What I don’t know is how well the Chiefs can execute it.
But what I do know is the signs are everywhere that they have a path to the Super Bowl.
Assuming they are right about Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs have the most valuable thing in the NFL, which is a good quarterback on a rookie contract. Two of this year’s four semifinalists had that setup, and a third, the Vikings, landed on a quarterback who made less than $2 million in 2017.
We’re all guilty of this to some degree, but the NFL is just not as simple as Hire Great Quarterback, Win Games.
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There are other ways to do it, and if Blake Bortles can be the quarterback of a team leading the Patriots in Foxborough in the fourth quarter, then a team with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Justin Houston, Marcus Peters, Eric Berry and others should have high expectations of itself.
This is the second season since 2014 that the Chiefs have beaten both Super Bowl teams, and the fourth in a row they’ve beaten at least one. Some of that is circumstance — most teams don’t even play both Super Bowl teams — but it’s also a sign of organizational competency.
This is not a case that the Chiefs will do it. There are more questions than answers right now, starting with whether Andy Reid can fight off his comfortable tendencies to make difficult decisions, continue to evolve, and not repeat the mistakes and missed opportunities that have kept him from advancing past the division round here and from winning a Super Bowl in his 19 years as a head coach.
That means resisting the urge to play general manager, like he did in Philadelphia. The biggest changes to the roster need to be on the defensive side, and Reid needs to fully trust general manager Brett Veach to find the best players and values.
It means being open to new coaching structures, specifically someone to help ensure play calling is as unpredictable and fresh as possible. It means, in my opinion, ending a career long and in many ways admirable loyalty to assistants and fire defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
It means an honest self-assessment from top to bottom, to ensure that whatever remains of Travis Kelce’s peak and Justin Houston’s effectiveness is not wasted the same way Tamba Hali’s and Priest Holmes’ and Tony Gonzalez’s and so many others have been.
That’s a difficult thing, because it’s going to mean Reid and people he cares about being uncomfortable. It’s annoying that Reid brushes off questions about play calling by saying he called the ones that didn’t work and Matt Nagy called the ones that did* but it’s an actual problem for the franchise if he doesn’t do a complete autopsy of everything he’s done here.
* Nagy, for what it’s worth, said he called all the plays in the second half against the Titans.
Because there is an opportunity. The Chiefs have a good team, a cheap quarterback, and an AFC that appears more open going forward than it’s been in the past.
We can talk a lot about all the awful looks for the Chiefs in this postseason — and we will! — but there are some positive signs, too.
That can be a good thing. But the Chiefs need to execute the opportunities in a way they haven’t in nearly 50 years.
This week’s eating recommendation is the wings at El Pollo Rey, and the reading recommendation is S.L. Price on why Cuonzo Martin took the Mizzou job.
That’s not nice.
Besides, how can I answer that question without knowing if Alex is traded to the Colts or Titans or Broncos or maybe we should just move on.
Or! Or ...
... that’s not nice, either.
This entire postseason is essentially a horror show for Chiefs fans. Another historic playoff collapse, at home, to a team that promptly gets blow’d out the next round and — wait for it — fires its coach.
That is some next level indignity. You lose a(nother) home playoff game to a team that finished bottom half of the league in both points and points surrendered, which means Mike Mularkey has now won more playoff games at Arrowhead than any Chiefs coach since Marty Schottenheimer, and he’s fired for a lack of progress.
But there’s more!
The head coach of a team that beat the Chiefs with 12 points has been fired. The offensive coordinator of a team that dropped 474 yards and 38 points on the Chiefs with Josh McCown at quarterback has been fired.
The backup quarterback from last year has teamed with the offensive coordinator from two years ago to take another team to the Super Bowl despite a rash of injuries — including the star left tackle and star quarterback — that make Eric Berry in week 1 look downright adorable.
That team’s Super Bowl opponent lost its — ahem — Pro Bowl tight end before halftime and still found a way to win.
