This time, nobody will be surprised when the Chiefs make their push toward the AFC’s best teams.
That sure is how it looks like it’s going to happen now, too, isn’t it?
This is all set up for the Chiefs. They are a touchdown favorite at home against the Saints on Sunday and, according to Kevin Bradley, Bovada Sportsbook manager, would be underdogs in just two of their remaining games — at Denver and at Atlanta — if the matchups were this week. They are projected to be at least a three-point favorite in seven games, including this weekend.
This is just one snapshot in time, of course, and hypothetical lines could be changed by any number of factors. The Chiefs would also be in pick ’em games at Indianapolis and Carolina. But if they only win the games they’re likely to be favored in, and split the pick ’ems, that’s 11-5.
Catch a break and it’s 12-4. The AFC West could be decided Christmas Night at Arrowhead Stadium, and wouldn’t every Chiefs fan take that?
Few things in major sports are more of a fool’s errand than predicting the NFL’s week-by-week future, but even an 11-5 finish appears manageable and would continue the Chiefs’ history of improving as the season goes on under Reid.
There’s more to it than just the schedule, though. More than Jamaal Charles gaining strength and comfort after a second ACL reconstruction, too.
This is even about more than Justin Houston’s pending return, which will make for the best midseason acquisition in the NFL — a star pass rusher for a team in desperate need of a pass rush.
A lot of this is about coach Andy Reid, too.
You probably know that Reid is now 16-2 in the game after a bye week. That stat becomes a storyline every year before, during and after the Chiefs’ bye. But what’s not mentioned is that the trend is actually much larger than that.
Reid’s nine playoff teams in Philadelphia and his four teams in Kansas City have gone 32-22 before their bye week and 67-22-1 after.
If you isolate his time in Kansas City, Reid is 16-10 before the bye and 18-9 after. That’s a modest difference, but the collapse of 2013 is the outlier — done with a thin roster that wore down, and against an incredibly imbalanced schedule that served backup quarterbacks early and playoff teams late. Take that out, and he’s 7-10 before the bye and 16-4 after.
Put it all together: Reid’s Philadelphia playoff teams and his four Chiefs teams have won almost 60 percent of their games before a bye and 74 percent after. That’s the difference between a team that wins nine or 10 games in a season, and one that wins 11 or 12.
This is too much of a sample size to believe it’s just coincidence, but Reid is exactly as forthcoming about this as you’d expect.
“I don’t have an answer for that,” he said. “There probably isn’t. I don’t know why. I’ve looked it, and I don’t know the answer to that deal. Right now, we’re just trying to win the next one. That’s where all the focus is.”
There are some hints around the locker room, and from following the team closely. Reid’s training camps generally include more pads and hitting than many teams around the league. Players who’ve come in from other clubs have often said the preseason is more physical than they’re used to.
The other side is that Reid tends to protect his players once the season starts. Rules in the current CBA restrict how often teams can be in pads, but Reid takes particular precaution to keep his guys as fresh as is possible while playing a violent sport.
“He takes care of us, as the year goes on,” center Mitch Morse said. “He understands how this works. You can’t do what you were doing in week one, in week 13. It’s not my place to say. Whatever he tells us to do, we’ll do it, but he’s a good coach.”
So this is a man who now has the 15th most coaching wins in NFL history, a success built in no small part by getting better as the season goes along, now with a team and schedule that each appear positioned for an ongoing rise up the AFC standings and most of those silly weekly power rankings that people put together.
Assuming he’s at or near full strength, Charles’ return provides a dynamism to an offense that needs it. They showed glimpses of it in Oakland. With Charles around, the Chiefs have more options, can become less predictable, and more versatile. It’s a rotten situation for fantasy-football players, but Charles should further ensure that each running back is fully rested and maximally efficient when on the field.
Houston’s return will be even more important. The Chiefs have, by various measurements and the naked eye, one of the league’s worst pass rushes — maybe the worst.
Houston is just one man, and the Chiefs have a lot of things to clean up — namely cornerbacks thin on production after Marcus Peters, consistent tackling, and perhaps discipline to the game plan. But Houston also averaged more than a sack per game the last three seasons, also plays the run and coverage remarkably well, and would presumably be returning at full strength and stamina.
He is the rare defensive player who makes everyone around him better, too, because the blocks and schemes focus on him, which creates space and opportunities for everyone else.
So, to review: each side of the ball is adding a critical All-Pro in midseason, with a schedule opening up, and a coach with a nearly two-decades-long history of improving as the season goes along.
Not much more a Chiefs fan could want, at the moment.