Sunday, December 22, 2013

Luck Be a Lady Today, I Hope

A week after Jamaal Charles ran rampant on the Raiders, KC comes home for their last regular season game at Arrowhead. In what is probably a playoff matchup preview, the Chiefs welcome Andrew Luck and Indy to the snowy wasteland of Kansas City. Both teams say they won't save anything for the playoffs, and both teams are justified in their lies. Nonetheless, this game still has a chance of affecting playoff seeding for KC and Indy, so both teams will be going 100%.

For a division champ, the Colts are unremarkable. They rank 22nd in overall offense and 19th in defense league-wide, but Andrew Luck's 21/9 TD/INT ratio has helped to keep them in games, and his prowess as a comeback cultivator pushed them to a 9-5 record. Only five teams in the NFL have given up less sacks than Indy, which has allowed the talented youngster to stay accurate and smart in the pocket. Although he's harder to hate than any Raider, forcing Luck to fail today is historically relevant in a way that a win against Oakland could never be.

Not since the Montana years have the Chiefs won a playoff game, and today they're matched up against their probable opponent in this year's first round. A win today encourages a team and a fan base enough to think a deep playoff run is possible and a win in the first round is probable. Just try to wrap your head around how big a difference that is from how you felt as a fan this time last year. It looks like KC's Santa Claus is actually a Mormon with a walrus-style mustache.

Here are today's five predictions:

1- Indy upgraded their core of offensive skill players this offseason, but they're still mediocre at best without Reggie Wayne. T.Y Hilton will be today's biggest threat, and the Chiefs know it. KC will force Luck to beat them by spreading the ball around or running through them. Expect Luck to give four Colts not named Hilton at least two receptions each today.

2- Robert Mathis is the only linebacker in the league with more sacks than Tamba Hali or Justin Houston. Look for Smith to get dropped by this beefy, underrated vet at least once today.

3- Although Luck's been well-protected and kept picks to a minimum, he still fumbles the ball too often. In 30 NFL starts, he's fumbled the ball 15 times. Look for DC Bob Sutton to send a blind-side blitz that causes a key turnover today.

4- Because of Indy's familiarity with Donnie Avery, who played with the Colts last season, his production will be limited. The entire passing game, in fact, will be stymied by today's snowy, icy conditions in Kansas City. That leaves the door open for 25 to strengthen his bid for Offensive MVP. The Colts have the league's 27th ranked rushing defense, so look for Jamaal to average more than 6 yards per carry in this game.

5- Thanks to favorable weather conditions, a fantastic home field advantage and an offense that's finding its stride, the Chiefs should come out with a win today. KC wins 30-24 in a gritty, exciting ball game. At least that's what I'm hoping, since only a Broncos loss to Houston or Oakland can make next week anything more than a meaningless scrimmage in San Diego.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

A New Reason To Hate

Thanks to a Denver defeat on Thursday, the rest of the regular season just became a hell of a lot more interesting for Chiefs Kingdom. KC is again technically tied with the Broncos atop the AFC West, but they'll need to win out and witness another Denver loss to claim that sexy #2 seed. That makes this afternoon's game in Oakland far more relevant than most Raider Haters imagined it would be entering the week. After a borderline-pitiful trouncing of the Redskins, KC should be coming into The Pit or The Black Zone or whatever with plenty of confidence on the offensive side of the ball. Don't tell me what they call it. I don't care.

This Chiefs offense has finally started to find their rhythm in the last few games. Regardless of what many will say about a lethargic effort from Washington last week, KC has been playing their best offense of the year, ever since that exciting but ultimately infuriating loss to San Diego. It's no surprise that Jamaal Charles' best rushing performance of the year coincided with the Chiefs' highest scoring game. Thanks to some relentless early-game scoring, the Redskins' chance of winning dropped below 1% in less than 20 minutes of game-time (according to the game's Win Probability graph.)

The defense obviously did their part, holding a listless Redskins offense to 10 points and 257 yards and sacking RGIII five times. Last week's game and this weeks game, alike should serve as confidence boosters for the Chiefs D, as well as further proof that they can succeed without Justin Houston – against subpar opponents, at least. The real test will come when Houston is healthy and facing off against Andrew Luck and the Colts, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. For now, there is still plenty of friendly, good-hearted competition to be had with those highly-respected and well-renowned Oakland Raiders.

With another loss last week, Oakland guaranteed themselves another losing season and a full decade of being losers. The Raiders haven't recorded a winning season since 2002, which is a stat that makes any jokes about them just seem cheap at this point. That's not like kicking a man while he's down, it's like kicking a crippled, syphilitic old woman after she falls down the stairs. So, I refuse to stoop to that level. No talk about their embarrassing QB situation, not from me. No mentioning their loss earlier this season against the same team KC just dominated last week, no sir or madam. I'm better than that.