Blake Bortles and Nick Foles have now won more playoff games in the last month than the Chiefs have in the last two decades.
Also, all those coaches being fired and Bob Sutton still has his job, presumably back after the Chiefs finished 28th in defense and 32nd in Football Outsiders’ DVOA with a full healthy season from Justin Houston, Marcus Peters, Chris Jones, and pretty much everyone else not named Eric Berry or Dee Ford.
I don’t know where it ranks, and I’m not sure it matters at this point.
But, ah, screw it. Let’s talk more about how the Chiefs stink ...
The Chiefs are 370-367-7 in the regular season since the merger, which might be your record if you were really bored and called heads or tails on 744 coin flips (assuming you dropped the coin seven times).
That’s seventh among AFC teams in total wins, and eighth in win percentage (Ravens). Again, decidedly average.
But, that is not why we gather here today.
The Chiefs are 4-16 in playoff games since the merger and you’re not going to like hearing this but the Browns also have four playoff wins since the merger. The Chiefs are ahead of only the Texans (who’ve been A Thing since 2011) and the Lions (who are the Lions).
You might notice that is not good.
This starts to be guilt by association, too. You’ve probably heard that Andy Reid is now tied with Marty Schottenheimer for the most playoff losses in NFL history with 13, and you probably know the two men ahead of them won two Super Bowls each.
Four of Reid’s playoff losses are with the Chiefs, and seven of Schottenheimer’s happened here.
Depending on how deep you get here, you either end up depressed or amused by the dark humor, because Andy Reid has had 19 years as a head coach and of the 16 others who’ve done it that long 12 won a Super Bowl and/or NFL championship before the merger.
The other four are Schottenheimer, Jeff Fisher, Dan Reeves, and Chuck Knox.
I don’t think so, except and unless it takes the Vikings and Jaguars out of the market for a quarterback.
There are still a lot of teams in need of a quarterback, and even if you agree with me that Kirk Cousins (should he indeed hit the market) is more valuable he can only play for one team.
The Broncos*, Cardinals, Bills, Giants, Jaguars, Jets, and Browns** could all be looking for quarterbacks. That’s enough to create a market for a guy who just threw for more than 4,000 yards with 26 touchdowns and five interceptions.
* Yes, absolutely I would trade him there if it was the best offer.
** I think John Dorsey will want to draft his own guy, but still, they’re on the list.
The problem with Smith’s value is that the team trading for him will need to pay him $20 million in 2018 and/or negotiate a longer contract. If we can get past the nonsense about whether Smith is a competent quarterback, that’s simply a lot — in addition to a draft pick — for a quarterback who will turn 34 in May and is just one season removed from playing a full season with just 15 touchdowns.
The best corner available.
The consensus would probably be Trumaine Johnson, but there are other interesting possibilities like Malcolm Butler and Bashaud Breeland. I’d sign up for Aqib Talib, too.
Corners are never cheap, and the same is true of edge rushers, which is inconvenient because those are the Chiefs’ two biggest needs in my opinion.
They can roll the dice a little that Dee Ford will be healthy and productive for a contract year, but they need to add some talent.
No, and no.
This hits on something we’ve talked about here a few times before, and I find it one of the hardest things to explain, which means I’m probably going to be trying to explain it for years and years.
This job changes how you watch sports. Doesn’t change it for the better, and doesn’t change it for the worse. It just ... changes.
I love sports as much now as any point in my adult life and, now that I’m typing those words, probably more. I understand more. I have more ways to consume it, and that’s at least as much because of technology as my job. NFL’s Gamepass has elevated my appreciation for and understanding of football as much as anything.
But this job does take the pure fan out of you. Sports can still be what I do with my free time — Premier League on weekend mornings, random basketball games after the kids are down at night — but it’s also literally my job. It’s how I eat, and now how I feed my kids.
So, yes, it changes. I find myself thinking more about all that happens behind the curtain, and all that the players and support staff do to make it all happen, and looking at strategy more, or simple storylines, or wondering how a coach or player’s personality is showing through a game and at some point there’s not much room for Go Particular Team.
