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Mailbag: The best Chiefs team since, the secret of being a Chiefs fan, more

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Look, I don’t want to get into the total details of exactly how it all went down until after the game next week, but I have two things to say:

  1. I will be in attendance next weekend when the Chiefs host the Steelers
  2. Chiefs Kingdom is, without a doubt, the greatest group of people in sports. Seriously. The GREATEST.

Like I said, ya’ll will get more details when I write my usual road trip column, but those are two things that I know for sure right now.

And because you’re the greatest, you know what you deserve? You deserve a mailbag. And not just any mailbag, a “the Chiefs are the best team in the best division in football and won their first division title in years and everything is awesome right now” SUPER mailbag. In fact, it’s so super I’m going to have to divide it into two parts (got a ton of amazing questions).

Let’s get after it, Division Champs Mailbag Part One!

That’s a great way to get this started.

First and foremost, I feel like fans’ expectations are that the Chiefs at least reach the AFC Championship game and, for many, that they make it to the Super Bowl.

Is this realistic and fair? I say it is. I want you to consider a few things:

  1. The Chiefs, last year, destroyed Houston on the road in the first round and gave the Patriots a game that made them sweat in New England.
  2. That team was missing Jeremy Maclin, Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West, and Justin Houston (yes, Mac and Houston tried, but be real: they weren’t really there). Furthermore, that team had a significantly worse version of Steven Nelson and lacked Chris Jones and Tyreek Hill.

In other words, this team is absolutely better than it was this time last year. It just is. The offense has more explosive capability and the defense is more versatile. Of course, Derrick Johnson was around last year, and that’s a big deal. But it absolutely does not outweigh that RIDICULOUS list of players they are richer for this time around.

So no, it’s not unrealistic to expect a good team to make the Super Bowl.

With regards to whether this year > last year... well, a division title swings this year SO FAR in its favor. However, if the Chiefs go one-and-done in the playoffs, that’s a big black mark on the season. So I’m going with TBD at the moment. If the Chiefs reach the AFC Championship then it’s absolutely a better year.

I’ve seen a lot of this from Chiefs fans. We’ve been hurt so many times (am I the only one who is oddly nervous about having a bye week, despite Andy Reid’s wild amount of success in that situation and the huge impact it could have on injured players getting healthy?) that we almost EXPECT bad things to happen. We’re the high school junior sitting here at a ragingly great party who can’t stop wondering when the cops are gonna come bursting through the front door. It’s enough to ruin the ride.

And with that in mind, I tell you this: YES, get excited. You want to know a dirty little secret about being a fan? C’mere, I’ll whisper it on your ear.

(leans in and whispers in a totally non-creepy way)

The excitement and anticipation is half the fun, maybe even more than that.

(leans back out an appropriate distance)

Seriously, you want to know what’ll happen if and when the Chiefs finally climb that mountain and win a Super Bowl? You will be THRILLED ... for a couple of days. Then, the feeling will fade away. Yeah, you’ll still be happy about it and have great memories, and you’ll love the opportunity to grind. it. in. the. faces. of Broncos fans. But you know what you’ll find yourself thinking about within a week? Free agency, and then the draft.

Never forget that sports are in the moneymaking business. And the way they get YOUR money into THEIR pocket is to always, always leave you looking forward to the next step. This includes teams that just won it all. That’s just how it goes.

My point is this: enjoy the journey. Get excited. Don’t let worrying about tomorrow keep you from enjoying today and remembering yesterday fondly. That’s some good advice in football and in life, I promise. The Chiefs are division champs. Enjoy it! They are three wins from being Super Bowl champions. Get excited!

A little bit, sure.

Now, make no mistake, that feeling has NOTHING to do with Tyreek Hill. From everything I’ve seen he’s done and said all the right things since arriving in Kansas City (and given the fact that he’s a man who is on probation for doing something truly, truly terrible and is on an extremely short leash, that makes sense). There’s nothing about Hill that makes me say, “oh yeah, that dude is definitely going to let this go to his head.”

However, I always get concerned about rookies who see a lot of success based on physical gifts early on. You can throw Chris Jones into this same camp (though recent reports that he’s constantly in the film room and shadowing Dontari Poe make me less worried about him). Both Jones and Hill are having really good rookie years, and it’s largely despite flaws in their games (pad level for Jones, subtle route running and WR tricks for Hill) because they’re just so GIFTED in a specific way: Jones is incredibly strong, Hill is incredibly fast.

I think for anyone, absolutely anyone, it would be difficult to keep a level head after ascending to the highest pinnacle in football and see that you can be good right away. Imagine that feeling. You’re a rookie and you’re doing things the guys around you (veterans) just can’t do. You’re having more success than they’ve ever had. Would YOU be able to listen to them when they call you out or try and give you advice? I think it would be hard.

I mentioned this on a podcast the other day: this offseason and next year should give us some clue as to whether Jones and Hill want to be great... or merely good. They are already good players. Some guys are content to coast on that. Some are not. Travis Kelce is gifted enough that he could have been a “good” player without working at his craft. Instead, he’s put in the time to fix his biggest weakness (fumbles) and has honed very hard-to-learn skills in route running (he’s a stud at this now) and run blocking. He wasn’t content with being good, and it shows in his improvement.

