You’ve gotta hand it to the Kansas City Chiefs. There may not be a more resilient team in the entire NFL.
After losing their first two games by a combined 89-10 then falling to 0-3 after a last minute defeat to the Chargers, the Chiefs are unbeaten, running off four straight wins the most recent being a pulse-pounding, overtime thriller against San Diego. They may have lost their best defensive back (Eric Berry) and two of their best offensive players (running back Jamaal Charles, tight end Tony Moeaki) for the season but they’re still making plenty of plays on both sides of the ball.
Kansas City ranks in the bottom third of the league in every major offensive and defensive category except rushing yards per game yet over the course of the winning streak, the Chiefs are averaging just over 25 points per game while allowing just over 15. Quarterback Matt Cassel has six TD passes over that stretch while completing over 60 percent of his passes. And in the absence of Charles, a committee of backs has emerged. Fourth-year man Jackie Battle, who never had more than 20 rushing attempts in a season prior to this one, has 256 yards in his last three games and is averaging 4.7 yards per attempt.
On defense, former Pats coordinator Romeo Crennel has righted the ship and is getting big time play out of fourth-year corner Brandon Flowers, who is just one INT shy of his career-high, and sixth-year defensive end Tamba Hali, who has six sacks and forced Chargers all-pro left tackle Marcus McNeill into six, count ‘em, six penalties while still picking up two sacks on Monday night. The Chiefs ranked 11th in total defense in winning the AFC West last year. Take away their first two games of this year and they’re playing at roughly the same pace.
Chiefs head coach Todd Haley has a reputation as a hothead, an angry, confrontational sort who doesn’t seem to be able to get along with anyone (including, at times, Cassel and GM Scott Pioli) if you believe what you read. But he sure can coach. At 0-3 and with all the personnel losses they’d already suffered, KC easily could have packed it in. But instead, they are now in great position to win their second straight division title. Haley won’t win Coach of the Year even if his team keeps up this pace; that award will likely unanimously go to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. But he’ll still be a top candidate.
The Chiefs play Miami and Denver at home in the next two weeks before embarking on a brutal stretch that includes games at the Pats and Jets and home dates against the Packers and Steelers, only the two Super Bowl participants from last season. But they already have an advantage in the division at 2-1 and only have to play one more AFC West foe away from Arrowhead Stadium (and it’s the Broncos). In a season full of amazing, out-of-the-blue stories, the Chiefs most definitely are writing their own chapter.
This Week’s Five Best Teams:
1. Green Bay: The Packers stay settled in the top spot at 7-0 and coming off their bye, they get to travel to play the unraveling Chargers who are on a short week. With Minnesota and Tampa on tap in the two weeks following their matchup with San Diego, it’s a safe bet that the Pack will be 10-0 on Turkey Day when they take on Detroit.
2. Pittsburgh: It seems like eons ago that the Steelers were 1-2 and looking washed up. They absolutely laid waste to the Patriots last week; the 25-17 final score may as well have been 125-17. And they couldn’t be hotter for this week’s rematch against their arch-rivals, the Ravens, who humiliated them in Week 1.
3. San Francisco: It was only the Cleveland Browns and the game was at home but the Niners didn’t miss a beat coming off their bye last week. Now 6-1, they face a bit of a test this week when they travel to D.C. to take on the Redskins, not because the Redskins are any good but because traveling east for a 1 p.m. start against a team they’re expected to beat can derail a lot of teams. We’ll know a lot more about San Fran after this Sunday.
4. New England: Seems a little silly to still have the Pats this high up after the debacle in Pittsburgh last week. But they still have Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and plenty of other top-flight talents. And they never, ever lose two in a row.
5. Baltimore/New Orleans: Two severely flawed teams round out this list. The Saints followed up their destruction of the Colts with a 31-21 loss to the previously winless Rams in a game that wasn’t that close. And the Ravens needed to come back from three TDs down to beat the pathetic Cardinals at home. Neither one of these outfits look remotely playoff ready right now; the Saints can’t get it together on defense, the Ravens on offense. Luckily for them, they both have two more months to figure it out.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams:
1. Indianapolis: The Colts don’t seem to have quit – they’re sort of playing hard and still getting blown out every week. After presumably losing to the Falcons this week, Indy may have its best chance to avoid a winless campaign in Week 10 when the Jaguars come to town. Otherwise, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.
2. Miami: For the second straight week, the Dolphins snatched a loss out the jaws of what appeared to be a sure victory, blowing a 17-10 fourth quarter lead to the Giants. In its last two games, Miami has been outscored 28-9 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Ouch.
3. Arizona: It just gets worse for the Cards, who were poised to pull one of the upsets of the year at Baltimore last week, only to see a 24-3 lead go up in smoke in the fourth quarter. Now, starting QB Kevin Kolb is out this week for what may have been a winnable game against the Rams. This team was in the Super Bowl three years ago and a division winner the following season. I can’t believe it either.
