Fans consider the Chiefs’ remaining schedule and see smooth sailing. One of their final seven opponents owns a winning record headed into this weekend, and it’s not Sunday’s foe, the 1-8 New York Giants.
But the Chiefs’ coaches and players see something entirely different.
“I see a bunch of Pro Bowl pass rushers,” offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz said.
Quarterback Alex Smith doesn’t look past a Giants team that collected its only victory at Denver, which crushed the Cowboys, who beat the Chiefs. Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy sees a team that went toe-to-toe with the Seahawks for 3½ quarters before falling.
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“They’re not what their record says,” Nagy said.
Linebacker Derrick Johnson sees a collection of teams that want to get better, and players who want to make sure they look good on tape.
“Everybody’s job is on the line, no matter the team’s record,” Johnson said.
The narrative about the Chiefs’ second-half prospects, outside the locker room, is being shaped by a finishing run of underwhelming records owned by the Giants (1-8), Bills (5-4), Jets (4-6), Raiders (4-5), Chargers (3-6), Dolphins (4-4) and Broncos (3-6). If betting lines were established for all games today, the Chiefs would be favored to run the table.
The objective is repeating as champions of the AFC West, a division they lead with a 6-3 record. Not only does the Chiefs’ schedule seem favorable, the path of their present top challenger — the Raiders — includes the Patriots, Chiefs, Cowboys and Eagles.
Advantage — on paper — Chiefs.
But that’s not the interpretation in the locker room. Respect for the opponent is too great.
“I think what gets lost is everyone’s individual pride takes over,” Schwartz said. “You still want your team and the league to see you in a good way. You keep fighting. I don’t know anybody who plays who isn’t like that.”
That approach helped Schwartz remain motivated through his lean seasons as a member of the Cleveland Browns. He played on four losing teams there; the final one in 2015 finished 3-13. The outlook was often bleak, but Schwartz always thought there was a chance to win, because that’s the NFL.
“There’s not a lot that separate the top and the bottom in terms of talent,” Schwartz said. “It’s not like Alabama against a small school.”
The Chiefs under Andy Reid have their own example of a wildly unexpected outcome that contributed to changing a season.
In 2014, the Chiefs took a 7-3 record to Oakland to face the 0-10 Raiders. The Chiefs lost in what turned out to be safety Eric Berry’s last game before the discovery of his Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stumbled to a 9-7 finish, and failed the make the playoffs for the only time in Reid’s first four seasons in Kansas City.
But there are reasons to believe the Chiefs, who are double-digit favorites on the road at the Giants for the first time since 1992, according to one bookmaker, should make Sunday’s game a pivot point from the recent losing ways.
For starters, the Chiefs are coming off a bye week, and that often has meant good things for Reid-coached teams. His Eagles and Chiefs are 16-2 after open weeks.
Don’t bother asking Reid about this, though.
“Oh, boy, I have no idea on that,” Reid said. “I’m not even sure what our record is. I don’t know what other teams do; I don’t get into all that.”
What the Chiefs’ coaches and players do get into is not dismissing an opponent because of a sorry record.
Fans can do that. They can’t.
“I’ve been 1-8 before,” Johnson said. “You definitely have to be strong-minded, but they’ll be motivated. We’ll see that.