The Week in Overreactions: 'The Chiefs are in trouble'

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com


Good news: Chiefs should be even better next season. (USATSI)

New storylines emerge every week. Some are reasonable, most are not. "The Week in Overreactions" focuses on the latter. Those items that offer a cursory "How do you do?" as they blow past reality straight for THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING EVER! We're here to keep everything in perspective. Questions, comments, casserole ideas? Hit us up on Twitter at @ryanwilson_07.

Turns out, the Chiefs are still a playoff team

We're two-thirds through the season and despite two straight losses, the Chiefs remain one of the biggest surprises of 2013. But are they anything more than a feel-good story that gets us from December to January when the games start counting?

We're not dismissing what this group accomplished through the first two months of the season; reeling off nine-straight wins after managing just two a year ago is certainly noteworthy. But the reality is that the Chiefs are a good team, just not a great one.

Heading into last Sunday's game against the Chargers, Kansas City was ninth in Football Outsiders' efficiency rankings (6th in defense, 18th in offense), just ahead of the Eagles and the Cowboys.

Neither the imposing defense or mediocre offense is surprising, but the problem is that the D has trended downward in recent weeks; after not laying a hand on Peyton Manning and allowing a season-high 27 points against the Broncos in Week 11, Philip Rivers and the Chargers rolled into Arrowhead Stadium and hung 41 on a defense that was without Tamba Hali and Justin Houston.

One more fact that'll make your head hurt: Without Hali and Houston, the Chiefs allowed more points in the second half -- 38 -- than they had allowed in an entire game all season.

We hear a lot about teams peaking down the stretch; the Ravens did it last season and the Giants the season before that. The Chiefs appear to be going in the opposite direction, though with five weeks left they can certainly rewrite that script.

But even if they go, say, 3-2 and finish 12-4 in the regular reason, that brings us back to our original question: Are the Chiefs a legit playoff team? And by that we don't mean "Can they make the playoffs?" because they could lose out and still have a good chance at the wild card. But can Kansas City make some noise once it gets to the postseason?

A confluence of events suggests not. For starters, the Patriots and Broncos are the two best teams in the conference and third place isn't close. And while the Colts are slipping and the Bengals are burdened with Andy Dalton, by virtue of winning their respective divisions (which they're on pace to do) they would play at home in the wild-card round. Then there are the Chiefs' aforementioned defensive struggles, and their quarterback who isn't built to come from behind.

(Truthfully, Alex Smith has been exactly what the Chiefs have needed; he's just as athletic but much more accurate than Matt Cassel, and more importantly, he's the bridge to the team's next young franchise quarterback, whomever that may be. In general, though, short-term fixes don't lead teams to Super Bowls.)

So, yeah, we don't come bearing swell news. But here's the silver lining: Unlike 2010, when a soft schedule and a lot of luck saw the Chiefs win the division with Cassel and then-coach Todd Haley, only to have the whole operation collapse under its own weight in subsequent seasons, this version of the Chiefs appears to be built for the long haul.

It starts with Dorsey and Reid, and then this defense, and finally with landing a quarterback that truly fits Reid's offense. The good news is that doesn't have to happen in 2014; Kansas City has shown that it can win with Smith as the bridge QB for another year or so. In the meantime, Dorsey can continue to stock the roster with young playmakers. Because, really, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning can't play forever.

Big Ben magically fixed the Steelers' offense -- sort of

So it's not really about Todd Haley? (USATSI)

It seems like just three weeks ago we were all ready to bury the 2013 Steelers. A hapless bunch that could no longer outrun its expiration date, both in terms of aging players and their salary-cap implications. Then, almost as if coach Mike Tomlin flipped a switch, the team looks a lot like the Steelers we're accustomed to seeing. The defense is playing better, the running game is showing glimpses of life and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has put the team on his shoulders and everything else has magically fallen into place.

And that's true -- Big Ben is largely responsible for the turnaround -- but he's still doing it Todd Haley's much-maligned offense.

After the Steelers' 0-4 start, Haley was the obvious choice to lose his job, though most figured it would come after the season. Whether that will change in light of the offense's sudden resurgence is another matter, but it's worth pointing out that maybe this group's struggles isn't solely about the play-calling (or the play-caller).