Here are my five predictions for today's game.

1- Most KC fans are confident in their defense by this point, especially when Houston returns, so it seems clear that the offense's improvement will largely determine their chance of success in the playoffs. Only 8 teams give up more points per game than Oakland, which means this game shouldn't be much of a test. Nonetheless, the Chiefs need to avoid playing down to their competition and dominate this game. Expect KC to extend their 3-game streak of scoring 30+ points.

2- Not to be outdone by Knile Davis' franchise record-tying return, Quintin Demps brought one back in Washington to give KC the most touchdowns from kickoff and punt returns of anyone in the league. While they may not get a chance to return another one this afternoon (if the Raiders are smart), they should still dominate on special teams. Look for KC to average at least 8 more yards per return than Oakland.

3- The surprisingly decent Matt McGloin will get his fifth start today. Expect him to complete at least 58% of his passes, but also expect a KC defender, maybe Marcus Cooper, to bait him into an interception.

4- While McGloin has been mildly successful, Oakland's offensive line still struggles to keep him safe in the pocket. The Raider's O-Line has allowed the 5th-most sacks in the NFL. Expect Tamba to get at least one of at least 5 sacks on the Raider rookie QB today.

5- It would only make sense, in a frustratingly poetic kind of way, for the Chiefs to lose today. Regardless of their record and overall hopelessness, the Raiders are going to want this game bad. Beating their playoff-bound rivals in Oakland is probably the last thing the Raiders have to play for this season. However, that Thursday loss from Denver should be enough to keep KC playing hard and staying focused against inferior competition. Chiefs win, 30-17, and hope for that #2 seed stays alive for at least another week.

Doug LaCerte runs this blog and writes for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @DLaC67, send him your distasteful Raiders jokes on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Welcoming the Return of Winning Ways in Washington

Okay Chiefs fans, time to move on from all that Denver drama. Believe it or not, the regular season continues this Sunday, and the Washington Redskins have no sympathy for KC's recent woes. The last three games were all hard-fought losses that shouldn't shake KC's personality as a football team overall. A loss to the struggling Redskins could send the Chiefs on a desperate search for their lost identity.

Washington struggles defensively and through the air on offense, but their rushing game is at the top of the league. A combination of RGIII and Alfred Morris makes Washington the #1 ranked running team in the NFL. It's a poetic sign of the times that this elite rushing attack has earned the Skins a 3-9 record and a firm grasp of last place in their division. Griffin has thrown 11 picks this year, and an uninspiring offensive line has allowed him to be sacked 15 times in the last 3 games.

While the QB deserves much of the blame since he will always earn the credit for success, but RGIII shouldn't be the only Redskin held accountable. ranks only one Redskin receiver within the top 75 (Pierre Garcon at #20) in order of Win Probability Added. For the sake of comparison, three Chiefs receivers rank in the top 75, but all of them (Avery, Bowe and McCluster, in that order) rank below Garcon. With both teams boasting strong running games and iffy pass attacks, viewers of tomorrow's game can expect the clock to keep running and this game to move very quickly.

Here are my five predictions for Sunday's game in Washington:

1- Alfred Morris ranks 6th league-wide in Win Probability Added by a running back. Look for Morris to gain at least 80 yards and Griffin to make up the rest to make it five consecutive games in which KC gave up at least 100 yards on the ground. This should keep the game closer, and lower-scoring, than most would expect.

2- Another matchup that should keep this game competitive is Redskin linebackers vs. Chief offensive tackles. Branden Albert is injured for Sunday's game, leaving Donald Stephenson to fill his place on the line. Stephenson has impressed many in the past few weeks as a fill-in, but the Redskins will do whatever they can to utilize Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan in this game. Although I'm expecting a win, I'm also expecting at least two sacks allowed by KC's offensive line.

3- The Washington defense ranks 23rd in yards allowed per game and gives up the 2nd most points per game in the league. Despite some pressure on Alex Smith, expect the Chiefs to score 30+ points for the third straight week.

4- An angry secondary with a bruised ego should bounce back against a less imposing QB this week. Expect RGIII to give up at least one pick and gain less than 250 yards through the air.

5- After limping into the first face-off with Denver after two ugly games against subpar opponents, the Chiefs were sent reeling on a three-game losing streak. This Sunday, the opposite effect should take place. After standing strong against two powerful teams in three weeks, KC should come into tomorrow's game with plenty of confidence and a huge chip on their shoulder. An emerging Chiefs offense should be able to outscore the struggling Skins. KC finally returns to their winning ways with a 30-20 win in Washington.

Oh, and if you're wondering, KC needs to win out and see Peyton lose twice against the Titans, Chargers, Texans and Raiders in order to reclaim the #2 seed. While the odds aren't in KC's favor, a Denver loss to Tennessee tomorrow could make the rest of the regular season waaay more interesting for fans in the Kingdom. Stay tuned to CBS after tomorrow's noon-time Chiefs game to see if the Broncos can choke enough to keep KC's hopes for a home playoff game alive.