You asked specifically about KU, but I was that weird kid who knew exactly what he wanted to do at like 13, so by the time I was a freshman I’d already been going to games with a press credential for a few years.
Sometimes, I think about it like this. Bill Self went to Oklahoma State, but he doesn’t root for the Cowboys. He roots for himself, whether that’s at Oral Roberts or Tulsa or Illinois or now Kansas.
It’s not the cleanest analogy, but the general parameter is the same: I went to Kansas, but I don’t root for the Jayhawks. I root for myself, whether that’s a particular storyline, or time before deadline, or being able to get some access to make a column stand out.
You’re right to bring up the difference between pro teams and college. I’ve been critical of the Chiefs and Royals plenty over the years, but the difference is fans of pro teams tend to take those criticisms more coldly, if that makes sense. When the criticism or compliment is about a college program, it’s deeply personal to people in a way that’s just hard for a professional team to duplicate.
It often feels like many college fans are looking for bias in a way that wouldn’t occur to that same fan if they were reading about their favorite pro team.
Sometimes, it feels like I’m on the wrong side of both, because fans of other schools assume anything I write about KU is typed with a big yellow beak and KU fans are often angry at me for being too negative about the school I went to.
Here are a couple tweets that might make the point:
... and (click through if you want the entire context, but I was responding to someone who said I was a KU fan):
Do I root for KU? Sure. I like Bill Self, and understand that the better KU does the more people are interested. That’s good for me. Do I root for K-State and Mizzou in the same ways? For sure. I like Bruce Weber, even if he frustrates me at times, and think Bill Snyder’s career at K-State is one of the defining stories of local sports in my lifetime.
Cuonzo Martin is one of my favorite coaches, going back to Missouri State, and any sort of high level success for the basketball or football teams there would be a little like the college version of the 2014 Royals and what sports columnist wouldn’t root for a story like that?
I don’t know if any of this makes sense. I don’t think any of my friends who have real jobs understand it, and most of my college friends make fun of me for it. One says I’m a humorless robot, another calls me Truman. They’re joking, I think.
First, if you haven’t read Maria Torres’ story from the Dominican a year after Ventura’s death, please stop wasting your time and read this. It really is terrific work.
There is no way for anyone to make anything other than a guess, but I believe Ventura would’ve had the best season of his young career in 2017. Nothing would’ve surprised me with him, good or bad, but I’ve heard too many stories about a different focus and different work ethic after the 2016 season to believe anything else.
He would’ve turned 26 last June, just about the age you’d expect to see a young pitcher’s best.
Now, even if that was true, I don’t believe it would’ve been enough to put the Royals into the playoffs. Maybe they’re 83-79 instead of 80-82, but it would not have changed the bigger truths: Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain all playing well and the team still not being good enough for the postseason.
That means you’re still probably looking at a rebuild, because who can justify $250 million or so to keep an aging core of a non-playoff team together?
In that context, the Royals would have a decision to make on Ventura the same way they have a decision to make on Danny Duffy and Sal Perez. The same way they had a decision to make on Scott Alexander.
Ventura was on a club friendly deal that would’ve had four more years on it, and if he was coming off the sort of season I imagine — 200 innings, 180 or so strikeouts, an ERA under 4.00 — then he would’ve been a heck of a trade chip.
I wrote about this when he died, but the Royals never seriously considered trading Ventura. Dayton Moore may have heard more requests on Ventura than anyone else, because he was so talented, and presented so many instances where the Royals could’ve tired of him.
My guess is they would’ve been willing to sell high on him now, though, because the team is more prepared to deal for prospects. Moore could’ve been motivated by knowing Ventura would bring back a good haul, and still having Danny Duffy around as a high-ceiling starter who — let’s be honest — would be a better example for younger pitchers anyway.
If that sounds cold, maybe it is. But this is a cold business, and the next sentence is going to be even colder:
Whatever openness the Royals have to trading Duffy right now would almost certainly be lessened if they still had Ventura as a trade candidate.
