Sunday, December 4, 2016

Week 13 In The Georgia Dome: Why KC Can Win

Your 8-3 Kansas City Chiefs just defeated the Super Bowl champs, but they’ll be the underdogs again today. According to Oddsshark.com, the 7-4 Atlanta Falcons need four or five points to cover the spread at the Georgia Dome this week. As I did my homework for this important meeting between two playoff teams, a trend quickly made itself apparent; the reasons why KC “should” lose this game all boil down to the coaching staff.

The Chiefs need a plan to limit Julio Jones’ effectiveness, but local media won’t let me forget that Bob Sutton’s defense never changes. Marcus Peters can shut down half the field on most plays while Jones lines up and attacks whichever part of the field the Falcons prefer at the moment. Atlanta is the league’s worst passing defense, yet we all know about Andy Reid’s stubborn and sometimes-stupefying play-calling on offense. That’s not to mention our struggling franchise QB. Then we have the injuries to not only the team’s best receiver but also one of history’s best running backs. It’s hard to pick the Chiefs to win this week. I’m still doing it.

KC’s stellar defense matches up today against the highest-scoring team in football, as KC’s recently-ugly offense faces a mediocre Atlanta defense. Last week, the Chiefs took an injury-riddled defense to Denver and won against one of this era’s greatest defenses. KC played a ridiculously incomplete football game and still managed to beat the Super Bowl champs at their house. The Chiefs needed all the tremendous help they got from the special teams and defense in order to win last week, but there’s reason to believe they’ll have more game-changing moments going forward.

Leading the league in turnover differential is not a fluky way to a winning record when those turnovers are clearly caused by a certain defensive strategy. Peters won’t stop jumping routes for picks, even if it means he gets burnt for it on occasion. A healthy combination of Justin Houston and Dee Ford, with some Tamba Hali sprinkled in, should consistently provide enough pressure to force mistakes from opposing QB’s. It’s simple when you read it here, sure, but Bob Sutton’s job is to complicate things for the coaching staff on the opposite sideline. Numerous game-changing moments like Eric Berry’s pick-six in Carolina prove that Sutton is doing so successfully. Maybe, to an extent, he doesn’t change the defense up because he shouldn’t.

The numbers indicate that Julio Jones can catch roughly a thousand passes today and still not ensure victory for Atlanta. Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders beat up on Phillip “now synonymous with toast” Gaines and the rest of the Chiefs secondary for 162 yards last week. You may remember that Denver was unable to win that game. Oakland’s Amari Cooper caught 10 passes for 129 yards while KC destroyed the Raiders in Week 6. Saints receiver Michael Thomas had virtually the same numbers against the Chiefs while KC handled New Orleans in Week 7. When a good receiver gets hot against the Chiefs, he’ll make his fantasy football owners happy, but it doesn’t spell disaster for Kansas City.

I know it undoubtedly sounds cliché, but the league-leading +14 turnover differential for your Kansas City Chiefs is a huge part of their identity, and a huge part of why they can win today. Especially after I described a team without an identity earlier this season, not mentioning turnovers would be simultaneously unsound as a journalist and stupid as a Chiefs fan trying to predict the outcome of this huge game.

The realistic chance of a KC win should give all Chiefs fans good vibes today, especially since this is the most “okay-to-lose” game of the season. It’s only a 16-game regular season, so there is never a loss that doesn’t sting, but you know what I’m sayin’.


Once I get another real writing gig, I’ll never get the chance to end a paragraph with “you know what I’m sayin’” again, so I’ll just leave it at that. Chiefs win another thriller, 26-23, and my emotional hangover continues.

Doug LaCerte tries using Twitter @DLaC67 all the time, but typically forgets about it until Sundays. He also still has Facebook.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Do KC's Injuries Spell Doom In Denver?

An intense divisional rivalry returns to Mile High Stadium tonight, when your 7-3 Kansas City Chiefs take on the 7-3 Denver Broncos. This is the first time KC traveled to The Centennial State since pummeling the Broncos 29-13 over a year ago. Despite being two of the NFL’s best teams, neither team in tonight’s game is getting positive production from their quarterbacks.

Alex Smith hasn't looked like a legit franchise QB since he faced the defensively inept New Orleans Saints in Week 7. In fact, Alex only looked "good" in three, maybe four of KC's 10 games played so far this season. Smith went 17 for 24 against the Saints for 214 yards and 2 TDs without throwing a pick. In the week prior, he beat up the Oakland Raiders in Oakland with a 19/22, 224-yard performance that broke the franchise record for single-game completion percentage. In Week 3, Smith helped KC take advantage of a billion Ryan Fitzpatrick turnovers by completing 25 of 33 passes and earning 237 yards through the air.

