Saturday, January 6, 2018

History Is Made Today at Arrowhead

It's playoff time at Arrowhead Stadium, which means it's time to make history. This playoff run is a defining moment in the careers of many men, not to mention a critical point in the overall story of this football franchise. The Chiefs' backstory in home playoff games is the stuff of legend, but it's a very sad legend. Kansas City was the first franchise in NFL history to lose seven consecutive playoff games. A win today would be just the third home playoff victory in franchise history. Will KC continue to struggle at home when it matters most, or can the Chiefs take care of business against an injured, inferior Titans team? I'll sort it out through my three quick predictions:

1. Don't let OddsShark.com's spread consensus of 8.5 fool you into thinking this will be easy for KC. The Titans are the second-most effective play-action offense in football. No team in the league runs the ball behind their left tackle with more success than Tennessee. Their defense is notably stout against the run and includes multiple playmakers in the NFL Top 100. Their defense holds opponents to the league's 8th-lowest 3rd down conversion percentage, while KC ranks 23rd in this category.

Tennessee also runs a methodical offense that limits penalties and runs the ball consistently. That means we'll see the clock running a lot, especially if the Chiefs commit to running the ball with Kareem Hunt against the NFL's 4th-best rush defense. I predict that KC will not cover the spread, and the total points won't reach OddsShark's consensus over/under of 44.5. That being said, our Chiefs have a clear advantage today, and the undeniable reasons why are the focus of my other predictions.

2. Only five teams threw more interceptions than the Titans this year. Only four players in the NFL have more interceptions than Marcus Peters, and the Chiefs defense ranks 9th overall in interceptions. That being said, one of those players with more picks than Peters is Tennessee's Kevin Byard, so Alex Smith will battle Byard mentally all day long. Chiefs reporter B.J Kissel pointed out that Marcus Mariota is tied with DeShone Kizer for the most interceptions thrown in road games this year, with 11 in total. He also pointed out that the Chiefs won all nine games in which they won the turnover battle.

I'm just keeping it simple here, because the simple factor of turnovers means everything in the NFL. I predict that the Chiefs will continue this trend today by winning the turnover battle and the game, thanks in large part to at least one caused by Marcus Peters. Whether it's a strip or a pick is all up to football destiny.

3. Fan perception of Alex Smith's time as a Chiefs will be greatly shaped by his performance today. Going deep into the playoffs solidifies Smith's tenure here as something overwhelmingly positive. A defeat to an objectively inferior Titans team would leave many fans wondering how this generation of talent in KC would've fared under the command of a different QB. To have such a balanced attack with playmakers at all three levels of the offense is a luxury few NFL teams can afford. If Smith doesn't push this talented team deep into the playoffs, or at least past a Tennessee team that allowed 22 more points than it scored through the regular season, many in Chiefs Kingdom will think of Smith as the game manager that limited KC's potential for greatness. That is not fair, but that is the reality of a starting QB in the NFL, especially in a city so starved for that greatness.

Another man clearly performing at the top of his field and still being constantly questioned is the man running the show on the sidelines. This playoff run is the culmination of Andy Reid's 19th-straight season as a head coach in this league. Praise for Reid around the league is nearly unanimous, but he is the same guy who gave up play-calling duties in an admittedly successful attempt to bounce back from a then-horrifying midseason slump. That slump ended less than four weeks ago, and it is nearly the exact roster facing the Wild Card Titans today at Arrowhead.

This is not a playoff tune-up game. This is not a chip-in or a lay-up or any other stupid saying for an automatic win. The Titans want to bash Kansas City's proverbial teeth in and continue the decades-long streak of sadness that seems to curse the Kingdom during the playoffs. I thankfully believe that Andy and Alex will come through in the clutch for us today.

Smith should be well-prepared for this huge moment in his career, and it will show against a Titans defense that ranks 25th in passing yards allowed this year. Alex has thrown for 324 yards against Houston, who ranks 24th in that category. He also averaged 305 passing yards through his two meetings with the Raiders, who are #26.

Andy is going to have this squad ready to win today, and that will result in success during crucial moments for KC's offense. I predict at least 305 yards through the air for Alex Smith, as KC clears a path to the divisional round by taking care of the Titans in a tight one, 23-17.

Doug LaCerte has a Facebook page and occasionally does stuff on Twitter @DLaC67.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Mahomes Era Begins Kinda!

This afternoon's Week 17 game at Arrowhead will matter, even if it doesn't affect this year's playoff seeding. Many younger Chiefs will get more snaps than ever before, and one NFL record is still attainable. Of course, the #1 reason to enjoy this week of football is very, very clear...

