How one chooses to analyze the 2013 NFL season after Week 9 depends entirely on how one chooses to deal with the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs.
The AFC presents other surprises: The defending champs are below .500! The Texans are going to miss the playoffs! And, the Broncos are dominant. All of which can be explained without much consternation: the Ravens are old and lost the two most important players and leaders in franchise history: Matt Schaub got hurt and Peyton Manning continues to go on insane regular season stretches which conveniently end with early playoff exits.
The anemic Falcons (2-6) and Giants (2-6) hold the most eye-catching records in the NFC. The Atlanta squad is yet to give up less than 23 points in a game, even when facing inexperienced quarterbacks such as the Buccaneers’ Mike Glennon and the Jets’ Geno Smith. Former standout wide receiver Roddy White’s easing into irrelevance also has contributed to the once Super Bowel contenders transformation into cellar dwellers. As a Patriots fan, I refuse to discuss the Giants’ current struggles until Eli and company have been mathematically eliminated.
But oh, those formerly 2-14 Chiefs. How is it that the much-maligned Andy Reid and Alex Smith have already achieved a seven win turn around from 2012? Frankly, the Chiefs’ unbelievable start is primarily an argument for stability and competence. The team’s new leadership seems to have freed the clubhouse of the stench of tragedy that came along with last year’s Jovan Belcher murder-suicide.
At least 95 percent of the men of who have ever held NFL head coaching positions were better suited to do so than former Chiefs honcho Romeo Crennel. In just over five seasons with the Browns and Chiefs, he held a pathetic 28-55 record, missing the playoffs every year. People can complain about Andy Reid’s fourth quarter time-management antics all they want, but his 139-93 record suggests one of the best coaching upgrades in recent memory.
Alex Smith is the poster boy for SportsCenter’s description of a league-average quarterback: a “game manager.” This categorization suggests a leader who won’t hold his team back during the regular season, but is incapable of carrying his team to a championship. Smith is blessed with a stacked offensive line and rejuvenated weapons such as Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe, both of whom have emerged from the hell that a season of Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn inspires.
Defensively, the Chiefs have been destined to step up for years now. Tamba Hali has spent the majority of his eight-year NFL career as the lone pass-rusher on porous defenses, and is on pace for his finest season yet, thus far recording a sack for each win (9). Plus, the trio of Brandon Flower, Sean Smith, and Eric Berry form a frighteningly young and efficient secondary.
So what’s the problem with the NFL’s sole undefeated team? Calling Kansas City’s schedule pathetic does not sum up how truly paltry the Chiefs’ opponents have been through nine weeks. The Cowboys are the only squad among the bunch currently over .500, and America’s team has benefited from a wildly under-achieving NFC East. Kansas City barely escaped its game against the Cowboys, and squeaked out a last minute victory against a Schaub-less Houston. The Chiefs are the least impressive 9-0 team in NFL history.
Dispel any notions that the undefeated Chiefs are going far. Go to Vegas and take the under on Chiefs playoff wins. The AFC is weak, but not that weak.
As the Chiefs inevitably cool down, the conference’s major storyline will become who Peyton Manning will choke against, and thus represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Defining this NFL season halfway through is more elusive than usual. The frontrunners in each conference (Seattle and Denver) are solid but have shown obvious weaknesses. Run the ball down Denver’s throat and keep the ball away from Peyton and you’ve got the Broncos number; the Seahawks aren’t the same on the road (though if they continue on the path they’re on, they might not have to) and have trouble putting together a full game. Thus, predictions are especially useless. Kansas City, enjoy dominance while you can.