Do I worry that Hill and Jones aren’t wired the same way? Yes, yes I do. But make no mistake ... if either of them wants to be great, it absolutely will happen. They are two of the most physically gifted players I’ve ever seen.

ILB or QB, and at this point it’s not even a question for me.

Now, before anyone accuses me of turning on Alex Smith, hear me out. He’s not getting any younger, and I’m not saying I want someone to replace him right now. I just want to make sure the Chiefs are NEVER stuck in the lurch when it comes to the quarterback situation. We tend to believe that because of guys like Brady and Manning that quarterbacks will be around forever, but one thing I learned from Manning was this: when you’re done as a QB, you’re D-O-N-E. And I don’t want that to happen on the Chiefs’ watch.

As always, I say all this with a caveat: it depends on how the draft goes. If a wildly talented player falls to you (like Chris Jones in the second round when defensive line wasn’t necessarily the Chiefs’ biggest need), you absolutely take him. Talent wins every time.

But I would be very, very happy to see the Chiefs address QBOTF (on the off chance Tyler Bray isn’t some kind of REALLY long-term plan by Andy Reid) with a chance to learn behind a guy like Smith. And ILB ... well, I don’t want to talk about Derrick Johnson, because this is a happy place.

But again: try to address positions, but always keep BPA at the top of the priority list.

Oh my goodness, I can’t even.

So imagine the Chiefs defense as it is currently assembled... except transport DJ back in time to 2013 (not that he’s lost much of a step, but he was a force of nature that year) and TAMBA HALI BACK TO 2010.

You remember Tamba in 2010? 14.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, a pair of fumble recoveries, and what seemed like 1,403 pressures? He was unstoppable that season, absolutely unstoppable.

You put him in there with Houston, a now-competent Ford, and Chris Jones on pass rushing downs? Forget about it. Seriously, that’s just as frightening a pass rush as the one that carried the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

And let’s not forget bringing back prime Jaye Howard (he was significantly better in 2015 than this year even before his injury, making tons of flash plays) and Dontari Poe circa 2014 (six sacks as a NOSE TACKLE, along with arguably his strongest year against the run). Josh Mauga in his best year prevents ILB opposite DJ from being a weakness, and the current iterations of Parker and Berry stick around. My CB2? Look, I know you’re all laughing at me at this point, but I’m sticking with peak Phillip Gaines. I swear, guys, he was STICKY in coverage. I believe.

That’s just not a defense you score points on. It’s not. There’s no weakness to exploit. I say that team gives up 10 points per game at absolute most, and only then due to a couple of fluke games.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go watch some Tamba Hali highlights...

It depends on what you mean. As I said above, it’s come out recently that Jones, to quote Andy Reid, “stays kind of in (Poe’s) hip pocket there and he makes sure he’s not missing anything from that standpoint.” So from all appearances, it would seem he owes a great deal to Poe with regards to understanding what he’s looking at when he lines up every week. And that’s highly valuable.

If what you mean is schematically, well, I think Poe has helped him there as well. As much as I don’t believe Poe is doubled every down like many claim, he has definitely eaten his fair share of double teams this season. You ever notice that on all those really-fun-to-watch GIFs of Chris Jones owning offensive linemen, they all have something in common? He’s one-on-one.

Poe’s presence definitely assists Jones by drawing double teams pretty consistently. Now, do I think a lot of Jones’ success is just due to him being a brute? Yes, yes I do. But some of it is definitely due to Poe drawing a little extra attention.

(thinks about being able to talk about Jamaal Charles)

(wells up)

Nope, not ready. Sorry man. Can’t do it. But I can give a general opinion: you can find running backs in the second or third round, and very good ones at that.

(Googles Dustin Colquitt and hits “images”)

Nah, man. Well ... maybe he’s trying. But have you SEEN Alex Smith’s beard game? even those who don’t want him as their franchise quarterback have to admit, that dude looks good with a beard. Seriously, Smith screaming like a maniac looking like a freaking Spartan after the comeback win against the Chargers will go down as the most memorable photograph of the season (if it all ends well, at least), and about 85 percent of that is because his beard game is so, so strong.

Dustin Colquitt is amazing at many things, one of them being planting back-to-back punts inside the five-yard line against the Chargers (arguably one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen on a football field). But no one is out-bearding Alex Smith right now in that locker room.

I’m giving Norman a second chance since I didn’t REALLY answer his first question. The answer to your first question in the tweet is absolutely yes. This is definitely the best Chiefs team since 2003.

Really, the only teams that could try and contend with this year’s teams are 2004, 2006, 2010, and 2015. Let’s address them one at a time.

2004 Chiefs vs 2016 Chiefs

People forget that the 2004 Chiefs had an offense that was really statistically as good as the 2003 video-game-numbers offense. Trent Green actually passed for MORE yards that season, and the three-headed monster of Priest Holmes, Larry Johnson and, uh, Derrick Blaylock (did ANYONE else remember he rushed for 539 yards that year? Anyone?) ran for 2,000 yards.

