If we’re just going to start talking about the Chiefs and the Super Bowl I’m going to start thinking about what that week will be like for, you know, well, me.
First of all, it’s going to be cold. The Super Bowl will be played on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, where the high was 34 and the low 12 on Feb. 4 this year. According to Weather Underground, that was actually warmer than usual — the averages are 25 and 10.
But more than that, I’ve been thinking about what it would be like with the entire football world focusing on the Chiefs. I’ve covered enough Super Bowls to know that week is sort of a best-hits album of coverage from national and out-of-town media, with the locals trying to come up with something new and hoping nobody else beats them to it.
So what would those best hits be? The stories that would be done the week of a theoretical Chiefs Super Bowl? Some guesses:
▪ The redemption of Alex Smith, who exactly six years before was Colin Kaepernick’s backup at the Super Bowl after losing his job because of a concussion.
▪ The five-year turnaround. Five years after the worst season imaginable — 2-14, Pioli drama, banners over the stadium and a linebacker committing a murder-suicide — the Chiefs would be on the biggest stage. The NFL is built in such a way to help teams rebuild quickly and effectively, but even by those standards, this would be something. Bet on Pioli trying to passive-aggressively push the fact that he drafted Justin Houston and extended Derrick Johnson and blah blah blah.
▪ The redemption — national media is big on redemption stories leading up to the Super Bowl — of Andy Reid, who six years before was fired by the Eagles and was working through personal tragedy.
▪ The team that John Dorsey built. You best believe this is going to be talked about, even as Dorsey has a clause in his (still active) Chiefs contract that prevents him from talking. These stories would also mention Brett Veach, and let me be the first to say the last time a team in this town hired a 39-year-old general manager it ended up having a parade.
▪ Tyreek Hill, a star two years after being drafted, and two and a half years after pleading guilty to a monstrous act.
▪ Travis Kelce. He would be the star of the week, I promise.
▪ Eric Berry. Terez brought up an interesting longshot the other night, that Berry was given a six-month timeline five months before the Super Bowl. Even if he’s not able to play, there would be much written about his talents and character and the sadness of him not being able to play.
▪ Marcus Peters. People will have takes!
▪ Kareem Hunt. Maybe we could just re-run this story.
▪ Matt Nagy. He’d either have a job somewhere, or be preparing for the Super Bowl amidst heavy speculation about who was about to hire him as a head coach.
Anyway, I don’t know why I’m thinking about that stuff this week.
Actually, that’s not true. I know exactly why, and you do too.
Your boy Vahe wrote that Alex Smith is the NFL MVP through five games, and I’m not sure how anyone could argue against the point.
Playing quarterback is more art than science, the kind of thing you can never do perfectly, but basically one-third of the way through the season Smith has been, um, well, basically perfect.
He is completing 76.6 percent of his passes. That’s best in the league, obviously, but also higher than any full-time quarterback in the history of the league and higher than Tony Parker’s career free throw percentage.
His passer rating is 125.8. That’s best in the league, obviously, but also higher than any full-time quarterback in the history of the league.
He’s also averaging 8.8 yards per attempt, and I’m of course including that here because of the Captain Checkdown reputation. That’s best in the league, too.
He’s doing all of this with no turnovers. Zero. None. Hasn’t put it on the turf once, and the only pass I can immediately think of that could’ve been picked off came in the opener against the Patriots.
So, how over-reactionary is too over-reactionary? Well, expecting him to keep this pace for an entire season — even though he’s faced some good defenses — is a little much.
But there is nothing in the way he’s playing that indicates he’s punching above his weight right now. He hasn’t been lucky. He’s not throwing a bunch of screens or quick slants and watching his receivers break a hundred tackles. He’s making the right decisions and good throws nearly every chance he gets.
On Sunday night, he under threw Travis Kelce on what should’ve been a touchdown. Kelce beat his man — a cornerback, by the way — badly and the ball was just short. That kind of throw sticks out for its rarity now, and even then he couldn’t really step into the throw because a blitzing linebacker was coming for his neck.
Too over-reactionary: Alex Smith is better than Aaron Rodgers.
Not too over-reactionary: Alex Smith is having the year of his professional life, without a lot of good luck or unnecessary risks, and through five games is the favorite for NFL MVP.