We can also include his comeback performance against the San Diego Chargers in Week 1, when Alex threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns to overcome a huge deficit and lead KC to a 1-0 record. That's four games out of 10 in which your franchise QB looked average or better. Even with a few flashes of brilliance, Chiefs fans can't help but wonder if Smith is good enough to ever win them a Super Bowl. No team has won a Super Bowl with a subpar quarterback since- wait, never mind.

It can be done, but winning the Big Game without a good/great QB requires an excellent defense. When Kansas City brings all their defensive starters to the field, that's what they have. Sadly, the Chiefs enter this game without many of their most important defensive pieces today, which makes winning in Denver a tough bet. Jaye Howard, Dee Ford and Steven Nelson are out today, while Marcus Peters, Derrick Johnson and Dontari Poe are still listed as questionable. That’s one or two starters at every level of the defense that won’t be playing today. I tried mightily to sell myself on a Chiefs victory tonight, but it doesn’t seem likely.

In order for KC to win tonight, Smith needs to outperform Trevor Siemian. If not for the Chiefs’ current injury issues, I’d say that’s possible, if not likely. Both quarterbacks are similarly unimpressive at this point of the season; Smith ranks 26th league-wide in yards-per-game, while Siemian ranks 28th. Alex seemed to miss his Captain Checkdown moniker after impressing many Chiefs fans through Week 7, because he’s recently returned to that pointless short-pass style in a major way. Only six starting QBs have a higher completion percentage than Smith’s 67.2%, but 22 QBs with at least 200 pass attempts have a higher yard-per-catch average than Alex’s 6.9.

Things could get ugly if KC’s patchwork defense allows Siemian to get comfortable. If Denver’s young QB gets enough time in the pocket to consistently find Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, our Chiefs are in trouble. Thomas and Sanders both have over 50 catches, over 650 yards and average over 12 yards per catch. I have to predict a 20-13 loss for our Chiefs today, but it wouldn’t be too disastrous. I’m always stoked for a game against a division rival, but I’ll be even more excited to see KC face the defending champs with a healthy defense. A loss for our Chiefs today won’t be the end of the world, but a loss for the Broncos could really send them scrambling. That would be delicious, but not absolutely necessary for a strong KC playoff run.

Doug LaCerte definitely still uses Twitter @DLaC67, and kinda still uses Facebook.


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Why Chiefs Fans Are Thankful Through Week 10

Welcome to being a fan of the best team in the league that experts refuse to call elite. How's it feel? For me, it's a lot of worrying about our Kansas City Chiefs only being good enough to get to the playoffs and disappoint yet again, then a lot of just trying to relax and appreciate this remarkable team that's good enough to give us all those worries. Since now’s the time for giving thanks, we’ll stay positive today and look at unique statistical breakdown that should make all Chiefs fans feel thankful.

The 2016 Chiefs defense consistently limits opposing teams to less than their average points per game. Just take a look at the points scored by KC’s opponent’s this year/that team’s current average points per game (and how they rank league-wide in that statistic)*:

San Diego Chargers – 27/29.2 (3)
Houston Texans – 19/17.9 (29)
New York Jets - 3/17.9 (28)
Pittsburgh Steelers – 43/23.8 (15)
Oakland Raiders – 10/27.2 (5)
New Orleans Saints – 21/29.4 (2)
Indianapolis Colts – 14/26.6 (7)
Jacksonville Jaguars – 14/19.3 (27)
Carolina Panthers – 17/24.6 (12)
*It should be noted that I omitted Thursday's game to keep things even.

So, KC has already faced three of the five highest-scoring offenses in football. The Chiefs won each of those games and held their opponent to less than their current points-per-game averages. KC hasn’t allowed a team to score higher than their current average since October 2nd, when they looked awful against Pittsburgh in Week 4. The only two times they allowed a team to score more than their current average (at Houston and at Pittsburgh) coincide with the Chiefs’ only two losses. Kansas City keeps winning in spite of their franchise QB, but they’ve proven their ability to win against any team not considered top-shelf.

