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.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Can KC Bounce Back By Beating Buffalo?

Wow. That disaster of a game last week may have been the most disappointing moment in the Andy Reid Era of Chiefs football. The then-1-8 Giants team that beat KC didn't even play a particularly good game. New York gained 46 less yards than the Chiefs and possessed the ball for about six and a half fewer minutes. Orleans Darkwa led all Giants rushers with 74 yards over 20 carries. The Chiefs will face a better back and a much better team just moments from now at Arrowhead.

When the L.A Chargers beat Cleveland today, they'll have a .500 record. A Chiefs loss would put Rivers' squad just a game behind KC in the standings. It's not a "must-win" for the Chiefs today, but the outcome will significantly change the Kingdom's outlook on the playoffs this year. If my predictions prove to be accurate today, it should be a close one.

1. Andy Reid and Alex Smith drove this offense into a downward spiral of ill-conceived conservatism that culminated in last week's embarrassing defeat. Alex must get back to extending plays with his feet instead of ruining plays by prematurely scrambling out of the pocket. I'd rather see him take a few hard licks today than throw any more 2-yard passes on 3rd and long. I think he knows this, too.

Reid must allow this to happen with properly balanced play-calling that evenly incorporates his three big offensive weapons attacking all levels of the field. The offense's recent refusal to stretch the defense by consistently threatening them with deep passing is as well-documented as it is infuriating. I think Andy knows this, as well. I predict that the Chiefs will complete four or more passes for 20+ yards while Kareem Hunt returns to gaining triple-digit yardage.

2. I know I just really dogged KC for their conservatism, but that philosophy leads to a great turnover differential, and that always leads to success. The six teams who have thrown five or fewer picks all lead their divisions. To Taylor's credit, he's thrown only three picks over 279 pass attempts this year. He and Alex both have their reasons to avoid turning the ball over at all costs today. I predict a relatively clean game with two or less total turnovers.

3. The Chiefs haven't faced a running back as legit as LeSean McCoy since this whole decline started with a disgusting Week 6 loss to Pittsburgh. KC fans saw Le'Veon Bell dip and slide through the Chiefs defense for 179 yards on the ground. A performance like that from Shady today would spell doom for the Kingdom, so Chiefs DC Bob Sutton must win the chess match to win this game. He needs to dial up the right combination of solid run-stuffing defense and enough blitzing to force pressure on Tyrod Taylor, while still keeping enough defenders on the edges of the field to limit the damage Taylor can do with his legs. You'll never catch me saying that being a defensive coordinator in the NFL looks easy.

Nonetheless, I still have faith - though it may be muted lately - in the "bend, don't break" potential of this defense. I predict an uplifting bounce-back performance for Sutton and his defense that limits the Bills to 4.8 fewer points than their season average and leads KC to a hard-fought 23-16 victory.

Doug LaCerte usually procrastinates too much to do much with his Facebook page or tweet very many tweets @DLaC67.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Can KC Make Giants' Season Even Sadder?

A whole bunch of stats indicate that our Kansas City Chiefs should succeed handily against the New York Football Giants today. The 1-8 Giants are one of the three worst teams in football according to power rankings from ESPN, NFL.com, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and probably several more power rankings I didn't check. New York's defense cannot stop big plays, and KC may be the league's best big-play offense. The Giants can't stop the run, and the Chiefs bring to the Big Apple one of the world's best running backs. However, KC is not without their own flaws, and the Giants have the tools necessary to exploit those flaws today.

The only Giants on the offensive side of the ball that scare me are the running backs, and not only because Orleans Darkwa averages 5.1 yards over 81 attempts this season. The Giants' only victory so far this year came against the similarly lousy Denver Broncos in Week 6. New York didn't turn the ball over, while Denver turned it over three times, and Darkwa ran for 117 yards. He and Wayne Gallman scare me because all running backs scare me until the Chiefs show marked improvement in the run-stopping department. The Giants are actually one of only three teams in the league allowing more yards per rush than KC. If the Chiefs limit turnovers and Darkwa, they should win. We know KC can limit turnovers, but we also know the defenses' run-stopping skills are lacking. This leads me to an ever-so-smooth segue that then leads me to these three quick predictions:

1. Because of all the aforementioned success with running the ball, I predict both Darkwa and Kareem Hunt to earn more than 85 yards on the ground. Savor every moment of Chiefs football you get today, because all this rushing should keep the clock ticking and make this a relatively quick game.

