We’ve had this all wrong, and I’m saying we, not you, because I’ve been part of the problem.
Maybe problem is the wrong word, because in the context of things that actually matter, well, there are worse sins than taking the natural stance that the Chiefs drawing the NFL’s standalone opener on Ring Night in Foxborough in front of Roger Goodell and the football world is a brutal way to begin a season you think can end in the Super Bowl.
But that misses the point.
The Chiefs have an opportunity here. Win one game, and they are the talk of the league. Win one game, and they will have done what no AFC team has ever done, which is beat Tom Brady in a regular season game in which he plays all four quarters in the place where the phones don’t work.
Nobody thinks they will do it, and that’s a tiny part of the point. This isn’t college football. Playoff seeding is done by results, not voting, so outside perception and power rankings don’t matter much beyond media companies creating content.
But football players can be petty creatures. Their wealth and reputations depend upon maximum production and success, so any bit helps, and anyone who has spent even a little time around professional athletes has hilarious stories of slights fueling focus. My personal favorite will always be someone — I think it was Carmelo Anthony, but it’s hard to say for sure — from Team USA basketball screaming about “nobody thought we could do it” after winning gold in London.
The Chiefs are good enough that they won’t often be able to pretend nobody believes in them, so this is a chance they won’t let pass.
Justin Houston cannot talk about his knee without putting it in terms of recovering quicker than expected. Alex Smith is still motivated in part by the belief that Jim Harbaugh’s decision to go with Colin Kaepernick in 2012 cost the 49ers a Super Bowl. Marcus Peters seems genuinely offended by a quarterback even looking his way.
From the top of the roster to the bottom, this is a group driven in part by proving people wrong.
Other than pushing a proud but historically underachieving franchise to its first Super Bowl since 1969 — when the current chairman was 3, and the current head coach hadn’t even done that Punt, Pass and Kick thing as a kid yet — the single best opportunity this group will have to prove people wrong is to beat the Patriots on Ring Night.
But the opportunity goes beyond all of that.
Because if you take the stance that the Chiefs are being led to slaughter, that they don’t have a chance because the Patriots have had all offseason to plan a big win in front of Goodell, then you must at least concede the advantage given to getting this out of the way and on a Thursday night.
Because an extra three days to heal and prepare is like half an extra bye week that nobody else gets without the problems of having to play on a short week. Reid is famously — well, at least in Kansas City, it’s famously — successful off bye weeks. Any bumps get a few extra days to heal. This is all good.
Also, the Chiefs are simply not at a disadvantage in having to play the Patriots. Virtually every team you’d expect them to be competing with for playoff positioning also has to play the Patriots. That includes the entire AFC West, plus the Texans and Steelers.
If you want to pick nits, fine: primetime on Ring Night is more difficult than others. And the Steelers might have a slight advantage because they get the Patriots at home, which will also be the Patriots’ third straight road game, but come on. Nobody’s feeling sorry for you here.
The Chiefs can win this game. In pure football terms, they have the personnel to create pressure up the middle against Brady and enough playmakers at every level to be dangerous. They have a freakish talent in Tyreek Hill, who changes the punt game and pairs with Travis Kelce in demanding extra attention in different parts of the field. Their quarterback isn’t going to be rattled, and is one of the league’s best in avoiding turnovers.
They’ll still need some luck, and you aren’t any likelier to believe they’ll win than I am.
But they have a chance at what would be the win of the NFL season.
Even if they miss, the consequences aren’t bad, and the larger context remains positive. Good way to start the year.