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Tribal Warfare
12-26-2010, 03:23 AM
Chiefs’ playoff prospects are surprising, but hold your skepticism (http://www.kansascity.com/2010/12/25/2542182/mellinger-as-surprising-as-the.html)
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star

The Chiefs are the division leaders, in control of their playoff future, and that’s still a bit hard to believe, right?

Five months ago this week, they began training camp — such a long time ago, when much of Kansas City thought Matt Cassel was to be a dud, that Dwayne Bowe should be cut and that Derrick Johnson would never be more than an OK player.

Virtually nothing is the same now. It can’t be, and maybe that’s why this success is a difficult thing to trust. It’s one thing to make the playoffs as a result of an easy schedule and lucky breaks, but quite a different thing to be a legitimate playoff team, and not to go all Jim Mora, but PLAYOFFS!!?!!?

The Chiefs were just trying to find their way out of the NFL’s punch lines.

Now, they’re the betting line pick to be AFC West champions and are a five-point favorite today to win their 10th game of the year. There’s symbolism in knowing that would match the Chiefs’ win total for the last three seasons combined.

We’re used to having our sports hopes kicked in this town — the kicker that shall go unnamedt taught us well — so getting used to a world in which the Chiefs are headed to the playoffs in large part because Cassel is assembly-line efficient feels a little backward.

The Chiefs don’t want any part of this, of course — at least, not publicly. They’ve banned the word “playoffs,” and coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli collectively refuse to even call this a “good” team.

Skepticism is all around us, muscle memory telling us the local football team still isn’t good. But, increasingly, we’re seeing reason to believe the following words:

The Chiefs are a legitimate playoff team.

• • •

There is any number of ways to do this, but start on the surface. Don’t playoff teams have good coaching? Haley will be on the short list of coach-of-the-year candidates, and his coordinators teamed for three Super Bowl championships in New England.

Don’t playoff teams take care of the ball? The Chiefs have just 10 turnovers, fewer than all but the Patriots.

And don’t playoff teams run the ball and stop the run? The Chiefs have the NFL’s best rushing offense and, entering this week, no other team had outrushed its opponents by more yards.

This goes deeper, too. Brian Billick won a Super Bowl as a coach in Baltimore and says the most consistent separator of playoff teams and playoff spectators is a combined ratio of turnovers and plays of 20 yards or more. Most years, nine or 10 of the 12 playoff teams will be in the NFL’s top half.

The Chiefs are plus-10 in turnovers and plus-six in “explosive plays,” and that plus-16 combined ratio is sixth in the league. Only the Steelers, Eagles, Chargers, Giants and Patriots are better.

“Those numbers alone,” Billick says, “tell you this is a playoff team. They’re playing smart football.”

Think of moments, too. Dexter McCluster returned a punt for a touchdown, and Derrick Johnson set up another score with a key forced fumble in a season-opening win that went down to the last play. Brandon Flowers returned an interception for a touchdown against the Browns, the difference in a two-point victory. Haley admittedly got lucky with the timing of a timeout before a field goal against the Bills.

If the Chiefs missed any of those moments, they might have one fewer win, which would put them outside the current playoff picture. Good teams have more of those moments in their favor.

Think of individuals. You know about Cassel and Bowe and even about Jamaal Charles ranking third in rushing yards and first in average. Johnson has gone from the fringe of relevance to a cornerstone linebacker. Tamba Hali ranks seventh in sacks. Flowers is a legitimate Pro Bowler, and a remarkable rookie class is plugging holes in what we came to view as a sinking ship.

Forget the uniforms for a second.

This is what a playoff team looks like.

“Those are all bits and pieces, but bits and pieces end up being touchdowns after a while,” says Gil Brandt, the longtime Cowboys executive and current NFL.com analyst. “The competitive balance in this league is such that you just need a little push here, a little push there, and all of a sudden you’re over the hill.”

• • •

Context is an important thing here, especially now, as the Chiefs are very clearly past the ineptitude of Carl Peterson’s final seasons, but still a significant ways from Pioli’s vision of sustained dominance.

There are nits to be picked here. The offensive line is aging. Cassel is more efficient than dynamic, and could use a top-tier receiver to go with Bowe. The defense could be more consistent, needs another pass rusher and probably has benefited from a weak schedule.

So, sure. The Chiefs probably aren’t headed to the Super Bowl this season. It’s more than just a talking point for Haley and Pioli to keep calling their team “young” and “developing” and “transitioning.”

The blowout of Jacksonville looks better now, but it’s impossible to not notice the Chiefs have beaten some bad teams.

Still, that skepticism is out of place now. It’s better suited for after this season, when a lower draft position will make it more difficult to address the remaining weaknesses.

The Chiefs aren’t a great team, but they are a competitive one, built in the image of successful teams in today’s NFL.

Mostly, they are a playoff team at least a year ahead of schedule, with two more home games left to prove it. We can worry about the rest later.

Titans at Chiefs
•WHEN/WHERE: Noon today at Arrowhead

•TV/RADIO: CBS (Chs. 5, 13), KCFX (101.1 FM)

michaelj_58
12-26-2010, 06:56 AM
I would agree with that!and if they can pull off the next two games. I don't think there"s too many teams that want to play us at arrowhead in the playoffs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

tmax63
12-26-2010, 09:12 AM
Does anybody but me get tired of the constant whining about how a lower draft pick is gonna kill the Chiefs? Picking later in the round opens up other positions in the position-value minds and will stop the "you don't pick a __ with a top 10 pick" bashing. Also, it's only a gut feeling, but it also seems to me that the #2 or #3 ranked college players at their positions seems like end up being the better pros. I agree it's harder to draft a sure-fire can't miss QBOTF later but in the same breath guys like the Cards QB Skelton last night and others have done alright. Hell, Tebow has shown some ability for the enemy and he was picked 25th.
I attribute the 2009 draft to Pioli flying blind with little knowledge of the team and not having his scouting team put together. They seem to have hit the 2010 draft on the money although it's early to judge, most have jumped the learning/special teams year and are playing meaningful minutes. I think the 2011 draft will show if I'm right or not.
I guess I'm just tired of hearing excuses of why the Chiefs are pretty good. After 14 games the Chiefs are 9-5, leading their division, and exceeded expectations. You are what you are to borrow a phrase.

BigRedChief
12-26-2010, 10:03 AM
Chiefs’ playoff prospects are surprising, but hold your skepticism (http://www.kansascity.com/2010/12/25/2542182/mellinger-as-surprising-as-the.html)
By SAM MELLINGER
The Kansas City Star


We’re used to having our sports hopes kicked in this town — the kicker that shall go unnamedt taught us well
Glad to see Sam reads the Planet.