What’s arguably more important than KC’s currently-firm grip on a ’16 playoff berth is the promising future of this Chiefs defense. Dee Ford continues to lead the league in sacks and make me feel dumb for counting him out earlier this season. Marcus Peters is still on pace for the most interceptions in NFL history, and continues to make ridiculous, game-changing plays. Chris Jones looks like he could become great, or at least good enough to replace Dontari Poe if the Chiefs can't afford to keep them both. I'm not saying KC will make a Super Bowl run year-after-year, but the Chief's shouldn't be bad for a very long time.


Now that (*long sigh*) is definitely something we should all be thankful for. By the way, if the Chiefs shared Thanksgiving dinner together, who do you think would carve the turkey? Does Andy Reid let Alex Smith do it? Maybe they'd hold hands around the knife and carve it together? Sorry, I'll stop. Have a great Thanksgiving.

Doug LaCerte's favorite Thanksgiving side-dish is oyster casserole, and if your family doesn't make that, man, you're missing out. He also has Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

AFC West's Best Faces Defending NFC Champs

Our Kansas City Chiefs found a way to avoid losing against a considerably lesser opponent last week, but in just minutes, the Chiefs face the defending NFC champs. We know Kansas City won't win all the games they "should", but they "should've" lost against the Jags last Sunday. The Chiefs earning a win in ugly fashion, and without many of their most important pieces, stands as evidence that KC is legit. However, fans can't take too much from a victory against such an inferior team. We can rest easy knowing they snuck away with a win, but it wasn’t a pretty moment for the Nick Foles-led Chiefs.

The cellar-dwelling 2-6 Jaguars dominated Kansas City in practically every important statistic, except for the stat that matters most - turnovers. Chiefs reporter BJ Kissel pointed out that during this four-game winning streak, the Chiefs never turned the ball over, and the defense forced 10 turnovers. Since the last time KC turned the ball over, the Denver Broncos have lost two games and given up the ball seven times. So, who's the best team in the AFC West?

I think it's the Chiefs, but man, it's close. The Oakland Raiders proved...something by beating up the Broncos last Sunday night, but I still don't think they proved they're as legit a team as the Chiefs. If anything, the Raiders only proved that Denver is less-daunting an opponent than I assumed.  The incredible softness of Oakland’s schedule and a commanding KC victory in The Black Hole tells me our Chiefs are the cream of the crop in the NFL’s best division. The extremely impactful emergence of Dee Ford could be the biggest reason why.

After myself and many others deemed him a bust, Dee Ford may end up helping KC reach a Super Bowl this year and solidify their defense in years to come. Thinking about this new-and-improved Ford opposite a fully functioning Justin Houston is enough to give me goosebumps. If Houston looks like himself shortly after returning to play this season, watching this duo will inspire confidence and make the diminishing production from Tamba Hali much less sad. Only six QBs in the league have been sacked more often than Cam Newton, so Ford’s contributions today could decide KC’s status in the division (for now).

On the other side of the ball, Carolina ranks 4th in sacks, and their front seven consistently stifles their opponents’ running game. KC ranks 27th in rushing yards allowed, while Carolina ranks 3rd. Spencer Ware is back in action now, and the Chiefs need him to succeed against a dominant defense in order to successfully control the clock in Carolina today.

Turnovers, or a lack thereof, will ultimately decide this game. Carolina owns the NFL’s 5th-worst turnover ratio, while KC has the league’s best. If the Chiefs continue on this pace, they’ll have a good chance at a win today, but it won’t be easy against a Panthers D that looks more daunting with every stat I read. Without the ability to manage the game by successfully run the ball, Andy Reid’s offensive game plan often goes haywire.


I’m predicting a 24-17 defeat for our Chiefs this afternoon, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see KC win. If they make me look stupid (won’t be the first time) and come away with a nice road victory, our Chiefs will be a bona fide first-place team for the first time this season. That would be something to be thankful for, but hey, let me save my corny Thanksgiving material for next week.

Doug LaCerte enjoys insulting the Raiders on Twitter @DLaC67, and he's still ignoring friend requests from numerous family members on Facebook.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

3 Ways to Avoid Losing in Week 9

Our Kansas City Chiefs passed the halfway point of their schedule with a commanding victory last week, and the Vegas books expect another win for KC today. The Jacksonville Jaguars don't incite fear in many NFL locker rooms, so this week, the Chiefs' focus presumably rested less on how to win today's game, and more on how to simple not lose. KC just spent their week game-planning for a subpar opponent without their franchise QB or their two best running backs, but our Chiefs will once again have the advantage today at Arrowhead Stadium. A combination of KC's confidence and Jacksonville's ineptitude place’s the Chiefs’ focus less on winning today and more on letting their opponent lose.

