Their best player on defense -- and arguably the best defensive player in the league -- just started practicing recently and could make his debut in Week 10. Their best offensive player has touched the ball just 14 times all season, and his future is uncertain at best.
And yet the Kansas City Chiefs are once again quietly going about being one of the better teams in the NFL. They are a fairly nondescript but effective bunch who are very much in the hunt in a challenging AFC West -- dare I say the best division in football -- and continue finding ways to win football games. They tend to mirror their head coach, Andy Reid, in demeanor and effectiveness, and if I had to hand out a midseason Coach of the Year award, I just might give it to this guy.
From week to week it's a scramble to determine who might be healthy enough to run the football for the Chiefs. This is essentially a lost year for Jamaal Charles and injuries continue to run rampant in their backfield. They also hope to finally get Justin Houston on the field for the first time this weekend. And yet they roll along, largely under the radar, bringing a four-game winning streak to Carolina this weekend. I like their chances to reach the playoffs, again, as a wild card at the least, and if they can manage to procure at least one home playoff game, well, maybe they could actually be something of a factor in January.
This will probably end up another year in which Reid's calm, guiding hand will be overshadowed by others -- and let's face it, if the Pats run away with the AFC title after Tom Brady was bizarrely suspended for the first quarter of the season, then Bill Belichick is getting the hardware. But that shouldn't diminish what Reid's done.
Yes, he can be a target at times in late-game situations, but that's but one part of what is required to build and massage a team, to prepare players to play each week, to manage them from Monday right up through kickoff the following week. Reid has re-established a certain pedigree and protocol to how the Chiefs do business, washing away the remnants of the totalitarian Scott Pioli regime and making the Chiefs annual contenders.
"Coaching is the biggest thing I see with that team," said one scout who has watched the Chiefs closely in recent weeks. "You can see the leadership and direction there. They don't have the best roster and they don't have the flashiest players and they've been playing without their most dynamic players most weeks. They know how to close out games. They don't ask the quarterback to do too much. It's a well-run team and you can see that on Sundays."
Even without Houston, who can still challenge Von Miller as the best pure pass rusher in the league, the defense has been opportunistic and disruptive. It leads the NFL with 20 takeaways and a plus-13 turnover differential as well. Alex Smith is the quintessential game manager, and while I don't ever see this team reaching or winning a Super Bowl with him, he also can keep the Chiefs in most any game, even while other units may be sputtering, and Reid's comfort level with him is apparent. I can't help but wonder if/when the Chiefs make a move for a top quarterback in the draft, but I digress.
In the meantime, Kansas City's workmanlike ethos and ability to play smart football helps it rise above the mediocre tide in the league. The Chiefs are getting strong performances from stalwarts like Dontari Poe (can't help but think he gets franchised) and Marcus Peters, and ownership has been willing to reinvest heavily on its own talent.
The Chiefs have also hit on enough picks that director of player personnel Chris Ballard is going to be a very hot GM candidate in a couple of months. There is a consistency and a cohesion to how they do things that often separates the winning franchises in this league from the after thoughts, and Reid and GM John Dorsey have proven to be the perfect tandem to steward the franchise back to relevance.
Time will tell if they have the passer to get them to the next plateau. It's worth noting that the guaranteed money on Smith's contract expires after this season, making him a moveable commodity. But in the meantime it's worth recognizing the work that Reid and Dorsey have put in at the midpoint of their third year at the helm, and if nothing else I expect they'll be poised to be playing in the postseason again.