1. The Patrick Mahomes II Era kinda-sorta begins today! KC waited over 30 years to draft a franchise QB in the 1st round, and today we get a tease of Chiefs football with Pat leading the offense. Despite Denver's disdain for KC, and their legit defense, they know they have nothing to play for. The Broncos don't even get a chance to play spoiler this time. I don't see Denver playing with a lot of spirit in frigid conditions during a meaningless road game. The wind chill should reach -10 degrees by halftime, so motivation could be a hard thing to find on the Denver sideline this afternoon.

Also, a game without a turnover would give KC an NFL record for fewest turnovers in a season. This gives Mahomes another reason to stay mostly conservative today. Young, part-time contributors like Demarcus Robinson will get a chance to shine today as he starts alongside Mahomes. Robinson's growth in the coming seasons means a lot to KC's offense, so the chemistry between Pat and Demarcus is something to watch closely this afternoon. I predict a safe, but solid effort from KC's future QB, with at least one of those impressive "no-look" throws and at least one bomb of over 55 yards - perhaps to Robinson.

2. Chiefs Kingdom will also be keyed in on multiple other games that will decide who comes to KC in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. By playoff seeding standards, today's concerns for Chiefs fans are relatively simple to understand; the Ravens can beat the Cincinnati Bengals today to secure their playoff seeding and punch their tickets to Kansas City. If they don't, Tennessee can earn this spot by beating the Jaguars. If both these teams lose, Buffalo can earn this spot if they beat the Dolphins. Since Baltimore looks solid over their last several weeks of play, and because the Bengals simply stink this year, the excitement of seeing who KC will face in the playoffs may be short-lived today. I predict that the Ravens take care of biz and I start Googling embarrassing photos of Joey Flacco shortly thereafter.

3. Tanoh Kpassagnon will also get a chance to play the biggest role in any game of his young career so far. This 6'7" 2nd-round draft pick has oodles of raw talent and a highlight reel that makes me grin ear-to-ear every time I watch it. Pressuring the QB is key to a modern NFL defense, an K-Pass is our hope for a great edge-rusher for years to come. The importance of his impact on this game will be greatly understated because of Mahomes' first start, but a strong performance from Tanoh today should make the Kingdom thrilled to see more of him in the future. I predict two QB pressures from Kpassagnon today, as the Chiefs beat a disheartened Denver squad 27-17.

Doug LaCerte still has a Facebook page and occasionally tweets @DLaC67.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Kansas City Chiefs Something Something Bad Christmas Pun!

Our Kansas City Chiefs are one victory away from making their place in the playoffs official. The visiting Miami Dolphins are kinda-sorta-not-really in the hunt if about 12 things go right and they win out, but on paper, they're an objectively sub-par opponent. The Dolphins rank in the bottom three in the league in yards per game, points per game, giveaways and turnover differential. They hold opponents to 24.4 points per game, which is the league's sixth-highest average. The Dolphins allow the 9th-highest average yardage per play this season, but hey, our Chiefs are #8. If you're looking for something to fear today, KC's defense allowing big plays would be #1. Speaking of numbering things, here are my three quick predictions for what I hope to be our final real regular season game for our Chiefs this season:

1. Those giveaway stats for Miami are just damning. KC has 14 picks this year, and the Dolphins have already given the ball away 26 times. A determined, focused Marcus Peters could feast today. I predict that KC will win the turnover battle by at least two, which will making winning at Arrowhead really tough for the 'Phins.

2. The aforementioned inability to stop teams from scoring is another key to what makes Miami an objectively bad team this season. The obvious choice to pass to Tyreek Hill whenever a cornerback plays press coverage without safety help will bring us more holiday cheer today, even if it's not Hill who gives us that gift himself. He could pull safeties down to double him, which will leave other parts of the field open for KC's other playmakers. I predict a Chiefs passing gain of over 50 yards today from either Hill, Kareem Hunt on a wheel or screen route, or Travis Kelce deep over the middle.

3. The Alex Smith-Matt Nagy duo definitely got this KC offense back on track after Andy Reid seemingly derailed it throughout that pitiful mid-season skid. KCChiefs.com's BJ Kissel pointed out that this new play-calling hierarchy averages 439 yards and 29 points per game, which is third-best and fifth-best in the league over that stretch. KC will be determined to keep their mojo offensively, but justified conservatism may limit their numbers today. This is a terrible time to get any more Chiefs injured, so if KC jumps out to an early lead, we could see some serious clock-milking. This is the correct decision at this time of the season, fantasy leagues be damned. So, I'll predict a 24-16 victory for our Chiefs, with somewhere between 360-440 total yards of offense. Enjoy your holidays, Chiefs Kingdom. We should soon be celebrating Christmas as champions of the AFC West.

