Tom Brady made the NFL and the world stand up and take notice (again) of the New England Patriots on Sunday with his remarkable, come-from-behind, last-second win over the New Orleans Saints. The Denver Broncos, of course, have been making people take notice all season with their remarkable, high-scoring, 6-0 start.
Those two are widely considered the teams to beat in the conference, with some eyes watching closely the teams in Indianapolis and Cincinnati, too.
But why is it that so many are ignoring or dismissing what’s happening in Kansas City, where the revived Chiefs are an impressive 6-0? Maybe it’s time everyone stood up and took notice of them, too.
The Chiefs may not have played the Broncos yet – they still have to face them twice – but there is nothing phony about their undefeated start to the Andy Reid Era. They look like a team that has some staying power and should be a factor all season long. So while you’re pondering who’ll represent the AFC in Super Bowl XLVIII, here are five reasons why you should also consider that the Chiefs are for real …
1. Andy Reid is a great coach — There’s a reason he lasted 14 years in Philadelphia, where he won nearly 60 percent of his games. He’s one of the finest coaches in the entire NFL and he doesn’t just stubbornly force players into his systems, he tailors what he does to suit the players he has.
No, he didn’t win a Super Bowl with the Eagles and that will forever keep him a notch below the — for lack of a better word — “elite” coaches in NFL history. But he got the Eagles to five NFC championship games in his tenure, which still makes him one of the elite of this generation. Hiring Reid was one of the smartest decisions the Chiefs organization had made in years.
2. Alex Smith is a winning quarterback — Smith was once the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft (2005) which is hard to remember given how erratic (and sometimes bad) he was during his first five NFL seasons and because he lost his job to Colin Kaepernick last year.
But behind that smog is the fact that the 49ers were a mess for most of Smith’s tenure and he was lost in an environment that changed offensive coordinators and offensive systems seemingly every year. The Chiefs picked him off the scrap heap, basically, after the 49ers cast him aside. But they were wise enough to see this truth: Once Jim Harbaugh took over the 49ers and the environment around Smith settled down, he was 20-6-1 as a starter, including an overtime loss in the 2011 NFC championship game.
Smith has talent. He’s smart and efficient and knows how to run a West Coast offense, which requires quick passes and quick decisions. He’s capable of carrying a team if necessary, but more importantly he knows how to manage a game and avoid costly turnovers, which might be the most important thing a quarterback can do nowadays.
Oh, and he’s also now 26-6-1 in his last 33 starts.
3. Dwayne Bowe is a true No. 1 receiver —The Chiefs’ best receiver could’ve been one of the big winners on the free-agent market last spring, but he never got there thanks to a five-year, $56 million contract he got on the eve of free agency. So far through six games he has only 20 catches for 229 yards and two touchdowns, but the numbers almost don’t matter. His 6-2, 221-pounds presence has opened up a ton of other things for the Kansas City offense and that’s an enormous help for a quarterback in his first year with a new team. Had the Chiefs let him go, they would’ve had to overpay to replace him – if they even could. Instead, ownership made the necessarily financial commitment.
4. The Chiefs defense can play and rush the passer — In this era of wide open passing attacks, absolutely nothing counteracts that better than a strong, fierce pass rush. It is the ultimate weapon to disrupt the timing of even the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The Chiefs, it turns out, can rush the passer. They had 27 sacks last season, but already have 31 in 2013 after a 10-sack performance against the Oakland Raiders. And a defense that ranked 25th in the NFL last season is now fifth in the NFL under former Jets defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and they’re giving up a league-low 10.8 points per game. In their 3-4 defense — and a tip of the hat to Reid for sticking with the 3-4 instead of his favored 4-3 — linebackers Justin Houston (9 ½ sacks) and Tamba Hali (7 ½) have already combined for 17 sacks this season and nose tackle Dontari Poe has 4 ½. They have a very effective inside-outside punch.
5. The players are happier — Don’t underestimate that fact. Several NFL agents insist there was a lot of mistrust and misery under the previous regime, though it’s possible that had a lot to do with the losing and not necessarily former GM Scott Pioli and his head coaches. Whatever the reason, the atmosphere in Kansas City had soured and a fresh start was necessary. New GM John Dorsey seems to be popular and there was an immediate respect among everyone for Reid. Of course, the 6-0 start has helped, too.
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN