By Steve Silverman
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There’s a strong sense around the NFL that the New England Patriots have taken command of the AFC and will get a chance to play for the fourth Super Bowl of the Bill Belichick era.
The Pats are indeed playing well, and they have the best record in the AFC at 8-2. They have won five games in a row, and two of those victories were one-sided triumphs over the Denver Broncos and Indianapolis Colts. Those two teams have been considered the best in the AFC for most of the season, so it should be an easy jog for the Patriots from this point forward, right?
Belichick is just too smart for the competition, and nobody can keep up with him.
That sounds nice and Belichick’s record of success makes him one of the five best NFL coaches of all-time (along with Vince Lombardi, Tom Landry, Don Shula and Bill Walsh). But don’t go crowning the Patriots just yet. There’s a team that’s being virtually ignored in the AFC, and it may be able to keep the Pats from getting back to the top of the football world.
New York football fans are very familiar with Andy Reid. The former Eagles head coach matched wits with Tom Coughlin for years, and regularly held his own in Philadelphia’s memorable battles with the Giants.
While brutal family circumstances and ack of postseason success were factors at the end of his tenure in Philadelphia, neither impacted his ability to put together a football team and get the most out of it. Reid was a strong coach in Philadelphia, and he may be doing an even better job in Kansas City.
His Chiefs are rolling along with a 7-3 record and they have beaten the Patriots and the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. The Chiefs may just be the best team in the AFC, and they could get back to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1969 season. That’s when Hank Stram’s Chiefs were the last team to represent the dear, departed American Football League, and they registered a one-sided 23-7 hammering of the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.
Let’s get back to that September upset of the Patriots. The focus after that 41-14 blowout was on how bad the Patriots were, that Tom Brady was no longer an elite quarterback and that Belichick had an ordinary team.
Very little of the focus was on the Chiefs, and how strong a team they had. The Patriots have not lost since that night, but they were beaten by a much better team. The Kansas City offensive line pushed the Patriots all over the field, and the Chiefs’ defensive line was in Brady’s face from start to finish.
The Chiefs were the quicker and faster team, and it wasn’t even close. They were hungry, aggressive and they outsmarted the Patriots as well. When quarterback Alex Smith went to the line of scrimmage, he was able to pick out where the Pats were most vulnerable and he exploited those weaknesses.
Smith is a smart and experienced leader. He is also an excellent athlete who has shown he can read defenses, throw short- and medium-range passes accurately, and complete passes on third down. Smith is not a big-play quarterback who will throw the ball deep and strike fear into the hearts of opponents.
Reid knows this, and he also knows that he doesn’t have the receivers for those kinds of plays. To say the Kansas City receivers are limited would be kind. Tight end Travis Kelce is their best receiving threat, and he is a mini-Gronk of a pass catcher. The rest of the receiving crew, including Dwayne Bowe, can’t catch a cold.
What the Chiefs can do is run the ball. While DeMarco Murray is the best running back in the NFL, the Chiefs have the top 1-2 punch with Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis. Both backs can rip through the front seven and get huge chunks of yardage. Charles won’t admit it, but he is pushed hard by Davis. Whenever the backup makes a big play, Charles feels threatened and comes up with a long run of his own.
The key to the Chiefs is their defense. They have the top unit in the league against the pass, and they get to the quarterback. Outside linebacker Justin Houston has 12 sacks, while Tamba Hali has five. Both men come rushing around the corner, and the quarterback has to get rid of the ball in a hurry. Those two have been unstoppable for much of the season, and that’s why it’s so hard to move the ball through the air against Kansas City.
In last week’s 24-20 win over Seattle, the Seahawks had several opportunities in the fourth quarter to shove the ball through the Chiefs defense and take the lead. The Chiefs wouldn’t let them, as Reid’s defense stood up Marshawn Lynch and stopped him short.
That’s what good teams do. They make the big stops when they are needed most.
Reid has done the most important part of his coaching job. He has convinced his team that it is good and that it deserves to be in contention.
Nobody’s talking about the Kansas City Chiefs. But Belichick is definitely thinking about them.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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