2. The Giants played arguably their best game of the season against the current front-runners for the NFC championship. Eli and the rest of the offense didn't show up until the fourth quarter that week, when they scored all of their 24 points to make the Philadelphia Eagles sweat late. The Eagles ultimately won 27-24, but let's remember those 24 points scored in a single quarter before we get too cocky at any point in this game. KC's coaching staff will undoubtedly keep that in mind. I predict that Eli helps the Giants keep things interesting in New York today and stops KC from covering their 10-point spread.

3. Despite my hesitation to predict a blowout or even a comfortable win, I predict a 30-23 victory for the Chiefs that should provide some calm to the Kingdom. It's not like a victory against a playoff-caliber opponent, or even a .500 opponent, but it's a meaningful "get healthy" moment for KC. This is the start of four consecutive weeks with a Sunday noon game for the Chiefs, so now's the time to return to normalcy with a win in New York.

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



Sunday, November 5, 2017

Can Underdog Chiefs Beat the 'Boys In Dallas?

It's been so long since your Kansas City Chiefs faced the Dallas Cowboys that one of the starting QB's from their last face-off is calling the game for CBS this time around. We'll see two of the league's five highest-scoring offenses today, and a couple average-at-best defenses, so it's shaping up to be an action-packed afternoon in Dallas. Should the Chiefs Kingdom feel disrespected by the 2.5 points Vegas is giving KC this week?

At the very least, Chiefs fans have the right to be irritated by all the talk about how awful their squad's defense is this season. Comparing the Cowboys defense to KC's provides further evidence that the Chiefs D still epitomizes "bend, don't break". Despite allowing more yards per game than all-but-two teams in the league, KC actually allows fewer points per game than Dallas this season. The Cowboys' 324.9 yards allowed per game is 13th in the NFL, but they give up an average of 23 points each week. The Chiefs' opponents average 22.5 points per game this year. I kept this in mind while I whipped up today's three predictions:

1. KC's well-known susceptibility to star running backs presumably made Bob Sutton sleep restlessly this week, but I trust him....sorta. I think KC's defensive strategy will be tweaked to limit Ezekiel Elliot, which will leave the Kansas City secondary with even more problems than usual. I expect the Chiefs to hold Zeke close to his 98.6 yards-per-game average today, but I predict that this allows Dak Prescott to rack up at least 260 yards through the air - over 35 more than his average this season.

2. Kansas City has the league's lowest red zone touchdown scoring percentage over the last three weeks. Over the entire 2017 season, the Chiefs rank 19th league-wide with a 50% red zone touchdown scoring percentage (a statistic for which even an acronym sounds too wordy). Dallas ranks 5th in that same stat. For KC to overcome the 'boys today, this must change. I predict that whichever team leads in this stat by the end of the game will win.

3. Andy must feel a strong desire to prove himself and this offense's legitimacy today in Dallas. Last week's game was won largely because of turnovers, and KC's offense stalled in important moments time and time again (0-3 in the red zone and 2-12 converting third downs, according to B.J Kissel at kcchiefs.com). Dallas is 15th in both rushing yards and passing yards allowed, so Reid's offensive game plan should be a balanced attack involving heavy doses of his three star playmakers.

The Chiefs should score some points today, but it will come down to which of these legit squads performs best in the clutch. I suppose it always comes down to this in any well-played game. Those numbers regarding the Chiefs' recent ineffectiveness in the red zone seem damning. I dread the thought of KC's defense facing yet another elite running back whose team consistently gives him the rock when the opposition clearly can't stop him. Injury concerns with KC's offensive line, paired with the fact that Dallas features a healthy, top-five offensive line themselves, also make it difficult for me to predict a victory for KC today.

This version of the Kansas City Chiefs is legit. If they lose this afternoon, it shouldn't make you think any differently. For all the reasons I just gave, that could definitely happen. I'm still predicting a win for KC, though.

The 2.5-point spread makes perfect sense, but I think the Chiefs will once again win the turnover battle to help them win the game. KC already faced three teams who give up fewer points per game than Dallas, and they scored at least 29 against each of them. Despite giving up tons of yardage to the opposition, the Chiefs held the Patriots' league-leading offense to 27 points. The power rankings all call the Philadelphia Eagles the league's best team right now, and KC held them to 20 points. The Redskins couldn't score more than that, and the [several expletives removed] Steelers won while scoring only 19. It's time for KC to prove themselves against a top-shelf team in a clutch moment, deep in the season, when team identities start to solidify. Against the odds-makers' better judgement, I predict a thrilling 29-26 victory for the Chiefs. @ me about how stupid I am any time. Isn't @ me a cool thing that cool people say now? That's a thing, right?

Doug LaCerte still neglects his Facebook page, but you can @ him or whatever @DLaC67.