Oh yes, they are.
Look, I'm not a fortune teller. Nor am I a psychic. For all I know, the Chiefs will go one-and-done yet again and we'll all be left with a "what could have been" feeling. You know, again. We've seen it before with teams just as good as this one (perhaps not as tough, but I digress).
But the point isn't to make a prediction. The point is to discuss the possibility. Quite often, when people (and fans) discuss the Chiefs it's always as though they have some sort of ceiling.
"Yeah, their defense looks great, but can they win it all with Alex Smith at quarterback?"
You've either heard, read, or said some version of that within the last year. The fact of the matter is that more than a few people (and, once again, fans) don't believe Alex Smith is a good enough quarterback to make things happen on a playoff run. Frankly, I've always been someone who has viewed Alex as good enough to help a little, but that's about it. If the Chiefs were going to make noise in the playoffs it had to be due to everything else going right.
That was until Alex Smith 2.0 showed up during the middle of this season.
Who is Alex Smith 2.0? Well, it helps to discuss who he ISN'T. He is not the Alex Smith we've been watching the last two and a half years.
Alex Smith gets happy feet and drops his eyes when pressure starts coming. Alex Smith 2.0 keeps his eyes down the field as he starts to scramble.
Alex Smith runs laterally, hesitates, and gains a couple of yards on desperation scrambles. Alex Smith 2.0 extends drives with his legs as frequently as Russell Wilson or Cam Newton.
Alex Smith ducks and covers when the pressure hits home. Alex Smith 2.0? Sure, Khalil Mack, come on down after whomping the RT...
This was on 3rd and 4 on the Harris TD drive. Has Mack all over him, makes the throw anyway. Alex Smith 2.0... pic.twitter.com/YsQJKEo8H5— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 4, 2016
Alex Smith 2.0 will stand there and make the throw, hitting Jeremy Maclin (who shook David Amerson so hard that it was borderline NSFW) for an ice-cold 3rd down conversion that was the beginning of the end for the Raiders.
Alex Smith never, ever, ever throws the ball down the field. Alex Smith 2.0 does it multiple times a game.
Alex Smith never ever, ever throws passes into tight windows that could be considered "risky." Alex Smith 2.0 does it multiple times a game.
Now, the downside of Alex Smith 2.0 is that he throws a few more interceptions than Alex Smith. But not really. Yeah, Smith had a couple last week. Of course, that brings him to a whole seven on the year, three of which came well before he became Alex Smith 2.0. So yeah, I'm more than willing to put up with a slight (very slight) uptick in picks when it means all that other stuff above.
When Smith threw his second pick of the evening against the Raiders (a tough across-the-field out that Smith flat out missed), I got really worried. Did this mean Smith was going to crawl back into his shell and revert to "decent QB who doesn't really move the needle much outside of the rare play?" Was all the progress we've seen this season about to be undone by a couple of poor throws?
Not long after, Smith had the play you just looked at, where Smith hung tough under heavy pressure and found my favorite free agent signing of all time (no, I haven't really thought it through. I'm excited, OK?) for an absolutely crucial third down. That's a grown freaking man's third down conversion. That's making a play. That's what it takes to win games in January.
What happened next? Oh, not much.
Does it feel like every week lately I'm calling a throw by Smith one of the best he's made in a #Chiefs uniform? pic.twitter.com/SMwZG8fsDK— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 4, 2016
Well, all right then. That'll work.
Alex Smith doesn't even attempt throws like this. Not even on his good days. Not until recently, at least. Alex Smith 2.0 is sticking throws like this every single week. Frankly, if I weren't so thrilled about it I'd be kinda worried about what kind of psychological torture they put Smith through to alter his apparent approach to the game so significantly. If you told me Andy Reid locked Smith in a darkened room while playing interceptions on giant TV over and over followed by "it'll be OK" flashing across the screen and blaring death metal... well, I wouldn't believe you, but I'd have to at least consider it for a second or two.
Even if literally nothing else about Smith's game had changed, his newfound "yeah, I'll throw that" attitude alone would make me feel a lot better about the playoffs. But that's not all that's been going on.
Somewhere along the way, Smith developed into one of the more dangerous third down quarterbacks in the NFL. Yes, I re-read that sentence after writing it. No, I don't feel the need to alter it. The fact is that Smith has become a downright terrifying scrambler on third downs.
Did you know that Smith has picked up 30 first downs on the year with his legs? That's five fewer than Charcandrick West.
Is Smith Cam Newton? No, of course not. But what he IS is an extremely athletic quarterback who has finally started to master the delicate balance between when to scramble for a quick first down and when to move around the pocket with his eyes down the field. Smith used to run out of what looked like desperation. Now he's doing it to move the chains, and doing it a LOT.
And now Smith has faced his worst nightmare (throwing picks, his seemingly biggest phobia, on back to back throws) and came away willing to push the ball down the field and make risky throws. I just don't know what to make of it.
Seriously, look at where this ball goes (back to the Harris touchdown)...
As John Lynch said in the broadcast, that was really good coverage by the linebacker. There was just nothing to be done. Smith made a throw to what was about a foot and a half window. There's NOWHERE else that ball can go outside of a deflected pass or sailing out of the end zone.
Last week, when I wrote about Smith's touchdown pass to Maclin I marveled at what a small window Smith was willing to throw to. This window was even smaller. And Alex Smith 2.0 threw it anyway.
And then there's Smith's seemingly newfound control over the offense. For (at least) the third week in a row the Chiefs scored on a play where Smith saw something in the defense and either called out a completely new play at the line of scrimmage or (as was the case here) "killed" the first play call.
Multiple weeks in a row the Chiefs have scored on audibles or "kills" at the LOS by Smith. Same here w/ Maclin TD. pic.twitter.com/DwgEtI5ffR— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) January 4, 2016
Smith's control of the game at the line of scrimmage has been MARKEDLY superior over the last half-season. He's calling a lot more audibles at the line, he's killing plays more often, and there's just been a better overall sense of control from Smith. If I were to go off what it looks like (the ol' eye test), Smith appears to be attacking the defense rather than reacting to it.
I'd be curious to get inside Smith's head with regards to what exactly he saw in the Raiders defense but the play the Chiefs ran just DESTROYED the zone the Raiders were in. It was gorgeous.
In short, Alex Smith is playing the best football of his life. He's stretching the field, he's throwing contested passes, he's controlling the offense, he's making plays with his legs ... it's been really fun to watch happen.
Once again, I have no idea what'll happen next week. But Alex Smith 2.0? You can win a Super Bowl with Alex Smith 2.0.