Doug LaCerte has a Facebook page and occasionally tweets @DLaC67.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

AFC West Winner Decided Tonight at Arrowhead

The champion of the AFC West will be decided at Arrowhead tonight, and I could not be less confident in my ability to predict a winner. The Kansas City Chiefs were the consensus #1 football team in the universe through the schedule's first five weeks. Then, KC confused and saddened Chiefs Kingdom with nearly two months of nigh-incompetence. I don't know which team will show up tonight. The clearest reason I can give for last week's success is that Oakland was never a solid team, and KC simply took care of business against a sub-par opponent, but maybe I'm not giving my Chiefs enough credit. I hope they deserve more, but betting on them against the Chargers seems illogical.

L.A hasn't given up more than 26 points in a game all season, and they haven't allowed more than 13 in any of their last three games. The Chargers' rush defense ranks near the bottom of the league, and the Chiefs must take advantage of this in order to make tonight's game competitive. Unfortunately, the Chargers' pass rush ranks near the top. Chiefs offensive play-caller Matt Nagy has his work cut out for him against one of the NFL's best duo of edge rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Those two have helped the Chargers hold opponents to the second-lowest points-per-game average in football this season. That brings me to today's three predictions:

1. Because of all the aforementioned reasons, I predict that KC will score fewer than 18 points tonight, but I also predict that this game will be decided by seven points or less.

2. Red zone efficiency will decide this game, and thereby decide who's the best in the AFC West. L.A holds opponents to the second-lowest red zone touchdown scoring percentage in the league (37.93%). Throughout 2017, the Chiefs have struggled to finish trips to the red zone with touchdowns. The Chargers should be able to hold KC to field goals often today, but L.A also struggles to score TDs in the red zone. Their red zone TD scoring percentage of 42.5% ranks 29th in the league - just below KC's 44.44%.

3. I'm afraid the Chargers' pass rush will be too much for KC's offensive line to handle. I predict a tough loss for our Chiefs, 23-16. Clearly though, my prediction skills are trash, so when I'm wrong about this, I'll be neither shocked nor upset. Whatever happens tonight decides whether we're talking about the playoffs or the draft next week, so I really, really hope I'm wrong (again).

Doug LaCerte has a Facebook page and occasionally tweets @DLaC67.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

AFC West Up for Grabs During 2017's Final Raiders Week

The final Raiders Week of 2017 culminates in a crucial Week 14 face-off. A win for the Oakland Raiders keeps their playoff hopes alive, while also putting Kansas City's playoff future in question. so the Chiefs' most hated rival will be as desperate as ever to win at Arrowhead today.

At least KC won't worry about facing a dominant running game. The Raiders' Marshawn Lynch isn't even in the league's top-20 backs any more. Oakland's 93.3 rushing yards per game is the NFL's eighth-lowest, so limiting the run and forcing some incomplete passes could give the Chiefs an advantage through time of possession which might give them a chance. Sadly, I cannot have blind faith that KC's defense, namely its defensive coordinator, will adjust enough to win today.

Bob Sutton's stubbornness or perhaps ineptitude when it comes to altering his defense could be the biggest factor in KC's collapse this season. His defense can't get consistent pressure on opposing QB's, but Sutton refuses to blitz consistently enough to create pressure. The Chiefs secondary commonly gets burnt as the QB stays comfy in an undisturbed pocket, while Sutton's gameplan doesn't allow for Justin Houston or anyone else to consistently incite fear. I'd be thrilled to see consistent, heavy, confusing blitzing against Derek Carr today, and I refuse to be upset if he reacts smoothly to burn the Chiefs for a timely touchdown. I'll just be glad that someone forced the opposing QB to make a big play while under serious pressure, because the KC defense we've seen for the vast majority of this season simply cannot do that.

Health issues with KC's best edge rushers have made this difficult this season. I get that. If something doesn't change soon though, our Chiefs won't even make the playoffs.

On the flip-side, KC's offense excelled last week under recently tweaked coaching. Matt Nagy's play-calling led to numerous huge gains through the air and more than enough total yardage and points to win that game. Let's hope Andy Reid sees the difference this made and reflects on what something similar could do for KC's defense. This brings me to my sadder-than-usual predictions for the week.

1. We have a playoff roster here in KC. The reasons for this tailspin revolve around the coaching staff. If Sutton sells out to pressure Derek Carr, he'll deserve credit for making a crucial change. If he doesn't, I'll continue to complain about him incessantly. I predict that KC will win this game if they hit Carr four or more times and sack him at least twice. I also predict that this will not happen. I also predict being really happy about being wrong if I'm wrong about that.

