The division is a lock but home field advantage is on the line. The Chiefs played well enough to beat the Chargers and Raiders the past two weeks but they'll need to bring their ‘A' game to defeat the Broncos in Denver on Sunday.
The Chiefs performance on Sunday was a mix mash of success and failure. They defeated a very lethargic Chargers team who in the long run could not make enough plays to win the game. The Chiefs strength this season has been the opposite. They make the plays on offense when they need to make them and on defense when they have no choice but to stop an opponent.
The Special teams have not made the plays lately. Dante Hall is trying too hard to bust one open instead of taking what opposing teams are giving him. Punter Jason Baker has been a disappointment but the Chiefs have no choice other than to stick with him this late in the season. The punt and kick-off coverage units were horrible against the Chargers and they were flat out lucky the Chargers did not score a touchdown off their return game.
The good news for the Chiefs is that they won the game against a team that they should have defeated. Fans forget the NFL is all about parity. It's also about certain teams taking advantage of opportunities against lesser quality opponents. Outside of the Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos, the Chiefs have not played anyone with talent that can be equally compared to themselves.
All good teams have lulls during the season. All teams play down to their competition because of parity and letdowns. The Titans two weeks ago barely defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars at home 10-3. The New England Patriots struggled against the Houston Texans on the same weekend and had to win their game in overtime.
There are no more easy games in the NFL. The beauty about the NFL is its competitive balance. Because of a sixteen game schedule, any team can beat any another team at home or on the road on any given Sunday. Now the odds are less with teams who don't measure up talent wise but still the Lions defeated the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving day and the talent disparity between the two teams is alarmingly distant. Still the Packers the better team did not make the plays and the Lions did.
The Chargers played with little passion in the first half and the Chiefs were not spectacular outside of Priest Holmes but they managed to lead 21-7 at the break. In the second half the Chargers played better, starting making plays and the Chiefs defense did not make adjustments until late in the game. But they made them.
It would have nice to have seen those adjutments sooner. However, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson has two Super Bowl rings to his credit and I have none.
But coaches tend to be less or more aggressive based on the opponent and the ability of players to potentially make big plays, instead of trying to be more aggressive against teams with less ability all the time. The bottom line is that the Chiefs defense stopped Doug Flutie, LaDainian Tomlinson and David Boston when the outcome of the game was in doubt. In fact, they've done it all season long. That's the mark of a good defense.
Yes they give up some big plays yesterday on Tomlinson's long run. But the defense didn't react to him as fast as they had the rest of the game so he broke open one long run.
Besides giving up one big play on defense is more than acceptable for any defense in the NFL. If the Chiefs give up three and four big plays on defense like they did against the Bengals, then that's another matter entirely. The Chiefs have only done that once this season.
Despite the complaining and whining going on in the local media and on talk radio in Kansas City, the Chiefs are 11-1 and control their own playoff destiny.
The Denver Broncos come at a time when the Chiefs need a significant challenge. It will be their last such challenge before the playoffs. With games against the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears upcoming, this game will answer a lot of questions about the Chiefs and their ability to play well in the post season.
A win in Denver is not about wrapping up the AFC West. In fact, the Broncos can't win the division no matter what happens the rest of the season. If the two teams tie, the Chiefs win based on a better AFC conference record.
Instead this game is about putting distance between the Chiefs and the New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts. It's also about posting a 11-1 AFC Conference record that would be hard to match. If the Chiefs dispose of their three NFC opponents this year and beat the Broncos, Kansas City locks up home field advantage no matter what the other teams do the rest of the way.
But this win signifies even more. If the Chiefs beat the Broncos, then they could lose one of their final three games and still have a great shot at the top spot in the AFC.
After the New England Patriots defeated the Indianapolis Colts 38-34 on Sunday afternoon; the picture became clearer. The Patriots have four games remaining, three at home and one on the road. They play the suddenly surging Miami Dolphins at home this Sunday, then play the Jacksonville Jaguars at home, a road game against the New York Jets and close out the season at home to face the Buffalo Bills.
All of their games are against AFC opponents. With one more AFC loss on the books by the Patriots, a second might be too much to overcome. That's why the Chiefs must defeat the Broncos.
Now the Titans play the Jets tonight on Monday Night. Next Sunday the Titans play the Colts at home so one of these teams is likely to drop out of contention for home field advantage.
So if the Chiefs hold to form, they should be up for the challenge of defeating the Broncos in Denver on Sunday. It can be done. The Broncos have already lost at home to the New England Patriots and Chicago Bears. They've had narrow victories over the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers so certainly the Chiefs should be a tougher test than any of those teams.
The Broncos are desperate. They must win their last four games to even make the playoffs and they end the season with road games at Indianapolis and Green Bay. So their task is much harder.
This has to be a ‘winner takes all' game. If the Chiefs win, the rest of the NFL will fear playing the Chiefs in January. If the Chiefs lose, then more doubt around the NFL will creep in and doubt in the locker room could cause Kansas City to limp into the playoffs. Very few teams succeed in January when they play porrly in December.
The Chiefs have had opportunities in recent years to put teams away late in the season to get playoff advantages but they've failed for the most part in the late 90's.
This team is different because of Dick Vermeil. If he can get his team motivated, focused and get them to play for sixty minutes on Sunday, the Chiefs will indeed be the team to beat in the AFC.
Chiefs fans who are questioning the team today and experts who claim the Patriots and Titans are better teams; should not be alarmed. Kansas City is more rounded than any other AFC competitor. Each of the top four teams has a weakness but the Chiefs have fewer of them on all sides of the ball.
But Sunday players like Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez and Trent Green have enough to defeat the Broncos defense. Players like Ryan Sims, Vonnie Holliday, Shawn Barber and Scott Fujita have the ability to shut down Clinton Portis, Shannon Sharpe and Jake Plummer.
Now they just have to do it. You can choose all the clichés in the NFL but the one that rings true is a simple one.
"Just win baby!"
A win in Denver and the Chiefs have a clear path to Houston for the Super Bowl. A loss and the Kansas City path is still reachable but more difficult. That might not be a bad thing. But it sure would be nice to be playing at Arrowhead in January instead of on the road anywhere.