UPDATE: Actually, if you're a SureWest subscriber like myself, you won't be seeing the Broncos game. Instead, CBS will be showing the Deer Valley Celebrity Skifest. Fantastic.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Distillation of Hope

I had admittedly low hopes heading into last Sunday's game against Denver. After joyously shouting at my TV screen through the first 20 minutes of that game, I started to think myself a pessimist. Then, as Manning continued to lob bombs through KC's secondary for score after score, reality set in and confirmed my most pressing fears.

Last week's game was tightly contested, and the offense deserves a bulk of the credit for keeping it close. While the defense gave up 35+ points for the second week in a row, the offense never looked better. With a balanced passing attack and a healthy dose of Jamaal, the Chiefs scored 21 points in 20 minutes and gained 452 yards. Five different Chiefs caught at least 3 passes from a remarkably accurate Alex Smith. Donnie Avery's heartbreaking drops happened, but holy crap, let's just never talk about that.

All the offensive productivity witnessed last Sunday was unfortunately trumped by failure on the defensive side of the ball. An injury-riddled KC defense gave up an embarrassing 535 yards for 35 points against the dreaded Peyton-led offense. While it was nice to see the team get hits on Manning with such a pieced-together blitz game, those moments were few and far between. In the end, the longest play in Chiefs history and a positive turnover ratio still weren't enough to help KC outscore the vaunted Denver offense.

After all their defensive struggles, KC still found themselves within one red-zone reception of tying the game with 1:51 left in the game. Getting that close may have proven some things to Kansas City and its fans, but it didn't earn the team a win.

So is it time to panic, Chiefs Kingdom? After a wondrous, undefeated beginning to the 2013 season, KC is now reeling from three straight losses. Although the sky is not yet falling, the ceiling on expectations for this team has certainly been lowered. The Chiefs are all-but locked into the #5 seed, thanks to that defeat at Arrowhead last Sunday. That means road games in the playoffs, and that means greatly diminished chances for KC's first Super Bowl in more than 40 years.

The Chiefs now need to focus on finishing the season strong. One or two late-season losses against inferior opponents could send the Chiefs limping into the playoffs. If you can remember how that usually turns out for KC, you're probably cringing at the possibility right now. That makes the matchup on every coming Sunday just as important as the last three insanely dramatic games we've just witnessed. Stay tuned for a look at the upcoming face-off with RGIII and the struggling-but-talented Washington Redskins.

Doug LaCerte operates this blog and writes for Follow him on Twitter @DLaC67, "Like" his awesomely cheesy "Feel Good Songs of the Day" on Facebook and add him to your network on Google. Credit for the linked photo goes to GIFD Sports.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chiefs/Broncos Round 2: An Arduous Attempt at Arrowhead

Well, shit. I didn't see that coming, but who did? Who would have predicted that the Chiefs would lose the cornerstones of their blitz game, and the offense would put up 38 points in a losing effort? Last week's game with the Chargers was about as fun as they get, until the very end. If only the Chiefs could have bled a few more seconds off the clock, we could be talking about a one-loss team with an offense that's finally coming to life. Instead, KC heads into their second game with Denver with some serious doubts and concerns.

If not for some lofty injuries, KC could be looking at this game with confidence in their ability to make things interesting. Unfortunately, after the roster went largely unblemished throughout the first half of the season, the Chiefs will again be seriously hindered today by injuries. Justin Houston will definitely miss this game, and Tamba Hali, Eric Fisher, Jon Asamoah and Mike DeVito are all questionable. Devito missed Friday practice for non-injury reasons, and the rest of the aforementioned players had limited participation in practices throughout the week.

If the Chiefs can make this game close, it could be one for the history books. Do they really have what it takes to limit Peyton with a downgraded defense and make this a tight game? My five predictions inspire less hope than I'd like to admit.

1- KC needs to win the turnover ratio to stop this game from getting out of hand, let alone winning. Their failure to do so over the last two weeks has resulted in KC's only two losses of the season. I'll try for a third time to predict a positive ratio for KC that helps them keep this game close.

2- Jamaal finally went off last week, after getting a chance on some screen passes and getting some holes to shoot through on running downs. Denver isn't stupid enough to let #25 burn them today, so look for other options to come open with much of the attention on Charles. Dexter McCluster and Donnie Avery should combine for at least 6 catches and 150 yards of offensive production this afternoon.

3- The Chiefs have been steadily productive on special teams, but they need to pull out all the stops to win today. Expect one big play to flip the field for KC and keep things tense for Peyton and the Broncos.