Of course, like you said in the question, we’re all just guessing and speculating here.
Maybe Ventura’s baseball and spiritual absence was, actually, the difference between winning five more games and getting into a Wild Card spot and making another run that would change everything about the plan going forward.
I don’t think that’s how it would’ve gone, but I sure wish we could know.
Well, answering this question now is a little dangerous, because we all tend to judge college basketball teams almost completely on how they perform in the NCAA Tournament.
I believe it’s likelier that this group loses in the first weekend than makes the Final Four, but that’s just a guess, and lesser teams have obviously played deep into March.
All that said, yeah, I would think bottom five.
Straight off the top, we can probably all agree that 2008 champions, the 2012 national runners-up, and the six other teams that won more than 30 games are better than this one.
That’s eight, leaving just seven more.
The 2014 team had the Nos. 1 and 3 picks in the draft, plus Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden. We remember Wiggins disappearing in the loss to Stanford, and Bill Self put too much trust in Naadir Tharpe, but if Joel Embiid was healthy that was a really dangerous team.
The 2009 team had Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich and went 14-2 in the Big 12 when Oklahoma (Blake Griffin) and Missouri (DeMarre Carroll as a senior, the year they lost to UConn in the Elite Eight) were each at least as good.
Now we’re down to the bottom five already.
The 2004 team was Self’s first, with the pre-Moon Bar version of J.R. Giddens around the Simien-Langford-Miles core, and lost the Elite Eight in overtime.
Most likely, this team will be remembered on the level of the teams we haven’t mentioned yet.
Of course, context is important. Because this might end up as the 13th best team Self has coached in 15 years at KU and still win the nation’s No. 1 RPI conference by a game or two.
That’s not the term I’d use, but I do agree with what I think is the sentiment.
Kansas has a lot of advantages. The best coach. The best homecourt advantage*. Most years the best talent. But I think there’s more to it.
* Yes, that includes a favorable call here and there.
There have been years — this might be one, but also 2006 and 2009, when they had to replace pretty much everyone from the year before — when I believe the same group at a different program would’ve finished second or third or lower.
This may sound a little too intangible for some of you, but I believe there’s an effect when expectations are that you’re better than you actually might be. There are seasons when the individual talent is expected to be better than it actually is, mostly because of the uniform, if that makes sense.
I believe there have been years that KU teams have risen a bit in conference play because they believe that’s what they’re supposed to do, and there are probably games they’ve won because the other side believed they were supposed to lose, too.
You see this a lot with certain high school programs. When they win year after year it becomes culture, with athletes either learning the subtle ways to turn close games or simply playing a level above their heads because that’s what’s been demanded.
This can obviously backfire, and maybe someday it will, but one of Self’s greatest strengths at Kansas is that he’s used that pressure to pull his teams forward instead of allow it to push them down.
The NCAA Tournament is a completely different thing, far more susceptible to random chance and the negative effects of pressure.
Self has talked openly about feeling more pressure in the Elite Eight than other rounds, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that at Kansas he is 2-5 in the Elite Eight and 31-8 in all other rounds*.
* If my math is right.
This is all armchair psychology, but particularly in recent years, it’s easy to see a different level of intensity on Self in the Elite Eight games compared to the others. KU is usually so good at navigating the usual obstacles in a game, but it’s not too much of a reach to believe that extra pressure might make a difference.
Let’s keep the Porters in perspective. They are unicorns. Michael was the No. 1 recruit who grew up in Columbia with a dad who coached at the school. That’s a hell of a thing, but probably not something you want to count on duplicating.
I also want to answer a different question. I don’t know that it’s the “Mizzou program” rising as much as it is Cuonzo Martin’s presence. College basketball programs are as good or bad as their coaches. That’s it.
For the last three years, Mizzou had a very nice and hard working Division II coach. Now, it has a very badass Division I coach. Martin isn’t going to sign the best player in the country every year, but he signed two top 10 recruits in three seasons at Cal.