What a time to be alive.
Because it’s the Chiefs.
Really, that’s it. Chiefs. Unless you are old enough to remember the Vietnam War every, single good thing you’ve ever seen the Chiefs do has been the lead-up to disappointment.
All of it.
You’ve had your hopes lifted by the best defense in the league, then stomped on by a certain kicker, or Elvis Grbac. You’ve had your hopes lifted by the best offense in the league, then stomped on because your team could not force even one punt in a home playoff game.
You’ve seen your team lose playoff games while allowing just 10 points, and while scoring 44. You’ve seen your team start 9-0, then finish 2-6. The only playoff game you’ve seen your team win in 20 years was against Brian Hoyer.
So any skepticism is not the fans’ problem. It’s the Chiefs’ problem.
I used to say Royals fans came to their skepticism honestly, and that was wiped out by 2014 and 2015.
But the same can be said of Chiefs fans. They just haven’t had their Wild Card Game.
At least not yet.
It’s hard for me to compare anything in 2017 to 1997 — so long ago that most people were just beginning to use email, by the way — but this is the best Chiefs team in at least that long.
Maybe it just means a different flavor of disappointment is brewing.
But it could mean a different outcome, too.
The two most likely fatal flaws are, actually, the two most likely fatal flaws before the season: injuries, and run defense.
The Chiefs are well equipped to absorb the normal NFL rate of injuries, and even a little more. They have a lot of ways to win, which is the biggest difference between this team and past Chiefs teams. But they can’t keep going like this forever, and Travis Kelce’s concussion — no offense to Eric Berry’s Achilles — is the first injury to a player who I’d call irreplaceable*.
* There are five or six such players: Kelce, Tyreek Hill, Kareem Hunt, Alex Smith, Justin Houston, and maybe Marcus Peters.
The run defense remains a problem. Le’Veon Bell is fully capable of getting 170 more yards on Sunday. The Texans ran for 6.3 yards per carry, and if I was a Texans fan I’d be wondering why D’Onta Foreman didn’t get more action even after he fumbled.
The injury thing is real. But you could say that about any team, in any season.
The run defense is also real, but on the scale of normal NFL team problems, this one is relatively benign.
Of course, there’s always the possibility something more Chiefsy happens, too.
We’re not there yet, but we’re close.
If one of those six named above — Kelce, Hill, Hunt, Smith, Houston, or Peters — can’t go in the playoffs, it’s a major problem.
But so far, assuming Kelce returns shortly, the Chiefs have avoided injuries to the guys they can least afford to replace. Berry is close, because he might be the best in the league at his position, but the nature of his position means he cannot be as impactful as some of the others.
I can’t stress this enough: the best thing about this team is it can absorb injuries. The Chiefs don’t just have one way to win. Of all the reasons the Chiefs have disappointed you in the past, the most common trait is that they’ve been unable to get through a problem. They haven’t had the talent, or football diversity, to find an alternative.
They have been the franchise equivalent of the quarterback who freaks out when his first read isn’t open.
The other good part of these injuries is that Berry and Conley are the only ones out for the year*. Those are setbacks, obviously, and it’s now on DeMarcus Robinson and Albert Wilson to take on more opportunity.
* Cairo Santos, too, but kickers are different. Harrison Butker looks like an upgrade, anyway.
If you can tell me that those six guys will be healthy for the playoffs, and that the offensive line will be whole, I’m probably going to take the Chiefs’ chances of making the Super Bowl.
Whatever happens between now and then is merely prologue.
Speaking of the Super Bowl...
Mentioned this on A-Team After Dark, but this is both a natural question and a bit like wondering in April whether the Royals will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline.
Whatever answer exists now will change a dozen ways by the time the actual answer is needed.
The factors are all over the place, too, some of them having very little to do with Alex himself. How confident will the Chiefs be in Patrick Mahomes’ development by March? How willing will Smith be to redo his contract? What are the projections of other players who would need to be paid after a Super Bowl run? If you kept Smith, who would you have to lose? What free agents would it prevent you from signing?
Who else will redo a contract?
If I can take your question literally, “Alex keeps going” means he would be the league MVP. If he’s the league MVP and the Chiefs make the Super Bowl, it’s hard to imagine him not being back.
