The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Oakland Raiders on Thursday night, and emerged from the frozen night as true contenders with a 10-3 record.
Walk into a room of football fans and ask them who the Super Bowl conteders are. You’ll hear the Cowboys, Patriots and Seahawks from everyone in the lot. The Raiders will get some mention, and nobody would be willing to count out the Steelers.
Ask that same group if there are sleepers out there, and each would give you an answer that starts with “I’ll tell you what,” and “You know…” Those lists would probably include the Broncos, Colts, Ravens, Lions, Falcons and Packers.
All of those answers are viable, but they leave out one team that should be leading the conversation. The Kansas City Chiefs.
Kansas City is incredibly dull from a national perspective. The Chiefs don’t have a ton of flash and sizzle. There isn’t much eye appeal surrounding Alex Smith and Andy Reid. Sure, Marcus Peters and Travis Kelce bring some punch, but the team is relegated to flyover country and has not won a Super Bowl since 1969.
Yet the Chiefs need to be counted among the very best in the NFL. Kansas City stands 10-3 after winning three consecutive games over the league’s elite, including two road games and a pair in primetime. After faltering at home against the red-hot Buccaneers, the Chiefs stood 7-3. Up next? The Broncos, coming off a bye week, in Mile High and on national television. After that, the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. Four days later, the Raiders in Arrowhead Stadium, again in primetime.
Most believed this would be where the Chiefs showed their pretender feathers. Instead, they authored the most impressive three-game stretch of any team this year. Kansas City won a 30-27 overtime thriller in Denver before Eric Berry took over the Atlanta game, scoring twice in a 29-28 win. Versus Oakland, the Chiefs raced to a 21-3 lead before holding onto a 21-13 win.
The run leaves Kansas City 10-3 and in the AFC’s second seed. The remaining schedule is tough but manageable, with the Titans and Broncos at home (on Christmas night) before a visit to San Diego in Week 17. If the Chiefs run the table, they will be the West champions and perhaps own home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Kansas City is not impressive statistically. Alex Smith may not throw for 3,500 yards. Only Kelce will eclipse 1,000 yards and running back Spencer Ware is struggling to hit that benchmark on the ground. The defense has allowed loads of yards, only to make plays time and again, leading the league in forced turnovers. The Chiefs remedy many of their problems by executing when they need to, consistently putting together clutch drives. The stats crowd will scoff, but the film showcases that reality.
As Kansas City continues to dominate and get primetime slots, folks around the country will discover the level of talent on this team. The Chiefs are loaded with premier players including Marcus Peters, Dontari Poe, Dee Ford, Justin Houston, Jeremy Maclin, Tyreek Hill, Eric Fisher, Mitchell Schwartz, Kelce and Berry. Hill has been tremendous in his rookie year, scoring nine touchdowns between offense and special teams.
Kansas City is a threat to not only make a postseason run, but to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February. Smith and Reid will need to be solid in the playoffs. The rest of the roster – a very deep, talented one – simply needs to keep doing what it’s doing.
Top 10 receiver combos in NFL history
1. Jerry Rice and John Taylor, San Francisco 49ers
2. Randy Moss and Cris Carter, Minnesota Vikings
3. Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts
4. Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Pittsburgh Steelers
5. Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, St. Louis Rams
6. Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Arizona Cardinals
7. Andre Reed and James Lofton, Buffalo Bills
8. Mark Clayton and Mark Duper, Miami Dolphins
9. Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, Oakland Raiders
10. Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch, Oakland Raiders
"“Terrelle Pryor was right there the whole game,” Jones continued, “right there in the garbage can. Next question.”"
– Bengals corner Adam Jones, stating his distaste for Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor
The Bengals and Browns are longtime rivals, and there is a new feud between Jones and Pryor. The two seemingly talked trash throughout the game, which is ironic considering both they and their teams have been eliminated from any real playoff contention since Halloween.
Still, Jones claimed Pryor stated he would get him cut, while Jones compared Pryor to trash. It’s childish, ridiculous and ultimately, talk between two guys who will be home come January.
The NFC South is the least successful division all-time in the NFL. Throughout their respective history, the Falcons (7), Buccaneers (6), Panthers (9) and Saints (7) have combined for 29 playoff victories.