At the moment, Mizzou has the No. 48 recruiting class for next year — four-star guard Torrence Watson from St. Louis along with two three-star commitments. They have offers out to others, perhaps most notably five-star Jeremiah Robinson-Earl from Miege. That seems unlikely, but Mizzou has spent a lot of time there, and you never know.
Anyway, the point is that the Porters signing has unquestionably been a huge plus for Mizzou. But the effect of that going forward is only as strong and valuable as Martin makes it.
I happen to believe he’ll make it quite strong and valuable, and in a decade we’ll all see relative consistent success and unquestioned competency.
I believe in him, I really do. Some of you are going to think I’m crazy, but if he’s at Mizzou long enough I think he’ll coach in a Final Four.
I would like to know the answer to that, too.
If he’s eligible, my starting five:
▪ Devonte Graham. He would probably be on everyone’s list. Needs to continue making a conscious effort to attack the basket.
▪ Barry Brown. He should be on everyone’s list. Terrific defender, too.
▪ Michael Porter, Jr. I mean, come on.
▪ Dean Wade. He’s making that Leap. Best offensive player in the area, at least, best offensive player in the area who’s healthy.
▪ Udoka Azubuike. There just aren’t a lot of guys like him in college.
If you won’t let me have Porter, well, I’m still going to take Porter — Jontay. It’s a close call for me between Porter and Svi Mykhailiuk, and if you take Svi I won’t argue the point with much passion. I just want a little more size. Jontay is a much better rebounder and defender than I expected, and having him and Wade together would be a terrific pairing of versatility.
You might think this is crazy, and maybe it is, but I think they’d consider putting him in center field.
Range, arm and agility would not be issues. Just a matter of whether they think he could pick up the position’s intricacies, and what they think it would do — good or bad — for his future with the club.
They’ll need someone to play center, you know, and Alex Gordon looked WAAAY better there than I expected but I’m not sure that’s a long term answer. The other thing to remember is that one of Whit Merrifield’s greatest strengths is his positional versatility.
That gives the Royals a lot of possible solutions. None would be perfect, and would depend on answers the Royals don’t yet have* so the diversity of choices is important.
* For instance: is Eric Hosmer back? Is Danny Duffy traded and, if so, what did they get in return?
It is strange, right? FanFest is this weekend and the Royals don’t really know what their team will look like.
I’m going to stand up for January, dammit.
January gets a bum rap. I get it. Feels like a letdown after the holidays, and the weather is still cold. Restaurant week is in the middle of January because nobody wants to do anything.
January doesn’t get the shine of December, with all of its holidays and parties and songs and all of that, but the perks are similar, just without the hassle and showmanship of December.
You get some nights cold enough to make a fire, and some days — like Sunday — nice enough to go to the park. Make a bowl of chili. Stay in sweats and a hoodie all day Saturday.
College basketball starts to get serious in January. The NFL playoffs happen in January — all of them, all 11 games except the Super Bowl. Spring training doesn’t start for another month, and the real games another six weeks after that, but baseball teams are still being built. College football crowns its champion in January.
I like what January offers. The month is what you make it. No more, no less. Your weekends are free from holiday stuff you may or may not want to do. Your time is yours again. Read a book. Go to the gym. Make those resolutions stand up. January lets you breathe, lets you be you.
I love you, January. Don’t let the haters get you down.
I just wish January included me knowing I could just put my Christmas tree on the curb, instead of keeping it in a bag by the garage until I knew what to do with it.
This week I’m particularly thankful for online banking and bill paying. Seriously, do you know how much time my parents spent on this stuff? Every trip to the grocery store took a little longer, because they instead on balancing their checkbooks in real time, and there were entire nights — multiple — spent with stacks of envelopes and calculators and pencils and stress. We have it easy. Ten minutes, just log in, see your balance, freak out, swear it’s wrong, go through all the transactions, shake your head in shame, and figure out a way to get through.