At that point, having Mahomes on the roster is one of them good problems.
But, again. So much can and without a shred of doubt will change between now and then.
One more Royals analogy: this is a bit like the weekly “which free agents can the Royals re-sign?” talk. I’m old enough to remember Keith Law saying Eric Hosmer would get a one-year deal.
I like that we’re doing this a week after questions about whether Hunt needed to be used more.
The first priority is always to win the game.
But after that, I do think it’s in the Chiefs’ interests to use Hunt as little as possible until the playoffs.
He has a history of being banged up, and his running style is fierce and brutal. I expect him to miss at least a game or two, at some point.
Charcandrick West was as good in Houston as he’s been in a long time. Each of the touchdowns was particularly impressive. On the first, he blocked a pass rusher, and then leaked out to the left side of the field. That play was more about Smith than anything else, but West was well covered, so it wasn’t an easy catch and merely being there was the mark of a smart player.
On the second touchdown, I don’t remember him making a move like that in a while. He played through an injury last year, and has lost weight in an effort to be more slippery, so if this is a sign of his new normal then the Chiefs will be OK if Hunt has to miss a game or two.
Also, the blitz pickup, where he flipped the defender, was spectacular. He’s still the Chiefs’ best back in those situations, a combination of his brain, feel, and strength.
I hope not, and I say that with all respect to Reid, who I think is very good at his job.
But I think you want me to take this question literally, and if that’s what we’re doing, we’re talking about the franchise’s highest honor given to a coach after just four full seasons a 1-3 playoff record?
That shouldn’t be enough.
Now, if he finishes this off, the Chiefs go 12-4 or 13-3 and make the AFC Championship game or better, then we’re talking.
At that point, he would have been the coach who helped drag the franchise from its worst season in history, made four postseasons in five years, and went further than any team since Joe Montana (at least).
I was actually thinking about this the other night when Reid was talking after the game. When he came to Kansas City, he looked so strange in red. Do you remember that? He’d been such a fixture in Philadelphia for so long — 14 years — that it was a little jarring to see him anywhere else.
Now, he would look strange in anything other than Chiefs gear.
He’s a fixture here now, the team’s best coach since at least Marty Schottenheimer, and depending on how this season ends up, Hank Stram.
The NFL has always been shamefully slow on this stuff. They denied the research and facts for so long, and have been playing a losing game of catch-up ever since. Even now, they fund what amounts to bully funding for research and have tried to deny a connection between football and brain injuries.
Like anything else, it’s money. Players are commodities, and would not be in the NFL without sacrifices and playing through pain. They are literally trained to play through it, no matter what. There is no better way to gain respect from coaches and teammates than to play through pain. There is no better way to lose that respect than to be considered soft.
That’s why I was disappointed in Alex Smith — as smart and thoughtful a man as I’ve met in the NFL — go to the some-of-this-is-on-players line. No, it’s not. It can’t be. Besides all the incentives listed above, you’re asking players who by definition are going through problems with their brains and thoughts to self-diagnose and go against the culture they’ve lived to tell a doctor and coach they can’t play?
Come the hell on.
I mentioned this in the column, but I want to be as clear as possible: this is not on the doctors, either. Or the coaches. The league has set up this protocol. The doctors are merely following it, and the coaches are listening to the doctors. That’s what should happen.
The shame of this is on the NFL. They know their protocol is flimsy at best. It’s literally written into their protocol that initial sideline tests are much less than perfect. We all know they can’t catch everything, but if this keeps happening — concussed players clearing the sideline test, and going back on the field — then how about putting a timer on this?
If you clear the first sideline test, wait 15 minutes — or 20, or 30, whatever — and take another. Clear that one, and you’re free to play again.
Again: the NFL can keep putting concussed players back into games, or they can be serious about player safety. They cannot do both.
Now, to answer your specific question about the hit, I don’t know. They could do something like college football’s targeting rule, where you’re ejected after one strike.
Nobody can be sure how effective that would be. Maybe it’s worth looking into, but I’m also a little hesitant about major penalties on split-second decisions made without malice. Football games are chaotic, and sometimes these hits are simply unavoidable.
Would you believe it’s hard to put a number on it?
