Shadowed Success: Chiefs go unnoticed in early season due to Royals excitement


Cassie Nichols, Staff Writer

With the Royals’ World Series run capturing the attention of Kansas City sports fans, the Chiefs quietly completed the first half of their season under the radar with a surprising 6-2 record.

Has the stage been set for an NFL playoff run, capturing the heart of our sports-crazed city?

Coming into this fall, most experts agreed if the Chiefs played a strong season, the team could return to the playoffs. Of course, they had already proved this the prior year, boasting a roster full of all-star caliber talent and accomplishing a 9-0 run to begin the season.

However, the Chiefs’ success may have been too much too soon last year. They finished the year with a 2-6 stretch, including a 45-44 playoff meltdown loss at Indianapolis.

While Chiefs fans were confident their team belonged in the playoffs, a closer look at the late-season collapse revealed some hurdles to a repeat performance this year.

The strength of the Chiefs lies in the defensive front seven, with outside linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali and nose tackle Dontari Poe all making the Pro Bowl team last season.

In addition, the Chiefs’ first-round draft pick defensive end Dee Ford has shown potential to play alongside Houston and Hali. The secondary is mostly new and untested.

Strong safety Eric Berry returned to the lineup only to discover a tumor in his chest shortly thereafter.

It was that back-end unit that was torched by passing offenses in the late season free-fall, but so far in 2014, the patchwork secondary, aided by a strong pass rush, has held opponents in check.

On offense, quarterback Alex Smith proved he can lead the team, but aside from Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, he lacks the weapons and the protection of his fellow playoff quarterbacks.

While Dwayne Bowe proved he could be a top receiver in the Indianapolis playoff game, he has countered in 2014 with zero touchdowns as of Dec. 6.

The team will need more than Bowe’s typical uninspired play in order to make the post-season.

Conversely, the strength of the receiving corps may be the tight ends, headed by the returning Travis Kelce.

The offensive coaches adjusted the play calls to this unexpected trio and altered the style of play to take advantage of the group. Success

Another question mark heading into the season was the offensive line, which has had its ups and downs so far.

Key losses of offensive linemen Brandon Albert, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah could have literally left a gaping hole up front, but the unit has given Charles and running back Knile Davis some room to run and the quarterback enough time to find his receivers.

Make no mistake, keeping Smith healthy is their mission for the remaining three games.

Certainly coach Andy Reid and his staff know how to build a playoff-worthy roster. In the past 15 years, he has guided 10 teams to post-season play.

Reviewing last year’s performance, the Chiefs were much stronger than the league’s weakest teams but struggled against the league’s elite, as evidenced by the 10-0 record against clubs who missed the postseason offset by a record of 1-6 against playoff teams.

This year’s results are more of a mix, with highlight wins at Miami and San Diego, as well as a home rout of New England.

However, the team has also suffered head-scratching losses against the Tennessee Titans, the struggling San Francisco 49ers and the then winless Oakland Raiders.

If the Chiefs want a replay of last season’s run, they need to step up the remaining opponents and win the rest of the games.

If they continue to play great defense and keep the ball for long drives on offense, the playoffs may be in reach.

The key stretch to winning the wildcard lies in the games of Dec. 14 (home vs. Raiders), Dec. 21 (away vs. Steelers) and Dec. 28 (home vs. Chargers).

If results go their way, Kansas City could look a lot like it did this past October.

Could we be predicting a hunt for red January?