4- Whether it's Moreno or Montee Ball at RB, Denver will continue its success with running the ball. DeVito is an undervalued veteran on that defensive line whose impact will be sorely missed on running downs today. Expect Denver to pick up at least 90 yards on the ground against that hobbling KC defense.

5- Without the ability to get pressure on the league's best QB, KC's secondary is bound to struggle. Manning's ability to shred the Chiefs through the air will be the key to a disappointing loss. Peyton throws for at least 375 yards to win 38-24 and hand the Chiefs their third straight loss. Ugh. I'd really love to be wrong about this one.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Return to Winning Ways?

This week, the Chiefs relished in having a very good problem on their hands. For the first time this season, KC must now learn to react to a loss. In a long-awaited return to Arrowhead, the Chiefs will have San Diego and the often-unbearable Philip Rivers to overcome this week. How will they react to their first defeat, and how often will Philip Rivers make you, for any of numerous reasons, want to slap him through your TV screen?

The Chiefs return to Arrowhead for the first time since November 3rd for the teams' 107th matchup. The 4-6 Chargers have won the last two meetings and 8 of the last 10. In their first year with former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy at the helm, the Chargers are potent but unpredictable. They started the year 2-3, fought their way back to a winning record, then promptly plummeted to their current position below .500 with a three-game losing streak. They've won against the Colts and played well against Denver, yet they lost to Oakland and Tennessee.

Kansas City is looking to return to their winning ways and avoid the start of a potentially mojo-killing losing streak. This is a huge game we'll be watching. With another face-off against Denver looming seven days in the distance, the Chiefs have a talented and bitterly angry squad to deal with. Will KC be able to overcome Rivers and Sandy Eggo at home today? Finish up with my five predictions to find out.

1- Ryan Mathews will absolutely not have the kind of day he had against Miami last week, when he took 18 carries for 127 yards. Look for the Chiefs to cut that yardage nearly in half today, limiting him to 70 yards or less on the ground.

2- An angry Jamaal Charles, on the other hand, should abuse the 16th ranked running defense in the league. Doug Pederson gets wise and connects with him on at least two successful screen passes as well, giving #25 at least 110 total yards today.

3- Once again, KC probably needs to win the turnover ratio to win the game. Expect Shaun Smith, Marcus Cooper or both of them to snag a timely pick.

4- Rivers will get big yardage through the air, at least 300 yards, without turning it into a win.

5- At least three times, Rivers whines and makes facial expressions that anyone beyond elementary school should be embarrassed to make, as the Chiefs go on to win 20-17. I really do love to hate that guy.

Monday, November 18, 2013

One-Loss Woes, and Why They're Overblown

The first loss of the season is never fun. No matter when or how it comes, it will always bring with it new feelings of fear and uncertainty. This year, it came after a surprising 9-0 start that provoked just as much commendation as it did scrutiny. How bad will this hurt the team, and what does it say about their ability to compete against the league's best?

We should all take a deep breath, Chiefs fans. This loss doesn't prove KC to be a fraud in any way, as humbling as it may now feel. If anything, the Chiefs proved yesterday that they're just a couple adjustments away from beating the Broncos with their style of football.

The Chiefs held the Broncos to their lowest points total and Manning to his lowest completion percentage all year. That says a lot when you consider that KC never got to Manning all night. I predicted that Peyton would dink and dunk KC to death and limit sacks, but I sure as hell didn't think he'd go completely unblemished. It seems the Chiefs DC Bob Sutton was unwilling to blitz often, which is something he'll need to remedy in the very near future. Sadly, that's just one of the ways coaching lost this game for Kansas City.

Jamal Charles touched the ball 18 times last night. 7 of his 16 rushes went between the tackles, and his 2 receptions (for -6 yards) came with less than a minute left in the 4th quarter, when the game was effectively over. While running up the gut clearly isn't Jamaal's specialty, the coaching staff can't be blamed for that one. KC's offensive line struggled, especially at the tackle positions, and their inadequacy allowed way too many rushing attempts to fail. To succeed on offense, OC Doug Pederson and the rest of the offense have to figure out ways to give their best asset big-play potential. Wasn't Jamaal supposed to be the new Brian Westbrook or Lesean McCoy? Please, give that man a damn screen pass.

Without properly using their most valuable player, winning the turnover ratio, sacking (or even knocking down) the opposing QB or completing half their passes on offense, the Chiefs still had Peyton furrowing his massive brow in concern until the last few minutes of the 4th quarter. KC should be able to improve their blitz game, give Jamaal the ball in open space to beat Denver at home two weeks from now. Before that fateful game, the Chiefs have the impressively whiny Philip Rivers to deal with next Sunday. Tune in later this week for a look at the upcoming divisional face-off against the Chargers at Arrowhead.

Doug LaCerte operates this blog and writes a bunch of other stuff for Rant Sports. Follow him @DlaC67 for more Philip Rivers hatred, send any and all funny Chiefs GIFs to him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.