2. With Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree both playing, and Marcus Peters and Dee Ford out, the Chiefs secondary seems to be outmatched today. I predict that the Chiefs allow 275 or more passing yards to their most hated rival.

3. Partly because Oakland induces the league's fewest turnovers, I predict another solid, clean game from KC's offense, thanks also to more savvy-but-conservative Matt Nagy play-calling. This still won't be enough to overcome the pounding that Oakland's passing game can inflict on KC's weakened secondary today. The Chiefs will lose another close one late, 27-24, and once again leave Chiefs Kingdom restless.

Doug LaCerte has a Facebook page and enjoys the occasional anti-Derek Car meme on Twitter @DLaC67.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Comparing Schedules of All AFC West Contenders

The ongoing collapse of the Kansas City Chiefs left the door wide open for other teams in the AFC West to fight back into the race for the division title. KC now sits at 6-6 along with the Oakland Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers. Chiefs Kingdom assumed the West would be wrapped up by now, but it's suddenly anybody's division to win.

The Chiefs get back to business next Saturday at noon when they face the Raiders at Arrowhead. They then host the Chargers in Week 15 in a rare Saturday night game, before facing the Dolphins on Christmas Eve in the Chiefs' third consecutive home game. KC then finishes off the regular season with a 3:25 meeting at Mile High with the Broncos on New Year's Eve. None of these teams are currently above .500, but hey, neither are any of the last four teams to beat your Kansas City Chiefs. The opportunity to beat both other clubs vying for the division title gives the Chiefs control over their own fate, but how do the competition's schedules compare to Kansas City's?

The Chargers play the 5-7 Washington Redskins next week, then travel to KC for that odd Saturday Night game. Then, they'll get their chance to beat up the Jets, before wrapping up their regular season schedule against the Raiders. Oakland's path to the playoffs seems far more arduous. After playing the Chiefs next week, they'll host the 6-6 Cowboys before travelling east to face the 10-2 Philadelphia Eagles. Then, as mentioned before, they finish their regular season against the Chargers.

On paper, KC's path to the playoffs is still easier than that of any other team in their division, while the Raiders' looks like the toughest. Each squad will face the other two teams with playoff aspirations, so it should be an unexpectedly exciting fight for the division title until the very end.

If I had to guess, and I don't love predicting anything about this unpredictably awful Chiefs team right now, I'd say that the Chargers win three out of four as the Chiefs and Raiders win just two of four. That makes the L.A Chargers my current favorite to win the AFC West. Thinking it and typing it both make me feel sick. Please prove me wrong, Chiefs.

Doug LaCerte still has Facebook and occasionally tweets @DLaC67.


Sunday, December 3, 2017

Will KC Get Healthy Against Struggling Jets?

It certainly feels like this season's gone off the rails here in KC, but can the Chiefs get back on track against a sub-par team today? It's hard to tell. The 4-7 New York Jets hold opponents to fewer yards per game than the Bills, Giants, Cowboys or Raiders - as in the last four teams to embarrass your Kansas City Chiefs. Their dead-even turnover differential is the same as the Giants and six worse than the Bills, but really, this game isn't about the Jets. It's all about which Chiefs team shows up at MetLife Stadium today. After several weeks of genuinely surprising ineptitude, I really don't know how accurate these three predictions will be.

1. We'll talk more this week about Andy Reid's decision to give up more of the play-calling responsibility to offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, but I think it's a great idea to change things up when the entire offense is being engulfed in this black hole of conservative-but-confusing coaching. Let's remember that the Chiefs have three legit talents on offense that should stretch the field and keep defenses guessing. I'll predict that KC will have a somewhat better time doing that and score more points than the Oddshark.com's prediction of 18.2 points.

2. The Chiefs have coughed the ball up in every game since playing Oakland in Week 7. I predict more conservatism - which isn't necessarily a good thing - for KC's offense, which will lead to zero interceptions for the Chiefs today.


3. This is not an intimidating opponent. The Jets are no better than 15th in total yards, passing yards, rushing yards and points per game, or total yards, passing yards, rushing yards and points per game allowed. They're simply not good at any general aspect of the game, meaning this talented-but-streaky Chiefs squad should be able to take care of business today. Reid deserves credit for ceding some play-calling duties when the team is struggling so profoundly. It's helped in the past, and I'll have faith that it works again today. I predict that the Chiefs overcome an inferior team today, barely, and beat the Jets in a close one. KC wins, 20-17, but their future remains uncertain.

Doug LaCerte procrastinated on this article too much to say anything clever about his Facebook page or using Twitter @DLaC67.