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Are the Kansas City Chiefs legit contenders? These 3 questions will tell us

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL has done a remarkable job becoming a year-round machine. There really isn't any time of the year when NO ONE is talking about the NFL. They've made the draft, free agency, and OTA's news. That's incredibly impressive. We care about practices without contact. I mean ... well done, NFL. Well done.

That said, even an all-encompassing news behemoth like the NFL has dull moments. And here, after free agency and the draft, we're at the beginning of a pretty long moment.

So with that in mind (and the fact that I haven't done a mailbag in quite some time), we're going to begin a series of mini-mailbags. Note that I didn't say DAILY mailbags. That's because I don't want to make promises I can't keep. I received a wonderful response for this mailbag and have more than enough questions to tide us over for a few weeks. But for the foreseeable future, we're going to try and do this a few times a week with just a couple questions.

And so, together, we'll survive the offseason! Feel free to tweet mailbag questions to @RealMNchiefsfan. And give me a follow if you're feeling especially friendly. Or don't, because free country and stick it to the man. Also, don't feel the need to limit the questions to Chiefs questions (as you'll see in this column).

Let's mini mailbag!

Of course! 19-0! Record-breaking defense!

Oh, wait, my bad...

(Takes off glasses)

The world is a scarier place without those things, but since you asked I'll brave it.

Here's what I ask myself when I try and consider whether ANY  team is an "actual" SB contender.

1) Does this team have a great quarterback OR a way to neutralize a great quarterback?

2) Does this team have any glaring weaknesses good teams will expose in the playoffs?

3) Does this team show the ability to beat other playoff-caliber teams?

If the answer to those questions is "yes, no, yes," a team is an actual Super Bowl contender. The NFL is unlike other sports (other than March Madness) in that it's actually quite common for the team that wins it all to not ACTUALLY be the best week-in-and-week-out team in the league. That's what happens when you're playing in a single elimination tournament that only requires 3-4 straight wins to be crowned king.

Being the best isn't a must. Being able to stand your ground and give yourself a puncher's chance against the best absolutely is. And any team that can answer those questions correctly has a puncher's chance.

1) Does this team have a great quarterback OR a way to neutralize a great quarterback?

One of these two things has to exist to escape the NFL playoffs alive. You're going to face elite quarterbacks in the playoffs. You're going to need to be able to survive a shootout (which almost always necessitates a QB you can count on to be great), OR you're going to need to be able to prevent that opposing QB from making it a shootout entirely.

The second ability is one you see demonstrated by the Giants during their Super Bowl runs, particularly the first. Without the Giants pass rush DESTROYING quarterbacks throughout the playoffs, there is no "helmet catch." There just isn't. The Giants were able to move past teams who were overly dependent on star performances from their QB because of their unique ability to make QB's miserable.

The Saints Super Bowl win is an underrated example because of the presence of Drew Brees. Yes, Brees was (and still is) a great quarterback. However, the Saints made it past several teams on the back of a defense that made opposing quarterbacks miserable.

Anyway, so what about the Chiefs? Look, Alex Smith is a quarterback I like for the most part. But he's not "great." I will not argue about this. I won't do it. He's "good." He's not "great." So the Chiefs fail that test.

The other half of the test? Absolutely. The Chiefs have a defense created to make opposing quarterbacks sad, as was proven last year. In 16 games (against Manning twice, Brady, Rivers twice, Tannehill, Wilson, and Big Ben) the Chiefs never once allowed 300 yards passing. They were near the top of the league in sacks. They were just a very, very good defense against the pass.

Now, Ron Parker has been (we hope) permanently moved to safety. Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson have added depth at corner. Phillip Gaines has a year in and time to get fully healthy (he played very well when not hobbled as a rookie). Tyvon Branch, a stud safety, has been added to the mix (with the necessary "if healthy" asterisk).

In other words, the Chiefs absolutely have the defense to take away an elite quarterback. They proved it last season. So YES.

2) Does this team have any glaring weaknesses good teams will expose in the playoffs?

What killed the Chiefs down the stretch last season were two things; horrific pass protection and really poor run defense. Both were weaknesses teams keyed on as more and more film mad those problems glaringly obvious.

In the playoffs, those problems only get more serious. Good teams (and teams with good coaches) will pick at those weak spots like a scab.

So do the Chiefs still have those weaknesses? Well, that's to be determined. IDEALLY the return of Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito will shore up the weakness against the run. I mean, getting back your best run defender on two different levels of the defense is a pretty big deal. Even if that weakness goes from problem to "average," it prevents teams from really gunning for that area.

Pass protection? I'm not sure. I keep reading and reading analysts liking the Morse pick a lot more than I did. I loved the Ben Grubbs addition. And all reports are that Donald Stephenson is ready to prove something (and make no mistake, he's always had a TON of talent). This could be another area where the upgrade is from "abysmal" to "OK" and the team is wildly better as a result. Losing Rodney Hudson hurts, though.

This is the toughest question to answer, and as of this exact second I have to (with no rose tint whatsoever) say YES ... PROBABLY.

3) Does this team show the ability to beat other playoff-caliber teams?

This is an unqualified YES. The Chiefs manhandled the Patriots. They beat the Dolphins handily. They beat the Seahawks at their own game. They gave multiple other playoff-level teams all they could handle.

This wasn't a case of the 2010 Chiefs, where every good opponent sent the Chiefs packing. This team, even with its warts last year (see No. 2 above) was able to stand and deliver with the big boys of the league.

So we're at a very solid 2 out of 3. The wild card is going to be those weak spots from last season. On the surface it appears that some steps have been taken to address those weak spots. But we won't really know until a few weeks into the season how effective those steps have been.

So as of right this moment, I can't say the Chiefs are a legit Super Bowl contender. But there's definitely hope there. Not many teams can even claim 2/3 of those traits.

Eh, I'd take the one clean. And that's not really out of any nobility on my part. It's just simply that I wouldn't want every other fan base in the NFL to have an instant comeback against my bragging rights as a fan. I want them to be FORCED to admit that the Chiefs owned the league for a season without having to spend an hour and a half arguing first.

Don't be ridiculous. Honey Bunches of Oats. Is there anyone on earth who would say otherwise? Does anyone actually eat Wheaties besides the athletes who endorse them?

What I want to see is an athlete start endorsing Peanut Butter Crunch. The commercial there would be phenomenal. "Peanut Butter Crunch won't make you faster, or stronger, or healthier. But it tastes amazing, and life is short."

Your welcome, Cap'n.

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