The Thursday Night NFL matchups have been much better this season and we saw another good one last night when the Oakland Raiders traveled to frigid Kansas City to square off against their division rival.
This historic rivalry has finally been renewed in the national spotlight as this is the first time in a long time that both teams have been fighting for a division title. In fact, the last this occurrence happened this late in the season was in 1995. The 10-2 Chiefs beat the 8-4 Raiders in Oakland en route to winning the AFC West division title.
Kansas City fans hope that the results of last night’s victory will lead to the same results of 1995, at least in terms of regular season outcomes.
The win over the Raiders bolstered the Chiefs from the five spot to the two spot in the AFC Playoff picture.
But the real question is: Can this team compete for a Super Bowl.
Will they?…Time will tell.
The Kansas City Chiefs play a classic style of football that can be very effective come playoff time. Smashmouth football. An offense that can sometimes put you to sleep, but while you are sleeping, put together a 10-minute drive and add points to the scoreboard (typically a Cairo Santos field goal).
Their defense is playing like one of the top defenses in the league right now. Justin Houston is finally back on the field from injury and is making his presence felt. Marcus Peters is an interception machine and Eric Berry is going to going to star in an ESPN 30 for 30 one day (or better yet an Al Dente Documentary).
The part of this team that is probably its strongest asset is the special teams. Cairo Santos is 6th in the league with 25 made field goals and 9th with a make percentage of 89.3%. As I hinted at earlier, Cairo kicks a lot of field goals.
But undoubtedly the most impressive area of the special teams unit is the return game; punt returns and kick returns. Tyreek Hill has turned into one of the most dangerous weapons in the league. His kick return average of 28.2 yards is better than the return specialists on New England, Denver, Baltimore and Oakland, the other best teams in the AFC. He is one of only six players to return a kick for a touchdown, and of those six players, he is the only one to return a punt as well. He is first in punt return yards with 473 and 2nd in average by a tenth of a percentage point with 15.3 yards per return. In a game of inches, special teams play and jockeying for field position can play a huge role.
And then there is the age old question. Can Alex Smith take the Chiefs to the next level? His passing stats are not going to jump off the page at you, but a completion percentage of 67.3 is good for seventh in the NFL meaning he is a very efficient passer and completes a lot of high percentage throws. Among quarterbacks that have started the entire season, his five interceptions rank third best, with a game in hand.
Like I said, nothing to gawk over with that stat line. However, if the 2015 Denver Broncos taught us anything, a smart team that doesn’t turn the ball over and has an elite defense can win the Super Bowl with sub-par quarterback play.
Now, I don’t think the Chiefs defense is near the level of the historical 2015 Broncos, but I do think Alex Smith gives you better play under center than what we saw in Denver for the entirety of last season.
Lastly, let’s assess the importance of home field advantage. In my professional opinion, the top 5 home-field advantages in the NFL are (in no particular order): Seattle, Green Bay, Denver, Kansas City, and New England. Three of those teams are in the AFC and all three have a very good shot at making the playoffs.
It’s hard to find a louder stadium than Arrowhead (hold the record for the loudest outdoor stadium in terms of decibels), and the Chiefs almost always perform well in front of their home fans (minus a dud against Tampa Bay two weeks ago). At this point, KC sits in the driver seat to have at least one home game in the playoffs and could contend with the Patriots for home-field throughout. If all roads to the Super Bowl lead through Middle-America Kansas, the Chiefs have an extremely viable shot of going the distance. Winning the AFC West is their best shot.