To put that in perspective, the Patriots have won 22 in the Tom Brady era. Don’t despair, though, NFC South fans. The Chicago Bears, who have been playing since the NFL began in 1920, have a grand total of 17 postseason contests.
Info learned this week
1. Dolphins win, but ultimately lose
The Miami Dolphins beat the Arizona Cardinals on a last-second field goal, but will be without quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the duration due to a torn ACL. Without Tannehill, Miami is 8-5 but stuck starting Matt Moore. Moore is a veteran, but he’s a career backup for a reason.
Going into Monday night, the Dolphins are tied for the sixth and final seed in the AFC. The Denver Broncos fell to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, putting Denver at 8-5 as well. However, Miami loses the tiebreaker due to common opponent record, leaving work to be done over the final three weeks.
The good news? Denver has the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders the rest of the way.
2. Texans win critical AFC South contest
Houston was able to sweep the Indianapolis Colts for the first time in franchise history, winning 22-17 at Lucas Oil Stadium. With the win, the Texans moved to 7-6, tying them atop the South with the Titans. The tiebreaker belongs to Houston, who beat Tennessee back in September.
Looking at the schedule, the division could very well come down to the Week 17 contest between these two in Nashville. If it comes to that, look for Houston to have the edge on the road. The Texans have struggled outside of the South, but are 4-0 within it.
As for the Colts, they are in rough shape. Next week sees a trip to Minnesota before a visit to Oakland. It’s likely over for Indianapolis.
3. Redskins, Lions earn gutsy wins
The NFC playoff picture is still a mess, but Washington and Detroit have to be feeling better after Sunday. The Redskins absolutely had to beat the Eagles and managed to do so with the help of a last-minute sack-and-strip of Carson Wentz. Washington is now 7-5-1 and remains in the thick of the wild card chase.
Meanwhile, the Lions needed to overcome a pick-six by Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter. Stafford would make amends, scoring on a scramble to beat the Bears, 20-17. With the win, the Lions are now 9-4 and two games clear of Minnesota in the NFC North.
With the Seattle loss at Green Bay, the Seahawks fell behind the Lions in the NFC playoff picture. If the Lions run the table, they are the No. 2 seed at worst.
4. Giants earn huge win on SNF
The Cowboys are a terrific team, but they must be scared to death wondering if the Giants will see them in the playoffs. Dallas is 11-2, with both losses coming to Odell Beckham Jr. and Co. New York moves to 9-4 and has a firm grip on an NFC wild card spot, specifically the fifth seed.
The defensive turnaround out of the Giants has been stark. After struggling earlier this year, coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has this group rolling. With Jason Pierre-Paul slated back soon, New York could be a sleeping giant in the postseason.
5. Patriots, Ravens play key game on MNF
New England and Baltimore both have plenty to play for on Monday night. The Patriots are 10-2 and trying to remain comfortably ahead in the race for home-field advantage in the AFC. A loss, and New England would be knotted with Kansas City and Oakland at 10-3, with the Patriots only ahead via tiebreaker.
As for Baltimore, the Ravens need a victory to keep pace with the Steelers in the AFC North. The division could come down to the Week 16 matchup, when the two tangle on Christmas afternoon.
The Packers lost the 1960 NFL Championship Game 17-13 to the Eagles at Franklin Field in Vince Lombardi’s second season at the helm. Afterwards, Lombardi stated he would never lose another playoff game.
For the duration of his tenure in Green Bay, Lombardi reached the postseason on five occasions in seven seasons. His record was 7-0 with five titles.
It’s easy to laugh at the Browns. They are pathetic and on the way to an 0-16 record. After being handled by the Bengals, they sit 0-13 with no real hope of winning a game. It’s the inevitable bottoming out of a once-great franchise.
But before you laugh in Cleveland’s face, go mock the Jets and Jaguars first. The Browns knew this was a rebuilding year. The front office knew this was a long process and one that included getting boxed around in 2016.
New York and Jacksonville? Those two franchises expected to win with their current rosters. The Jets are 3-10 and the Jaguars sit 2-11. Both are likely to clean house after this campaign, and have few discernible building blocks. The Browns are going to have the most cap space of any team in football and an arsenal of draft picks.
The Browns are bad, but the Jets and Jaguars are the true laughingstocks of the NFL.