Posted by: mdegeorge | September 27, 2010

Tuesday morning diagnosis: All hail the Chiefs

We’ve completed three weeks of the NFL season and to the delight of the parity-applauding delegation, only two teams remain without a blemish on their record.

That select duo doesn’t hail from the usual cast of suspects you’d have expected to reside atop the standings just a few short weeks ago. But nonetheless the Steelers (relying on Charlie’s Batch’s ability to revisit yesteryear and succeed as the team’s fourth-stringer), the Chiefs (a young and inexperienced team whose results so far quite frankly belie the talent on their sidelines), and the Bears (off a disastrously disappointing 2009 campaign) have made it through the first portion of the scheduled unscathed.

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The Steelers are a fascinating story. Of course we know of the tribulations of Ben Roethilsberger in rural Georgia dive bars. Then came the slew of injuries at the quarterback position that whittled away Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon, allowing the keys to the offense to fall into the aging yet steady hands of Charlie Batch. Meanwhile, the backfield uncertainty has driven the black and gold back to Steelers’ football: a grinding ground game, a game-managing quarterback, and a staunch defense that can create points through takeaways.

But the shining light of the NFL season so far has been the Chiefs. A team that has won 11 games the last three years…combined. A team that ranked 25th in the league in offense and 30th in defense in 2009. A team that has compiled four lottery picks in the last four drafts.

It’s been a long and occasionally painful journey for the Chiefs since their last playoff berth in 2006. But it looks as though the light at the end of the tunnel is nearing.Let’s be clear: this isn’t the start of a run to Super Bowl XLV. But this also won’t mimic the 2007 season when they started 5-3 before losing their final eight games (coincidentally the last season they were matched up with all four teams in the AFC South as they are this season.)

Why? Because this team has all the ingredients of a decent team. Not a great team, per se, but a team that will challenge for a Wild Card spot.

On offense, they have a balance they haven’t seen in years. Matt Cassel perhaps won’t steal many games for Kansas City, but he also won’t lose games by taking unnecessary risks. They have a legitimate two-headed running back beast in Thomas Jones and Jamal Charles. Former malcontents Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers seem to be more well adjusted than they’ve been in years. Meanwhile, young players like Dexter McCluster, Javier Arenas, and Tony Moeaki (check out his touchdown catch last week) are quickly emerging to bolster the team’s big play capability.

On the defensive side of the ball, young lottery picks like Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, and the latest star addition, Eric Berry, are starting to come into their own with the support of veterans like Mike Vrabel and Jon McGraw.

But perhaps more than anything, this team has shown a moxie that’s been among the myriad factors they’ve lacked the last few years. The Monday night game against San Diego in the slop showed that character; it would have been easy for the Chiefs to pack it in under adverse conditions and against a favored visitor, but they held on valiantly in the face of the inclement conditions and the vehement assault of last year’s AFC West champs for a victory.

It would have been just as simple to come up empty on their trip to Cleveland in the hapless Browns’ home opener and one of their few legitimate opportunities for a win this season. But a second half fight back after trailing 14-10 at half pulled out a victory.

And, riding the wave of momentum, Week 3’s game at home to San Francisco, a classic let-down scenario for the Chiefs, turned into a trouncing to silence doubters of the first two weeks’ results.

It’s hardly likely this run will continue with trips to Indianapolis and Houston next on the slate, and I don’t think anyone’s started preparations for a mid-November 16-0 watch just yet.

But in a division as weak as the AFC West (the inconsistent Broncos, the regularly dreadful Raiders, and the Chargers who are still attempting to find themselves, literally and figuratively) the Chiefs should still remain very much in the hunt. They’ve already opened up a two-game cushion on everyone in the division, the remnants of which may persist beyond their Southern swing.

Regardless of what happens this season, the Chiefs are a squad to watch for the future. They’re a fun team with budding stars that despite their youth will make a mark on the 2010 playoff picture.

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