The biggest thing Hosmer has going for him in free agency is that he’s good at baseball. He’s coming off the best year of his life offensively, and is a very good defensive player. He improves your lineup, your infield defense, and your pitching. That’s all swell.
The second biggest thing Hosmer has going for him is his age. He debuted at 21 — I was interning at the Cincinnati Enquirer at 21 — and only turns 28 this month. That means whoever signs him is buying what should be the bulk of his peak years. The most common reason for free agent contracts to go bad is underestimating or otherwise misjudging how badly a player will age.
Well, with Hosmer, you’re getting two full seasons before his 30th birthday. He’s also in terrific shape, moves well, takes good care of himself and has a skill set that at least in theory should age well.
The third biggest thing he has going for him is all that other stuff. Scott Boras has a metric he attempts to use to measure community involvement, clubhouse leadership, and the rest. I don’t know how effective that is in negotiations, but at least with Hosmer it’s all true.
But I don’t know how you can set a fixed number on that value. I think what happens in real terms is that maybe an extra team is interested, or maybe the agent is able to get one more counter offer for a player like Hosmer as opposed to, say, Jose Guillen.
They’re not paying specifically for that leadership, but in practice that could probably be worth seven or even eight figures on a long-term deal depending on how the bidding goes.
The lesson, as always: kids, don’t be jerks, because someone may give you millions of dollars for it.
I’ve told this story before, and but a while back I wrote that someone had “a self-defecating” sense of humor.
Seriously. I wrote that.
It never published, thanks to a heroic copy editor.
Copy editors are the best people in the world, other than my wife, kids, and Bo Jackson.
Well, yeah. I wouldn’t tell K-State fans not to be worried about anything right now. A season that should’ve been better appears headed for 7-5 or 6-6, and the nature of their two losses is particularly concerning.
Vanderbilt may stink, and an offense that was supposed to be among the Big 12’s best managed just seven points. Texas is in transition, if we want to be kind, with a first-year coach and freshman quarterback. K-State had chance after chance to win that game, and the nature of K-State’s program is that it always wins games like that.
If we’re talking specifically about the succession plan, I don’t know that these struggles should make you any more worried than before. I understand the point, that if the coaching is short right now then maybe it makes more sense to change the coaching as much as possible whenever Bill Snyder retires (again).
But — and I hope this isn’t avoiding the question — we don’t even know if Snyder’s succession plan will be implemented. My sense is that if Gene Taylor was fully on board with that, then Sean would’ve been named head-coach-in-waiting already. Other schools have done that to signal stability.
So I’d be worried about the micro direction of the program, but not necessarily any more worried about Sean Snyder than I was two months ago.
Perhaps the most helpless part of all this is that I think they’re doing everything they can. Honest. They identified the best man for the job they could find, and now they’re trying to support him the best they can. They’ve upgraded facilities, and have (awkwardly) announced ambitious plans to do more of it.
I don’t know what more a program can do.
I’ve always thought this about David Beaty: he could be a perfectly fine coach capable of winning a lot of places and still be a big ol’ failure at KU.
There’s just so much working against him. The one thing he had on his side — patience, and understanding about just how big of a turdburger he took over — is starting to dissolve.
His coaching record (so far at least) does not warrant a fourth year on the job, but I can’t make a case I believe in to fire him. They (in my opinion) overreacted in firing Mark Mangino. They fired Turner Gill after two years, and Charlie Weis after two and a half. At some point, you need to stick with a guy.
Besides — and you allude to this in your question — Beaty was a position coach at something less than a national power when KU made him a head coach. He’d been a full-time coordinator for all of one season, when his team finished 51st in points.
If you fire that guy after three years, who exactly are you expecting to hire? Especially when you would owe him the balance of an extension he just signed before this season?
The logistics of firing him are further complicated by the fact that it would have to be the chancellor making the decision, because athletics director Sheahon Zenger has to know he’s not going to be able to hire another football coach.
So, I don’t know. I don’t have a good answer for you. I think you have to let Beaty try to work through this, as painful as that might be.
The one we haven’t talked about.
K-State will still likely make a bowl, at least. KU still has Bill Self and basketball, at least, and I know there’s a Michael Porter joke to be made here about Mizzou being a basketball school now but football is supposed to be better than this.
