Improbable ride puts Chiefs in playoffs

By Steve Sell
December 28, 2015

First the Royals, now the Chiefs.

Remember when Kansas City was the town of lovable losers? That seems sooooo long ago.

For the first time ever, the Royals and Chiefs are in the playoffs in the same year. And we all know what the Royals did this year in postseason play.

While the Royals were expected to be there this year after making the World Series in 2014, the Chiefs were not — especially after a 1-5 start and the loss of difference-maker Jamaal Charles for the season after just five weeks.

Andy Reid is the NFL’s version of Ned Yost. It would have been easy for Reid to have been run out on a rail when it appeared the Chiefs were going to miss postseason play for a second straight year. While knee-jerk reactors were combusting, Kansas City General Manager John Dorsey had the wisdom to stay the course with the ever-calm coach.

Once the Chiefs arrived at the halfway point of the season at 3-5, Reid knew the first two games after their bye week would determine their direction, both on the road. The Denver game totally turned things around and they followed that up the following week with a pounding of San Diego to get back to .500.

All it took was one look at the schedule to see they had a chance, not to mention the AFC is littered with parity. It was backloaded with home games at the end against some of the NFL’s lesser lights. They knew they had to survive critical road games at Oakland and Baltimore, which they did. In actuality, the Chiefs have played their best football on the road, which is where they’ll probably start the playoffs unless Denver would happen to stumble tonight or next week.

The Chiefs are built on the Royals’ template. There are no stars, just a bunch of blue-collar guys pulling together for the common cause. The only player with elite status, Charles, has been capably replaced by the 1-2 punch of Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. They may not have the sprinter’s speed of Charles, but they are effective in their own way.

Alex Smith is one of the more maligned quarterbacks around, but he does just what Reid wants him to. He manages the game and doesn’t make many mistakes. He also can beat teams with his legs, which opens up so many more avenues.

The offensive line is still below par, but far better than the first half of the season when it was one of the NFL’s worst. Smith still gets sacked too much and there’s really not a consistent threat opposite of Jeremy Maclin, though Albert Wilson is getting better. Tight end Travis Kelce is a poor man’s Rob Gronkowski, though he still makes some costly mental mistakes at the most inopportune times.

The defense is trying to survive without Justin Houston and Tamba Hali and a bad Cleveland team gashed it on Sunday. Hopefully both will be back in time for the playoffs as the Chiefs can’t go far with them on the sidelines.

Pittsburgh’s loss to Baltimore on Sunday was stunning. If the Steelers don’t get in, the AFC really becomes wide open as the Steelers were the team nobody wanted to play because of their 4 x 100 relay team at the wideouts. 

New England has been devastated by injuries and Denver hasn’t been the same since Peyton Manning went down. There’s no Andy Dalton at Cincinnati, which means A.J. McCarron is being asked to lead the Bengals to the promised land. The AFC South winner will be around the .500 mark and the Jets are much like the Chiefs.

As the Royals said, “why not us?”

The Chiefs are probably saying the same thing.