Return to Glory?: The Chiefs' Road to the Playoffs in 2010, Part 1
After the stunning turn of events in Week 4, the Kansas City Chiefs sit in a position nobody could have envisioned coming into the year: the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL. Certainly, nobody expects a perfect season. With road games in the next two weeks against Indianapolis and Houston, it is more than likely that the Chiefs will have at least one loss entering Week 7, and quite possible that the Chiefs will host Jacksonville with a 3-2 record.
But what after that? Is the incredible defensive performance for real? Do Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones have what it takes to carry the team when Matt Cassel struggles? Who’s the real Matt Cassel—the man who went for 68 yards on San Diego, or the man who tore up San Francisco for 250 yards?
It’s too far out to do a full-season analysis, since it’s unclear as to the patterns that will set out over the year, what rookies will take off, and what injuries might happen that could derail those plans for either the Chiefs or their opponents. But based on the first four weeks of the 2010 season, here is my analysis for the next five weeks, and the realistic chances that the Chiefs have to do something nobody expected: play into January and February.
Week 5, @ Indianapolis
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This may be the toughest game on the schedule. The Chiefs have had very little success against the Colts since Peyton Manning started lining up behind center, going 1-6 against No. 18. And, while the Colts sit at 2-2 after shocking losses, be aware that the last time the Colts lost a meaningful game at home (end-of-season games don't count because of the preparation for the playoffs), it was against the nearly-perfect 2007 New England Patriots. The last time the Colts lost two straight was in 2008, and you have to go back to 2005 to find them losing two straight with one of those games being at home. They own a nearly perfect record at Lucas Oil Stadium, with the only meaningful loss occurring against the aforementioned 2007 Patriots. Furthermore, the last time the Chiefs lost to the Colts on the Colts home turf, that home turf resided in Baltimore at Memorial Stadium.
That being said, the Texans and Jags have shown that if you can keep pace with the Colts, you can win. The Broncos and Giants have shown that if you get behind big early, it's awful hard to stop the stampede. The keys to victory are to give the ball to the two-headed monster of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, taking time away from Manning to work his magic. On defense, the Chiefs need to worry about pressuring Manning. If you give Peyton a hole, he will find it, and he will exploit it. He’s went for over 300 each game this year. Accept the fact that you’re not going to stop him, and aim for containing the receivers, and blitzing 5-7 each time to stop the running game and get in Manning’s face. Do that, and the Chiefs have a chance. Try to stop Manning via coverage, and the Chiefs will leave Indianapolis with a loss.
Prediction: Colts 34, Chiefs 31 (Chiefs 3-1)
Week 6, @ Houston
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The Texans are a little tougher to predict. Their defense is porous against the pass, allowing 1,106 yards so far this season. But their run defense is stifling, allowing only 143 yards so far. And they have all the tools on offense: a solid QB, a great WR, and a RB that’s developing well. But Arian Foster is hit-or-miss. Against the Colts and Raiders, he showed why he was selected as the starter. Against the Redskins and Cowboys, he performed OK, but could’ve had far better outings.
Once again, this is going to come down to a battle of which offense wants it more. On defense, the Chiefs need to focus on containing Foster in the backfield and double-covering Andre Johnson, leaving the Texans with far inferior targets for Schaub. The Texans have had at least 24 points posted on them in every game this year, which bodes extremely well for the Chiefs offense. And expect the change-of-pace Chiefs running game to burst through the Texans thus-dominant run defense, as they have not faced a true thunder-and-lightning combination so far this season. If the Chiefs can stop Schaub & Co. a few times, expect the Chiefs to pull it out.
Prediction: Chiefs 34, Texans 28 (Chiefs 4-1)
Week 7, Jacksonville
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Barring a miracle akin to the upset against Indianapolis, this should be a far easier outing for the red and gold. The Chiefs will have a much easier time containing the passing skills of David Garrard, meaning that the focus will be on ensuring Maurice Jones-Drew doesn’t have a big day. Then again, if Garrard and Jones-Drew have big days, and if the Chiefs come into the game expecting an easier time, then it could be a long day.
