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Are the Kansas City Chiefs For Real?

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With the San Diego Chargers sitting comfortably in an early season 1-2 hole after just three weeks, it’s not surprising that someone else is leading the AFC West, at least temporarily.  What could be construed as surprising is that 1) there have been no early season divisional wins to save the Chargers like there have been in past years, and 2) the popular alternatives to picking the Chargers, the Raiders and the Broncos, are sitting right along side the Chargers at 1-2.

Of course, you’re aware that the Kansas City Chiefs have ridden their home upset over the Chargers to a 3-0 start.  They didn’t look like all that against the Browns in Week 2, but the Browns have been better than the public was expecting over three weeks (despite losing all three games), and the defense played at an elite enough level to win a game that the offense had likely lost.  But the real shocker is not that they moved to a pre-bye 3-0 against the 49ers at home (the Niners aren’t a very good team), but it’s how they did it.  They beat down the 49ers, actually leading 31-3 with two minutes to go in the third quarter with every facet of their team working for them.

This is not some minor win against a bad tem.  After two weeks, the Chiefs looked like a much improved, but ultimately mediocre football team.  Now, they are second in the DVOA power rankings over at Football Outsiders.  It will be tough to hold that ranking when opponent adjustments kick in, but that’s the highest ranking given to a 3-0 team, narrowly edging out Pittsburgh.

The amazing thing is that the Chiefs aren’t even using their weapons optimally, nor did they have a great offseason, nor do they have a pro-caliber quarterback in Matt Cassel.  This variation of the Chiefs is almost entirely about defense and special teams.  Based on that, can the Chiefs sustain this performance?

It seems like they can.  The Chiefs have been able to generate a productive series of carries from an aging Thomas Jones who is on fumes whenever he carries the ball, so it’s not surprising at all that Jamaal Charles is gashing opponents whenever he touches the ball.  The running game has given Matt Cassel a play action type game as a weapon to throw down the middle of the field, making Tony Moeaki, a rookie, one of the most effective players at the tight end position through three games this year.  Moeaki is also an able blocker, which is how he’s working in this offense to contribute to the running game while benefiting from the passing game.

It’s not hard to see this running game getting shut down by better defenses.  I wouldn’t go as far as calling this offensive line a strength.  Charles is electric in the open field, but he needs strong linemen to help him move the chains.  Jones can’t keep going at this rate all season.  The Chiefs can hedge against this with a quality passing game, but they haven’t had that to date.

The defense should remain one of the league’s best all season, but they are going to get heat from the well developed passing games in their division: the Broncos and Chargers right now, and someday, the Raiders.  It’s not going to be an easy division to win in, the AFC West, but the Chiefs have the requisite talent to do so, and more than that, they’ve yet to play their best offensive football and they have a two game lead in the division.  In a division where there’s no clear favorite, it makes just as much sense to ride the talent-deficient, flawed team with the two game lead over all contenders over the flawed teams who are already chasing this early.

This team could finish as high as the no. 2 seed in the AFC, and with the way the season is started, it would not be surprising to our better senses if they won more than they lost from this point on out.

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