Chiefs Are Proving They Aren't AFC Contenders

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Chiefs Are Proving They Aren't AFC Contenders
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Alex Smith was one of the Chiefs' many problems on Sunday.

Going by their record, the Kansas City Chiefs are one of the best teams in the AFC, and according to many statistical measurements, they are one of the best teams in football.

Those facts aren't in dispute.

What is disputable is whether the Chiefs are legitimate contenders in the AFC. We already knew they were going to the playoffs, but the skepticism about the Chiefs isn’t going away after their performance on Sunday.

With their 23-7 loss at home to the Indianapolis Colts, the Chiefs proved once again that they aren’t contenders in the AFC. Only one game remains in the regular season for the Chiefs who no longer have anything to play for before the postseason, so any kind of statement win that proves the skeptics wrong will now have to come in playoffs.

To this point, the Chiefs have given us very little reason to believe they can beat a playoff-caliber team on the road. In fact, the Chiefs have just one win on the road against a team with a winning record, and that came with one very significant extenuating circumstance.   

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The win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 3 came when Michael Vick was still the Eagles starting quarterback. The Eagles turned the ball over five times and Vick was responsible for four of the turnovers. Vick also frequently held the ball too long and was knocked around by Kansas City’s pass rush.

Not only are the Eagles a much better team today with Nick Foles at quarterback than they were in September, but it’s unlikely that any team that makes the playoffs is going to turn the ball over five times at home. The last time that happened was January 1, 2010, when the Baltimore Ravens forced five turnovers in Kansas City—a game that many Chiefs’ fans would like to forget.

The Chiefs have made quick work of inferior opponents this season, but that’s what makes their record and all of their statistics misleading. Just about all of their wins and stats have come against bad teams—and bad starting quarterbacks.

According to the strength of schedule calculator at Stevielovesthejaguars.com, the Chiefs have faced the league’s easiest schedule this season, with their opponents owning a .439 winning percentage. The Chiefs can only play the teams on their schedule, but if they wanted to legitimize their record and statistics, they needed to beat the Colts.

 

Exposed Issues

With seemingly very little effort, the Colts exposed a host of the Chiefs’ issues. Quarterback Alex Smith was intercepted twice and his receivers dropped what seemed like a dozen passes.

Kansas City’s secondary also missed assignments, allowing the Colts to move up and down the field. Cornerback Brandon Flowers didn’t sugarcoat the performance in his comments to Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star after the game.

“You can't blow coverages in this league,” Flowers said. “When you do, it shows. Indy came out to play. I feel like we came out here coasting."

The defense looked like it was coasting on roller skates at times—especially on a 51-yard touchdown run by Colts running back Donald Brown in the second quarter when multiple Chiefs defenders missed tackles.

On offense, the Chiefs struggled on third down for the entire game, going 1-for-8. As a result of their inability to extend drives, they got into the red zone just once. The Chiefs’ struggles on third down aren’t new, but those struggles have been hidden by the big plays of running back Jamaal Charles, the defense and the special teams.

Against the Colts, only Charles made the plays we are accustomed to seeing from the Chiefs this season, highlighted by a 31-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The defense Kansas City struggled and the special teams were more inconsistent than normal.

Every team in the NFL is flawed in some way this season and beatable, but the Chiefs have repeatedly proven that their flaws are just too great to overcome against good teams. Those flaws have been exposed by the good teams the Chiefs have faced, but have not been exposed against the bad teams they have beaten.

Maybe those flaws are still there against the bad teams, but head coach Andy Reid has just done a great job of hiding those deficiencies against teams that don’t have the talent to force the issue. Whatever the case, the Chiefs’ performance against teams with winning records speaks for itself.

Chiefs' Struggle Against Quality of Opponents
Opponents Record Points Per Game Points Per Game Allowed Margin of Victory
Above .500 2-4 22.2 27.0 -4.8
.500 or below. 9-0 30.3 13.3 17.0

nfl.com

The Chiefs are 2-4 and have scored an average of 22.2 points per game while allowing an average of 27 points for an average margin of defeat of 4.8 points against teams with winning records this season. Against the remainder of their schedule, the Chiefs have gone 9-0 and scored 30.3 points per game while surrendering 13.3 points per game for an average margin of victory of 17 points.

Few teams are going to be able to dominate good opponents in the same manner as they do bad teams, but a swing in margin of victory of 21.8 points is significant. That’s over three touchdowns worse against good opponents and includes two wins in which the Chiefs allowed 32 combined points in Weeks 2 and 3.

Opponents have had a chance to study the Chiefs, and the results over the last six weeks aren’t pretty—except for a couple of games against really bad teams. The Chiefs are just 2-4 in six games since their bye week in Week 10.

 

Getting Cold

The Chiefs are highly flawed, but plenty of highly flawed teams have won the Super Bowl. Sometimes it’s about doing enough in the regular season and getting hot at the right time.

That’s no longer a case that can be made for the Chiefs.

Had the Chiefs beaten the Colts, a legitimate case could have been made that they were entering the playoffs playing their best football of the year. The Chiefs blew out the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders in the two weeks prior to playing the Colts, so a win on Sunday would have made it three in a row with only a meaningless game remaining before the postseason.

On a roll?
Week Result Team Playoff Team?
11 L Broncos Yes
12 L Chargers Unknown
13 L Broncos Yes
14 W Redskins No
15 W Raiders No
16 L Colts Yes

nfl.com

However, instead of confirming that they were playing their best football, the Chiefs instead committed seven penalties for 65 yards and turned the ball over four times. It could have been even worse considering that the Chiefs fumbled five times.

Probably the most notable problem for the Chiefs was the play of Smith on Sunday. Smith looked like he may was putting things together over the past month, but fell on his face against the Colts, throwing for just 153 yards on 16-of-29 passing despite playing from behind—a situation that typically results in inflated passing stats as the opposing defense softens.

Drops remained an issue for the Chiefs receivers like they have been all season, but they don't absolve Smith of a poor performance. It’s become clear that Smith is a very capable quarterback, but that he can’t carry the Chiefs to victory without help from Charles, the defense and special teams.

Smith's Passing Performance
Games Completions Attempts Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
vs. Colts 16 29 153 0 2
Previous 4 (average) 21 30 253 3 0.5

NFL.com

Over the past month, Smith had thrown 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions and only been sacked five times. Just like the Chiefs record, Smith’s production is largely deceiving because his performances came against four terrible pass defenses.

The Chiefs were able to expose those pass defenses, but Smith’s stats were not an accurate representation of his performance in those games. Smith’s supporting cast actually did more of the work.

Against the Raiders last week, Smith simply dumped the ball off to Charles, who got a ton of yards after the catch. Charles scored three touchdowns on screen passes—throws that any high school quarterback should be able to complete.

"I didn't do much," Smith said, according to CBS Sports. "I mean, three screens for touchdowns. I've never been a part of anything like that or seen that."

Smith did hit Charles on a wheel route, but he was wide open in coverage against a linebacker who only plays in Oakland’s base defense. For the most part, the Raiders simply weren’t worthy of playing on the same field as Charles.

Without a quarterback that can carry them, the Chiefs are going to struggle to win in the playoffs. Smith is going to have to play some of the best football of his career for the Chiefs to overcome their deficiencies against good opponents.

Given Smith's current supporting cast with the Chiefs, that could be difficult if good defenses focus on limiting the impact of Charles.

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