Archive for December, 2010

Raiders, Playoffs and Pro Bowl

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Kansas City ChiefsMy 10 year old daughter emailed me yesterday and said, “Hey dad, read your little blog. Haven’t posted in a while have you?” It’s been a crazy holiday season, and before I forget, happy holidays!

The Raiders
The Chiefs have lost five games this year. Two games were blowouts, and three that were very competitive. The loss in Oakland to the Raiders hurt the most, and had the most potential to come back and haunt the Chiefs.

It will be interesting to see the mindset of the Chiefs this week. On one side, they’ve already won the division title. All that’s at stake is securing either the third or fourth seed in the playoffs. With a win against the Raiders, the Chiefs earn the third spot in the playoffs, which only has any real significance if the top two teams lose in the second round. The AFC Championship game would then be played in Kansas City. Not likely, and probably isn’t a motivating factor for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs are 7-0 at home, and the Raiders are 5-0 against the division. If anybody thinks that the Raiders will come to Kansas City and just lay down, they’re mistaken. This should be a competitive game. The Raiders did a great job of shutting down the Chiefs running game in Oakland, limiting Charles / Jones to 85 yards rushing. The Chiefs looked like the better team in that game, but could never quite shut the door on the Raiders. The difference between then and now is that the Chiefs have gained considerable confidence in their passing game. Where early in the season the Chiefs could only setup the pass with the run, they’re now able to  setup the run with the pass when a defense drops eight defenders in the box.

Prediction: Chiefs go undefeated at home and beat the Raiders 31-20.

Playoffs and AFC West Division Title
The Chiefs are not a great team, but they’ve certainly become a good team much more quickly than most of us anticipated. I remember talking with my brother before the season began, and he said to me “You’re really excited about the Chiefs this year.” My explanation was that yes, I’m excited. But not because they’re going to win a lot of games. I was excited because it just felt like the Chiefs were moving in the right direction again. I thought that anywhere from 7-9 wins was possible, especially given their soft schedule. I would never have guessed they’d be looking at 11 wins and a division title. But that’s the NFL, and why we love football. Congratulations Chiefs!

Pro Bowl
Last year was the first year since 1978 that not a single Kansas City Chief made it to the Pro Bowl. And truthfully, not a single Chief deserved it. Oh what a difference a year can make. Here are my thoughts on the players that made it, and those who could have made it.

First, those who have made the Pro Bowl:

Kansas City Chiefs Jamaal CharlesJamaal Charles (RB): One of the most dominating running backs in the league. He’s number two in the league with 1380 yards despite averaging only 14.4 attempts per game. If his average per carry holds up (it’s currently 6.4 yards per carry), this will go down as one of the top averages in NFL history. Certainly deserving of a Pro Bowl appearance.

Brian Waters (OG): Personally, I think Waters’ best years are behind him. He’s played well this year, but not sure he’s really one of the top 3-4 guards in the AFC. The Chiefs have the best running game in the league, and have allowed very few sacks. This is more about the achievements of the entire offensive line, and a reward to Waters who has had a stellar career on and off the field.

Dwayne Bowe (WR): Who could have imagined this only a few months ago when Bowe dropped two huge passes in the loss against the Colts? The fans wanted him out of Kansas City. But since that game, Bowe has been impressive and leads the league with 15 TDs. A surprising but deserving reward for a very productive season.

And those who could have made it:

Matt Cassel (QB): Matt happens to play in the AFC with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers. That’s going to make it tough to break into the Pro Bowl, even when he deserves it. He’s certainly had a better season than Manning. He’s way behind in yards because the Chiefs don’t pass the ball as much as these other teams. But Cassel’s numbers are impressive. He’s fifth in the league with a QB rating of 98.8, and has thrown 27 TDs to only 5 INTs. VERY impressive numbers. He’s likely the first alternate behind the big three, and might still end up in the Pro Bowl if one of these guys decides not to travel to Hawaii.

Tamba Hali (OLB): Hali is quietly having an outstanding season. He’s sixth in the league with 12 sacks. He’s also forced four fumbles. Often players get to the Pro Bowl a year or two after their breakout season. Hali may fit into this category if he keeps putting up numbers like this.

Derrick Johnson (ILB) and Brandon Flowers (CB) are also having nice seasons, and deserve some consideration for the Pro Bowl. But much like Hali, they may have to wait a couple years before they get this kind of acknowledgment.

Cassel has Appendectomy, Croyle Might Start

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

I miss Joe Posnanski at the Star. The more I read from Sam Mellinger and Kent Babb, the less I like them. This morning, Sam is whining about what a terrible time this is for Cassel to miss a game (read Bad time to see Croyle). In case you missed the news, quarterback Matt Cassel had an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday. When Ben Roethlisberger had an emergency appendectomy a few years ago, he missed one game, and played in the next. In Adam Teicher’s article in the Star (Chiefs QB Cassel’s status up in air after appendectomy), he quotes Matthew Lublin, a general surgeon at St. John’s Health Center who says:

If he (Cassel) feels up to it, I certainly don’t see any reason he couldn’t play. In any surgery, you’re really recovering from the scar. It’s a small scar he’ll have since I assume it was done laparoscopically.

He’s not at a risk of popping or bursting or breaking anything or having any complication from surgery. It’s really a matter of his pain threshold and how he feels. If he feels OK, I think he would be able to play.

I’d be very impressed if he felt good enough to play Sunday. But I would not say it’s out of the realm of possibility.