It's rarely talked about because it's much harder to dismiss Haley outright, but through nine games of the 2012 season, Haley's first in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger had 17 touchdowns against four interceptions, was a legit MVP candidate, and the Steelers were 6-3. Then a freak injury against the Chiefs derailed Big Ben's season, and with it, that of the Steelers.

In 2013, the Steelers' offense was a hot mess, and it started with an offensive line that lost center Maurkice Pouncey on the first drive of the season and had a starting left tackle who ranked among the worst in the league until he was benched in Week 5.

Revisionist historians like to remember those halcyon days when Bruce Arians would dial-up seven-step drops and Big Ben would throw 70-yard bombs to Mike Wallace. They conveniently forget the beating Roethlisberger took on many of the other dropbacks where Wallace wasn't open or the pass protection broke down. It's why president Art Rooney II didn't renew Arians' contract and Tomlin had to find a new offensive coordinator.

(We've said it before but to reiterate: This isn't about Haley being a better choice than Arians -- because we don't believe that he is -- just that Haley isn't the Antichrist, either. We'd like to think he's somewhere in between.)

But don't believe us. Just take a look at Ben's numbers from dating back to 2007, Tomlin's first year in Pittsburgh. In the last two games -- both wins -- Roethlisberger has completed 65 percent of his throws for 584 yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions and has been sacked just once.

And his 2013 season totals aren't much different than the numbers he put up under Arians, who left after 2011.

The more things change, the more they ... stay the same? (CBSSports.com)

The point: You can blame Haley if it makes you feel better but the Steelers' success this century has always been about Big Ben.

Put another way: Give any coordinator a healthy Roethlisberger, a competent offensive line, a solid running game and a big-play wide receiver and it's impossible to not be successful. Haley did it the first half of last season, Arians did it for several seasons before that, and Ken Whisenhunt was the beneficiary of that success before Arians. If you're still not convinced, ask Haley what it's like calling plays for Matt Cassel and Tyler Palko, or ask Whisenhunt if there's a noticeable drop off from Kurt Warner to Max Hall or John Skelton or Kevin Kolb.

Despite that blowout loss to the Cardinals, the Colts will be fine

The Colts have hit a rough patch. (USATSI)

In some regards, the Colts and Chiefs are a lot a like: Strong out the gate only to recently sputter. One huge difference: Indy is in a clown car of a division while Kansas City has to keep pace with Denver.

The Colts lead the Titans by two games in the AFC South, and even though the two teams meet in Week 13, we're reasonably confident that Indy will win the division, mostly because they have Andrew Luck.

And yes, we know, Luck looked like an RG3 dumpster fire against the Cardinals, but unlike the other quarterbacks in his draft class (and Colin Kaepernick if you want to include "second-year starters"), Luck isn't one dimensional. He's a legit pocket-passer who also happens to have 4.6-40 speed should he need it.

The Colts have also shown the ability to win big games; they beat the 49ers in San Francisco back in Week 3, and a month later took it to the Broncos in the "Welcome Home, Peyton!" Bowl.

Beating Denver prompted Colts owner Jim Irsay to remind his players that winning Lombardi Trophies are all that matter. "Anyone who doesn't want more than one of these [Super Bowl rings] shouldn't wear a horseshoe because that's what it's about," he said at the time.

Of course, losing veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne robbed Luck of his most reliable target, and the defense has been a liability for most of the season.

From the perspective of late November, the Colts may be in marginally better shape than the aforementioned Chiefs, but the truth is that they're in different parts of the same sinking ship. Indy will likely have a home playoff game while the Chiefs will have to travel. But beyond that, both could be enjoying the final weeks of the postseason from the their respective couches.

The biggest difference -- and we've touched on this previously this season -- is that Kansas City is well positioned to continue the rebuilding process while Indy may have some issues with that in light of recent personnel decisions, starting with trading their 2014 first-rounder for running back Trent Richardson. A pick the team really could have used next April on, among other needs, a run-blocking interior lineman.

 
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