A strong argument can be made that Kansas City’s just-completed 9-7 season and near-miss of the playoffs was more impressive than last year’s schedule-friendly 11-5 season and first-round playoff exit.
Last year’s playoff push was predicated greatly on a 9-0 start against mostly the NFL’s dregs. They limped to a 2-5 finish, then were ousted from the playoffs in the first round by Indianapolis when their defense crumbled.
When the Chiefs started this season 0-2, I wondered if this was going to be a 2-14 or 3-13 team. They lost defensive stalwarts Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito for the season in the very first game and Eric Berry’s season basically consisted of a handful of games.
That’s three starters off a defense that was lit up for 45 points in the playoff loss to Indianapolis.
To Andy Reid’s credit, his battered drum-and-fife corps rallied. It reeled off a terrific 7-1 stretch, which included a 41-14 Monday night national embarrassment of New England (which is the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs) and a 24-20 ego bruising for defending Super Bowl champion Seattle (which is the No. 1 seed in the NFC and hasn’t lost since then). The schedule was the polar opposite of last year as it included six games against playoff teams, with two games of course against Denver.
Even in some of the defeats, the Chiefs were right there. Losses to Denver (24-17), San Francisco (22-17), Oakland (24-20), Arizona (17-14) and Pittsburgh (20-12) could easily have gone the other way. If just two of those outcomes had been reversed, the Chiefs would have been 11-5 and playing this upcoming weekend.
That Reid was able to coax nine wins out of this team is a testament to his coaching acumen. The Chiefs had arguably the worst receiving corps in the NFL, highlighted by the nationally embarrassing fact no wide receiver caught a touchdown pass the entire season. The offensive line was a nondescript, cobbled-together unit that lost expected mainstay Donald Stephenson to suspension at the start of the season and he basically played spectator the rest of the way. The secondary had to overcome the loss of its quarterback Berry, yet ranked high against the pass despite Ron Parker and Chris Owens being picked on unmercifully by opposing quarterbacks.
The Chiefs are a tweak here or there away from being back in the playoffs. Much attention will be paid to the offense as they probably will go wide receiver in the first round, then offensive lineman in the second round. The Chiefs certainly could have used a rookie this year like Odell Beckham Jr., maybe the best of a tremendous crop of rookie receivers. Kansas City’s first-round pick of Dee Ford looks like a lump of coal in the Christmas stocking right now, but he could develop the way Justin Houston has. When Houston was picked in the third round a few years back, who would ever have guessed he would nearly break the single-season sack record?
The Chiefs’ offensive line probably ranked in the bottom third of the NFL. The big hope is that next year Eric Fisher will finally live up to his overall No. 1 pick status of two years ago. Fisher has been pedestrian at best.
The Chiefs could use help at linebacker since Tamba Hali is getting old and too expensive. The secondary’s success depends on Berry, whose future is uncertain because of Hodgkin lymphoma. At this point I don’t think the Chiefs can count on him.
Of course Reid and General Manager John Dorsey want to build through the draft, but look for the Chiefs to be more active in the free-agent market than year’s past. Reid is a player’s coach and other than those instances when Bowe acts like a knucklehead off the field — he’s actually kept out of trouble for the last year — you don’t ever hear of any discord in the locker room.
Reid was an excellent hire and he’s done a good job so far in his two years. The trend of his teams, though, has been good starts and bad finishes. After being 7-3 this year, the Chiefs finished 2-4. I’m not sure what you can attribute that to, but it is a trend to watch.