Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, August 21, 2016 at 11:56 AM
The race for the AFC title appears open to a darkhorse, what with Denver going through transition at quarterback, New England having to play four games without Tom Brady and Cincinnati still completely unproven in the postseason. The Kansas City Chiefs haven't been to a Super Bowl in 47 years, but it's worth asking - why not the Chiefs?
Kansas City made the playoffs last year and advanced to the divisional round in spite of playing without Jamaal Charles and digging a 1-5 hole to start the season. Charles is back healthy and KC was able to retain several key veterans in free agency, keeping the core of the team intact.
The Chiefs were a balanced team in 2015. They ranked ninth in the league in points scored and were third in points allowed. The primary reason was that they excelled at protecting the football and taking it away. The offense was second in the NFL in turnover prevention. The defense was fifth in takeaways. This can be a red flag to handicappers who believe turnovers are the result of luck. But a team that has a quarterback who plays it as close to the vest as Alex Smith is going to do well in the turnover ratio department.
Kansas City's biggest challenge is going to be re-tooling the offensive line. This was the area where they couldn't keep all their free agents and right guard Jeff Allen is gone, as is guard Ben Grubbs. The Chiefs may experience some growing pains in the early part of the season as a new cast gets the kinks worked out, but there are two key factors that present a reason for optimism - the most important is that the return of Charles will compensate for any shortcomings of blocking in the running game. The second is that Eric Fisher, the first overall pick in the 2013 draft, is making progress. It's slower than anyone would want out of a #1 pick, but it is happening.
Smith played well in all phases of the passing game last year. We've come to expect Smith to deliver a high completion percentage and to stay away from mistakes. He did both in 2015, ranking ninth in the former and being intercepted on just 1.5% of his passes - the only regular starting quarterbacks better were named Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
That's no surprise - what was good to see was that Smith was able to at least rank in the middle of the league in yards-per-attempt. His receivers were awful in 2014, noteworthy for failing to register a single touchdown catch. The addition of Jeremy Maclin went a long way to addressing that problem. The receiving corps still needs depth, but at least the combination of Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce give Smith a good package of targets.
On defense, Eric Berry was an inspiring story as the strong safety came back lymphoma and played very well. Berry, along with Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters, lifted the secondary and this front seven is already one of the league's best.
The Chiefs are a 23-1 shot to win the Super Bowl. That's a more lucrative price than what's available on either the Vikings or Cowboys. This in spite of the strong finish to last season, a wide-open division and a proven winner in head coach Andy Reid. We won't say Kansas City doesn't have problems, but this price is likely the best we'll see. They're worth at least a small investment to win it all.