The Jags beat the 1-5, Brian Hoyer-led Chicago Bears in a 17-16 Week 6 stinker. They also managed to beat the Indianapolis Colts by 3 points in Week 4. That is the unabridged list of victories claimed by Jacksonville this season. A disappointing loss lurks somewhere in Kansas City’s soft schedule. It's inevitable, but I don't think it's happening today. Here are three ways KC can avoid losing to the Jags:

1. Spread the ball around - Only seven NFL teams hold their opponent to fewer passing yards per game than Jacksonville. Despite that, only six NFL teams give up more points per game. We can expect conservatism from the Chiefs, but that won't necessarily translate to constantly running the ball. Without Spencer Ware or Jamaal Charles, KC will often defer to short passes and screens today. Successfully spreading the ball around to the healthy, trustworthy options will be what gives the Chiefs enough points to advance to Week 10 with another win. If Travis Kelce, Jeremy Maclin, Tyreek Hill and Chris Conley all finish the day with at least two catches, KC will have done enough offensively to once again avoid losing to an inferior team.

2. Put pressure on Blake Bortles - KC's +9 turnover ratio is second only to Minnesota's +11. Jacksonville ties with the Jets, who allowed 8 turnovers to KC in Week 3, for the league's worst ratio at -8. Only two QBs in the NFL have more interceptions than Bortles' 9, and he's been sacked 17 times through seven games. D.J. White is KC's only injured piece on defense, so the Chiefs should have fun attacking Bortles. If the emerging pass-rush for KC can raise their team average of 5.4 QB hurries per game, they'll limit Jacksonville's offense enough to ensure victory today.

3. Avoid disaster - The safest bet of the day may be for KC to improve that aforementioned turnover ratio, but it isn't necessary for a Chiefs win. The Jags defense will surely be on the lookout for moments to make a game-changing play, and they need more than just one to give themselves a chance to win. The Chiefs' only two losses came in the only two games when they turned the ball over twice or more. If the Jags can't force two or more turnovers today, you guessed it, Chiefs win, and we're on to Carolina with a kinda-sorta-tie for first place in the AFC West.

Doug LaCerte tries to use Twitter @DLaC67, and he's still on Facebook.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Chiefs Reach Week 8 Without Sense of Identity

This season's lack of wins against a “good” football team forces me to wonder about the identity of the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs. KC's a top-ten team according to power rankings from NFL.com, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS Sports, but where's our signature win? I guess the Chiefs' most impressive victory so far was their Week 1 comeback against the last-place, 3-4 San Diego Chargers. That comeback gave both fans and teammates confidence that Alex Smith could elevate this offense when KC needed him most. Sadly, Smith then went on to score 14 points or less in two of KC’s next three games.

The offense has rarely been a total disaster, thanks to Spencer Ware's weekly Pro Bowl-caliber contributions, but rarely has it looked fully operational. KC ranks 19th league-wide in total yards per game, 17th in points per game and 14th in turnover percentage. They epitomize "average offense.” Bright sides include the 3rd-least-penalized offense in the NFL and a +7 turnover ratio that ranks 4th, but limiting mistakes alone doesn’t automatically make you great, or even good.

We can’t forget about the Oakland Raiders looking like a cellar dweller against our Chiefs in Week 6, and some may justifiably consider that KC’s greatest accomplishment of this youngish season. The Raiders aren’t half as legit as their 5-2 record would indicate, so I respectfully disagree. Oakland hasn’t beaten a team with a winning record, and they won three of those five games by 3 points or less. At least the Chargers can say they beat the Broncos in Week 6.

KC has four more games coming up against teams currently below .500. Each Sunday presents its own set of challenges, the Chiefs can't sleep on any of these hungry football teams and blah blah blah all those other clichés you’ve heard about "any given Sunday". That being said, KC won't be underdogs again until Week 12 when they travel to Colorado. That means the Chiefs could realistically reach an 8-2 record without defeating a “good” football team.

I wish I could say this upcoming game will give us some answers, but it looks like rinse-and-repeat (-and-repeat) for KC in Week 8. Oakland and New Orleans had several obvious similarities, and we can draw apparent parallels between the Saints and Indianapolis Colts, too. SI's Chris Burke even referred to Indy as "the AFC Saints" in his latest power rankings. So, for the third straight week, KC faces an opponent with a dynamic passing offense and a porous defense. They can still reuse much of the gameplan Andy Reid designed during the Week 5 bye. That alone would make the Chiefs a Vegas favorite this Sunday.