Those games just feel hopeless now, with a proud alum flailing in his dream job. It’s sad. We’re not even a year and a half in and already there is curiosity about firing the guy and seeing if Gary Pinkel — who retired to concentrate on beating cancer — might try to pull a Bill Snyder.
The program appears to be a mess, not just with the 1-4 start but the instability with coaches. If we’re measuring progress by coming close to beating Kentucky, well, then we’re not measuring much progress.
Mizzou absolutely got hosed at the end of that game. The officials should’ve seen the ball knocked out of J’Mon Moore’s hands, and if they didn’t, they didn’t have to treat the final 20 seconds of a one-score football game with all the urgency of an afternoon nap.
But, honestly, do you think Mizzou would’ve won the game with those extra seconds? Because I don’t.
That program should be further along by now.
Last week, the Texans dropped 57 on the Titans and people were wondering whether Deshaun Watson was the evolutionary John Elway. But the logic that made that a good time to face the Texans is the same logic that makes this a bad time to face the Steelers.
Remember last year, when the Eagles beat the Steelers 34-3, some wondered whether they were done, and they emasculated the Chiefs 43-14 the next week?
Sometimes the best time to face a team is immediately after it plays its best possible game, and sometimes the worst time to face a team — especially a proud, talented team like the Steelers — is immediately after it plays its worst possible game.
Now, it is a distinct possibility that the Steelers may actually no longer be the Steelers. I happen to believe that Ben Roethlisberger is sandbagging when he says “maybe I don’t have it anymore,” but Father Time is undefeated and crazier things have happened than a quarterback losing his edge the season after he pondered retirement.
Now, all that said, this was supposed to be the most brutal part of the Chiefs’ schedule. I believe four of the five teams they’ve played so far will be in the postseason, and just four days after the Steelers game they have to play at Oakland.
I still believe this is the hardest part of the schedule, and I would bet even money that the Chiefs lose one of their next two games.
But you’re right. It’s not as daunting as it once appeared. Carr or not, the Raiders have some other issues, primarily on defense but some on offense, too. Amari Cooper drops far too many passes. Carr was sacked 16 times all of last year, and he was sacked eight times in four games before being injured.
If they make it through the next two, I still believe they’ll lose some game you wouldn’t expect. The Bills at home, something like that.
Because nothing is certain in sports, and the Chiefs are legitimately good — the best team in the league right now — but I’m not sure crazier things have happened than them going 19-0.
I’ve always wondered the same thing. I don’t know. Some of it is just logistical. Blue Ridge Cutoff is a bear to cross on foot, so any development there would probably need a skywalk or something.
That shouldn’t be a big deal, of course, but the culture of the Truman Sports Complex parking lot is so strong.
Tailgating is what people do here. We stuff coolers, bring grills, eat chips, make new friends.
It’s part of why I hope Arrowhead Stadium never leaves the intersection of 70 and 435, even while I hope the Royals move downtown once their current lease is up.
You’re right, of course, that the teams are probably leaving some money on the table here. There’s so much space in that parking lot, it’s a little surprising they haven’t taken a section of, say, the M lot and built a big sports bar to serve overpriced domestic draft beer.
Each stadium, actually, could have an outside bar connected to it. Open the bar when the gates open, and whoever owns that bar will not have to worry about paying their kids’ way through college. Stadiums all over the country have attached restaurants and bars that are open year-round.
Maybe that’s a little different in Kansas City, because that location is all about convenience, not atmosphere, but I’m with you. I don’t know why there isn’t more than a Taco Bell and some gas stations there.
This week, I’m particularly thankful for how much better traveling is made with technology. I am fully aware that I’m about to sound like your great-great-grandfather here, and I’m also fully aware that all the technology I use isn’t even all that new, and that you’re probably reading this, thinking, “Oh, that’s cute, he doesn’t even know about the googledy-bock that teleports him and gives massages.”
But I think about it every time I travel: this miracle computer phone thing lets me ask for a car to pick me up and take me wherever I want, often including some amazing restaurant that I’d never even heard of three minutes ago, while playing whatever music or podcast I want in the car. I get to my hotel room and have a video conference with my kids, and then use the same device to either read a book or watch great on-demand TV shows. You guys, sometimes, I feel like we really are the Jetsons.