4. Denver: We’ll get to Tim Tebow momentarily. First, let’s just point out that the Broncos are so irrelevant, so dull and so hopeless, if it weren’t for the raging, ongoing debate on whether Tebow can play in the NFL or not, no one would breathe a word about them.
5. St. Louis: The Rams broke the schneid with that win over the Saints and that was without Sam Bradford. A victory against Arizona on Sunday and suddenly, it’s a winning streak. After that, they get Cleveland then Seattle and Arizona again at home. Has a team that started 0-6 ever made the playoffs?
- LeSean McCoy, Eagles: Philly coach Andy Reid remembered that when he balances his offense and doesn’t ignore his star running backs (a phenomenon that comes three or four times a year), he usually wins. Such was the case on Sunday night when he gave McCoy the ball 30 times and he responded with 185 yards and two TDs. McCoy may be even more important to the Eagles chances than Michael Vick, a factoid surely lost on the perennially clueless Reid.
- Adrian Peterson, Vikings: Throughout the second nightmare Vikings season in a row, Peterson has remained an absolute monster. He totaled 162 yards and two scores in last week’s win over Carolina and is on pace for 1,600 rushing yards and 18 TDs for a moribund team. Imagine if Minnesota was actually any good.
- The Texans: Houston lost stud wideout Andre Johnson in a Week 4 win over Pittsburgh then immediately went into the tank, dropping its next two. But the Texans have since won two in a row, still without Johnson, and have very winnable games in their next three weeks (Cleveland, at Tampa, at Jacksonville). Even more impressive, they’re top 6 in every major defensive category on the board and running back Arian Foster is 100 percent back from his early season hamstring woes. It’s going to be really hard for coach Gary Kubiak to find a way to keep his team from the playoffs this year.
- Tim Tebow, Broncos: Watching him lead the Broncos to a seemingly impossible win down the stretch at Miami a couple weeks ago was pretty amazing. But all it really did was gloss over the fact that Tebow cannot physically, mechanically, technically play quarterback at this level, as evidenced by the abomination that was Denver’s 45-10 home loss to the Lions. This isn’t Florida, where he can be lined up in the shotgun with the option to run or just dump the ball off on every snap. He can’t throw or see the field or read defenses. Maybe he’ll learn someday, but that isn’t going to happen in the midst of a season. The Broncos did the right thing by giving Tebow the job; they aren’t going anywhere this year regardless of whether or not he played so why not see what they have? And thus, the answer to that question is, not much.
- Philip Rivers, Chargers: Rivers continues to regress. He threw for almost 400 yards and nearly led a spirited comeback on Monday night at Kansas City, but he also turned the ball over three more times including one of the worst fumbles you’ll ever see, a botched snap on a play that was probably going to be a kneel down prior to a game-winning field goal attempt (the fact that this brainfart came 17 seconds after ESPN’s Jon Gruden breathlessly described him as a “superstar” made it even more glaring). The Chargers seem destined for a housecleaning after this year. Will it help Rivers find his way?
- Brandon Jacobs, Giants: The Giants perpetually pissed off running back celebrated his team’s comeback win last week (a win which put them in sole possession of first place in the NFC East) by saying that he had, “nothing positive to say,” and that at least he had a “fast-ass car being delivered this week.” Jacobs has been such an asshole for so long, it’s pretty peculiar that the Giants have kept him around. It will be interesting to see whether or not his miserable attitude will cost him playing time this week against the Pats if starter Ahmad Bradshaw’s foot injury keeps him sidelined.
The Tennessee Titans fell back to earth a bit after their 3-1 start, but bounced back nicely with a 29-14 win over the Colts last week and are now 4-3 and in second place in the AFC South. But they look pretty middle of the road despite their good start and the biggest reason why has to be starting running back Chris Johnson. Johnson held out of training camp, setting himself back even further given the lack of off-season activities due to the lockout. He did get the massive contract he was seeking, inking a deal barely a week before the start of the regular season worth $13.4 million annually. But whether he lost a step not working out in the off-season and training camp, whether he feels less motivated now that he has his money or whatever, he is not remotely the same player he’s been. Johnson is averaging less that three yards per carry, has just one TD and has totaled more than 53 yards on the ground once in the Titans seven games. He even lost reps to career backup Javon Ringer against Indy and Ringer outrushed him 60-34 on the same amount of carries (14) while also racking up 42 yards on five catches. Johnson ran for 2,000 yards two years ago and averaged over 1,500 per season in his first three years in the league, undoubtedly the reason he held out for so much money. But he’s clearly not the same player he once was. The Titans probably aren’t ready to do much damage yet despite looking good in this season’s first two months. If Johnson doesn’t find himself soon, the chances of that happening will plummet even further.