So, what is this team’s identity? When you think of this year’s Chiefs, what comes to mind? I’ll answer my own question with another question: is it a cop-out to just name the most outstanding players on the team? I definitely envision Marcus Peters picking off infuriated QBs while Spencer Ware blasts through opposing defenses, but a team identity rises above individual pieces. Due partly to their lack of a signature win this season, and despite being a top-ten team in the NFL, KC doesn’t have that. Losing is the only thing that can change the Chiefs’ identity until November 27th, when they face off with the Broncos at Mile High Stadium.

Doug LaCerte tries not to neglect his Twitter account @DLaC67, and he occasionally still uses his Facebook page.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

3 Must-See KC Week 7 Matchups

Man, I just can’t whip up the disdain this week for the visiting 2-3 New Orleans Saints like I did for Oakland in Week 6. It’s to be expected I guess, as the Raiders are organically fun-to-hate, while Drew Brees is just, like, a great guy, you know? I still want him picking Arrowhead Stadium turf out of his facemask after each of the 30 painful sacks he suffers today, but you know, a really awesome guy. So, putting aside today’s fundamental matchup of Brees vs. each member of the Chiefs defense, let’s take a closer look at three must-see matchups:

Marcus Peters vs. Brandin Cooks

Brandin Cooks is one of just five guys in the NFL with more than 13 catches and an average yardage per catch over 17. Only two players have a higher average and as many receptions as Cooks' 17.1 yards and 25 catches. I already predicted that the good guys would win today if KC's star cornerback Marcus Peters manages to pick an errant Brees throw to keep the turnover ratio in the Chiefs' favor. However, if any type of receiver can exploit Peters' all-or-nothing playing style, it's a guy like Brandin Cooks (especially when a guy like Drew Brees is throwing the football.)

Alex Smith vs. Cameron Jordan

The Saints enter Week 7 with injured players on every level of their already-ineffective defense. This puts even more pressure on the few New Orleans defenders who consistently contribute, such as linebacker Cameron Jordan. This two-time Pro Bowler and member of the 2015 All-Pro Team needs to slow KC's offensive down without much competent help around him. Slowing down Alex Smith and Company at Arrowhead seems like a tremendously tough task for Jordan or anybody else after last week's remarkable performance from the Chiefs offense.
Alex Smith's incredibly efficient game against the Raiders is still the talk of the town, and many Chiefs fans can't help wondering aloud whether or not he can repeat it, or at least build on it. KC doesn't need him to complete north of 85% of his passes again in order to beat the 2-3 Saints. The Chiefs just need Smith to convert at key moments against the NFL's second-worst defense. Only a top-tier talent like Cameron Jordan should get the chance to stifle Alex's mojo today.

Spencer Ware vs. Craig Robertson

Okay, so the last matchup technically wasn't even a matchup. To be clear, Eric Fisher and the rest of KC's offensive line is responsible for physically matching up against Cam Jordan today, because duh, I know that. Maybe I should call them something other than matchups? I'll find a smoother-sounding version of "3 Must-See Player Duos Who Significantly Influence One Another’s’ Performances" and I’ll get back to you. This last entry is another non-matchup. That's my only point here.

While Ware isn't exactly matched up against Saints middle linebacker Craig Robertson, they'll be seeing each other often today. Robertson leads his team with 33 combined tackles, and Ware (not to mention Jamaal Charles if he's feeling healthy) should get enough up-front blocking to reach the second level of the New Orleans defense. This is where Robertson's ability or inability to wrap up Chiefs in space could decide this game.

KC's simple, obvious key to success today is running the football with conviction and consistency. If the Chiefs run the ball successfully, they can burn the clock with a tie or the lead, thus keeping the opponent's future Hall of Fame QB on the sideline. A consistent running game limits Brees' chances to hurt KC, and also keep the Chiefs defense well-rested. So, to keep that running game going, KC needs third-down conversions on the ground, and nobody has a bigger defensive impact on the success or failure on third downs than a middle linebacker that leads his team in tackles.

I will continue with this “fool’s errand” of making week-to-week NFL predictions by picking the Chiefs to win a 27-24 thriller at home today. As a bonus, I also predict that Chiefs fans will continue to hit up Saints defensive tackle Nick Fairley’s Twitter feed with love after he suddenly lost his mother earlier this week. We can all sympathize with that kind of pain, whether or not it’s something we want to acknowledge within the sanctum of football Sunday.

Doug LaCerte sometimes uses Twitter @DLaC67. He still has a Facebook page, and he loves his momma very much.