I’ll be very surprised if Cassel plays. Why risk it right now? The Chiefs are two games up with four to play. If the Chiefs go 2-2 over these last four games, they’re virtually assured of winning the division. If they go 3-1, they win the division no matter what else happens. And I’ve never anticipated them winning this game anyway. The odds makers had the Chargers favored by seven BEFORE this happened to Cassel.

Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Brodie CroyleThe last time Brodie Croyle started a game was the 2009 season opener, on the road at Baltimore. A tough place to play against a very good defense. This was Todd Haley’s first game as head coach. Croyle went 16 for 24 with 2 TDs and no INTs. He had a passer rating of 116.1. He took care of the ball. Made good decisions. He’s got a fantastic arm. And he’s athletic. If Brodie wasn’t so fragile, he’d be a legitimate starting quarterback in the league.

Personally, I think this is a GREAT time to get Brodie a start. Much better to happen now than in a month when the Chiefs are preparing for their first playoff game in years.

Can the Chiefs beat the Chargers? The Raiders swept the Chargers this year, and beat them in San Diego last weekend 28-13. The Chargers have been a real mystery this year. They’re ranked #2 in total offense, and #1 in total defense, yet they’re 6-6 and on the verge of being eliminated from the playoffs. They have one of the most talented teams in football, but they can’t get out of their own way. They make mistakes, especially on special teams. If you’re a reader of this blog, you know how I feel about Norv Turner. He’s a terrible head coach. He will never take the Chargers to the Super Bowl.

Common sense may tell you that with Brodie Croyle starting his first game in more than a year, and the Chiefs with the #1 rushing offense in the league, that Kansas City should play it close to the vest this weekend. Protect Croyle by running Charles and Jones a lot. I’d like to see the Chiefs come out and attack. Be balanced and unpredictable. They can’t let the Chargers get their offense rolling and get down by a couple scores if they want to win. And a win on Sunday WILL eliminate the Chargers from the playoffs. That would be sweet for the Chiefs.

I don’t anticipate the Chiefs pulling this one off. They haven’t been very good on the road. But I’ll be cheering them on all the same.

Prediction: Chargers 24, Chiefs 17

Chiefs Can Thank Broncos for New Offense

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

I don’t typically subscribe to the notion that a team benefits from a loss, but in this case, I think they have. After falling behind the Broncos 35-0 early in the game in Denver a couple weeks ago, the Chiefs were forced to throw the ball. Matt Cassel responded with what appeared to be meaningless, inflated numbers. It was a career day in an embarrassing loss. Matt completed 33 of 53 passes for 469 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs. But all of a sudden, the Chiefs have found some real offensive balance, and a healthy passing game. Did the Denver game provide the Chiefs with confidence in their passing game? If you look at the numbers, the production from the passing game started before the the loss to the Broncos. But it’s hard to argue that the success they found in Denver might propel them through the last part of the season.

Kansas City Chiefs Quarterback Matt CasselMatt Cassel: I remain puzzled as to why Kansas City fans have been so slow to embrace Matt Cassel. (I wrote this article early in the season: Why are KC Fans Down on Cassel?) Though his recent success is starting to change some minds. Cassel is the fourth rated QB in the league with a QB Rating of 99.7, only behind Michael Vick, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. Pretty elite company. While QB Rating doesn’t tell you everything, it’s a pretty good barometer for how well a quarterback is playing. His most impressive stat is his TD/INT ratio, which stands at 22/4. Incredibly impressive. (Last year his ratio was 16/16.) In the last seven games, Matt has thrown 18 TDs and 0 INTs. This means that Matt is taking great care of the ball, and making really good decisions. Is Matt an elite NFL quarterback? Not yet. But the potential is there.

Dwayne Bowe: I was one of many fans frustrated with D-Bowe. Luckily, Todd Haley and Scott Pioli remained steadfast in their faith. Bowe appears to be turning the corner from potential to production. While he has had a couple of drops this season (all receivers drop a few), it’s clear that he’s catching the ball much better. Dwayne is fifth in the league in passing yards with 885, and number one in the league in touchdowns with 14, which is an incredible pace through the first 11 games of the season. He’s become a legitimate Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver. Something the Chiefs haven’t had in many years.

Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones: The Chiefs would not likely be experiencing this same success in their passing game without their dominating running game. As a team, the Chiefs remain number one in the league rushing the ball for an incredible 174.3 yards per game. (In comparison, the Jets are number two at 148.1 yards per game.) Charles, despite sharing the load with Jones, is second in the league with 1021 yards. And he leads the league with 6.3 yards per carry. I seem to be in the minority, but I love how the Chiefs are handling their backfield. Charles is healthy right now BECAUSE Jones takes half the load.

Perspective
The Chiefs are playing a very soft schedule this year, which is inflating their record and their stats. But right now, who cares? The Chiefs are an improved team headed in the right direction. It’s clear that Haley and Pioli have a plan, and that they’re probably ahead of schedule. There are still holes on this team. But the Chiefs have a great opportunity to win the AFC West, and host a first round playoff game. Do you think that any team is going to look forward to coming to Kansas City during the playoffs?

The Broncos
Now back to the Broncos. Other than their win against the Chiefs, this team has played some really poor football this season. I will be shocked if they bring back head coach Josh McDaniels for another season. After a 6-0 start last year, the Broncos have gone 5-16. Their defense is awful. They are dead last in the league giving up 29.4 yards per game. And they’re cheaters. Does anybody really believe that McDaniels was unaware that the team’s video department was filming the 49ers at practice? Just because the league has no evidence that McDaniels was involved, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t involved.

Prediction: Chiefs 34, Broncos 21