove that they can win games with offense. The Colts were 27th in the league in yards per play allowed coming into Sunday, which is barely better than the Washington and San Diego defenses and worse than the Oakland and Denver defenses that comprise the Chiefs’ last four opponents.
Of the projected AFC playoff teams, only the Bengals were in the top 10 in yards per play on defense coming into Sunday. The AFC fares a little better in points per game allowed, but that is typically the result of a lack of opportunities more than it is good defense.
The Chiefs aren’t a perfect team, but few teams in the league have proven they can win in all phases of the game. With Charles playing as well as he is and Houston back in the fold, Kansas City is going to be a tough team to beat.