Luckily, the Chiefs have some of the best coaches in the business, and you can bet that they'll spend the week ensuring that the Chiefs don't even think about taking the day off.
Prediction: Chiefs 24, Jaguars 10 (Chiefs 5-1)
Week 8, Buffalo
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A game that should belong to the Chiefs. Ryan Fitzpatrick has shown brief glimpses of promise in his two games this season, but the fact remains that the Bills have a very bad defense (only Miami has been held to less than 30 points this season), and no real weapons on offense. Absent a lights-out, playing-out-of-their-mind performance against New England, they would not have topped 14 points once this year. C.J. Spiller has not shown anything resembling top-ten draft status (although who could behind that offensive line?). When Marshawn Lynch is your premiere, go-to-offensive weapon, you know you’re in trouble. To be honest, the Bills have looked like one of the worst teams in football over the last five years, and with the resurgence of the Rams and the toughness of the Lions (who are easily the best 0-4 team in the league), the Bills might just take the spot at the bottom of the NFL this year.
Prediction: Chiefs 41, Bills 6 (Chiefs 6-1)
Week 9, @ Oakland
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As much as I want to say that this will be a cakewalk, the fact remains that the Raiders are a fairly gifted team in terms of pure physical talent. (Something has to be shown for some of the crazy picks Al Davis has made over the years) However, their defense, for all of their gifts, has only held one team this year to under 20 points. They allowed a virtually weaponless (sans Larry Fitzgerald) to post 31 points on them. But then again, this is the Chiefs and Raiders. When bitter rivalry games take place, all bets are off…for the most part. As long as the Chiefs can keep up their good offensive performance, the Chiefs should win against the underachieving Raiders.
Prediction: Chiefs 27, Raiders 14 (Chiefs 7-1)
The Schedule After Week 9
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Week 10: @ Denver
Week 11: vs. Arizona
Week 12: @ Seattle
Week 13: vs. Denver
Week 14: @ San Diego
Week 15: @ St. Louis
Week 16: vs. Tennessee
Week 17: vs. Oakland
Kansas City’s Chances of Making the Playoffs
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Good. It would take consecutive losses by the Chiefs combined with consecutive wins by either the Chargers or Broncos to lose the division lead before the Chiefs return home to face Jacksonville. And while it could obviously change before the end of the season, Kansas City currently holds the tiebreaker against San Diego. The Chargers only wins this season have come against comparatively weak Jacksonville and Arizona squads. The Denver wins have been more impressive, as they have beat Seattle and Tennessee. But given the Chiefs schedule following the road trip against the Colts and Texans, it’s a very real possibility that the Chiefs enter Denver at 7-1, and fly to San Diego with a record of 9-3 or better. Every home game (except for Tennessee) looks to see the Chiefs have a strong chance of winning, and road games against Oakland and St. Louis mean that the team could have close to a .500 record on the road, at worst.
Then again, their remaining road schedule are divisional rivals Oakland, Denver, and San Diego; the Colts, the Texans, Seattle (always tough to play at Qwest Field), and then St. Louis, a cross-state rival that is showing signs of promise. And they’ll have a tough December matchup against Tennessee, who is always hard to predict as to how they’ll play. The Titans are a very talented team, but they seem to have problems putting it all together consistently every game over the course of a season.
Of course, all this depends on if the Chiefs can put it all together. While they may be a young team, the talent level in Kansas City is just as good, in my opinion, as it was in 2003 when the Chiefs went 13-3. The only major deficiency is the offensive line, and they have stepped their play up so far in 2010. With a coaching staff that has nine rings between the offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and the secondary coach; and a head coach that has no issues in going for the jugular, this could be the year that the Chiefs bring it all together and return to the playoffs.
My (For-Right-Now) Predictions for the Chiefs Final Record
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Best Chances: 12-4, and your AFC West Division Champions
Worst Chances: 8-8, and hoping for help to win the division.