However, the reason we don’t remember it much is because the defense gave up 27.2 points per game and was actually much worse than that stat indicates. It was just a team where things went wrong at all the wrong times and lacked the “magic” of the 2003 squad. Additionally, the greatest blocking group ever assembled was slightly worse that year, swapping out John Tait at RT for John Welbourn.

So how does the 2016 squad compare? Well, let me be clear, there are two ways of gauging who is better: a head-to-head matchup or who is a better team against the rest of the league. By the second standard it’s not close. The 2016 Chiefs have proven they can beat the best teams in the league repeatedly and do a much better job not shooting themselves in the foot than that 2004 squad. They’re a much more well-rounded team that would have a better record nine times out of 10.

A head-to-head matchup is a LOT more interesting, though, for one simple reason: that 2004 Chiefs team is a really, really bad matchup on offense against this defense, if they were smart enough to run the ball 55 times using Holmes, Johnson and Blaylock. And really, could the 2016 Chiefs STOP that? I’m not so sure.

On the other hand, Justin Houston OR Dee Ford would eat Welbourn’s lunch on virtually every passing snap, and Trent Green struggled with picks that year. Tony G. is incredible, but Eric Berry’s presence helps with that and the rest of those receivers aren’t doing anything against the Chiefs of 2016, even Fast Eddie (though you could talk me into Eddie beating Peters deep at least once).

All that said, I think the penchant for the 2004 Chiefs to turn the ball over and make mistakes on defense carries the day JUST often enough for the 2016 Chiefs to win six out of 10.

Whew, how many more teams we got left?

2006 Chiefs vs 2016 Chiefs

Look, guys, this is basically a worse version of that 2004 team, with a worse offensive line (no more Willie Roaf, though the interior remained incredibly strong) and a defense that was improved to the point of being “competent enough” to not lose you games.

Yes, Larry Johnson ran for 1,700 yards on a billion carries that year (well, fewer carries than that, or his YPC would’ve been ROUGH) and yes, there’s still run defense concerns. But can you IMAGINE 32-year-old Ty Law and 30-year-old Patrick Surtain, along with Sammy Knight (a disappointing signing I was initially quite excited about. Oh to be young again) and Greg Wesley, trying to contain Tyreek Hill, Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce? I just don’t see it happening.

I think 2016 Chiefs wins this eight times out of 10 at least, and hangs 40 during a few of those wins. It would be fun to see if Brodie Croyle vaporized into thin air just by having Chris Jones look at him, though.

Kansas City Chiefs v San Diego Chargers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

2010 Chiefs vs 2016 Chiefs

The farther away I get from 2010, the more I realize just how terribly, terribly flawed that team was.

Yes, there are wonderful memories from that season (who can forget the Monday Night Football win in Week 1 when it only rained on the Chargers and we all realized the Chiefs might not completely suck anymore?). And yes, there are some players on that team who would scare me (notably, you know, a healthy and young Jamaal Charles).

But Matt Cassel against this defense? That’s multiple picks. And before you talk to me about 27 and seven, I gotta come back with the fact that Cassel didn’t play a single defense that year that ballhawks the way the 2016 Chiefs do. Additionally, when pressure came around against Cassel (except against the Seahawks that year, when he was absolutely brilliant) he folded up completely.

That 2010 team lost to virtually every legitimate opponent it had, getting destroyed a couple of times. While Dwayne Bowe had his best season that year, he’s PRECISELY the kind of wide receiver Marcus Peters shuts down. I just don’t see it, outside of a few “Jamaal Charles does Jamaal Charles things” games the 2016 Chiefs chew up the 2010 Chiefs and spit them out.

And then there was one.

2015 Chiefs vs 2016 Chiefs

This one is tough. Statistically, the 2015 offense and defense were a little better than its 2016 counterparts. However, a great deal of that is due to health, with a lot more swapping around and moving components this season than last season.

Of course, it’s tough to ignore the absolute tear the 2015 Chiefs went on to close out there season. On the other hand, you can’t discount the fact that the 2016 Chiefs have MULTIPLE wins against upper-tier NFL teams, while the 2015 squad didn’t really have any signature wins to boast about.

Overall, if we’re calling all things equal health-wise, I absolutely give the edge to this year’s Chiefs. Mitch Schwartz, Tyreek Hill and Chris Jones are definite upgrades to the roster, while the only downgrade is at CB2 and safety depth, with Sean Smith, Husain Abdullah and Tyvon Branch now gone.

However, Branch and Abdullah, though missed, have at least been partly replaced by Daniel Sorensen and his penchant for making big plays (he’s not as good as either of them on a snap-by-snap basis, especially Abdullah, but big plays help make up for that). And while Sean Smith has been missed to an extent, the corner situation in 2016 is currently BETTER than it was in 2015. Peters has improved his consistency, and Terrance Mitchell is playing every bit as well as Smith did last year. Factor in that the nickel corner play has been stronger than what we saw last year, and I call that a push at best.

So overall, yes, this is absolutely the best Chiefs’ team since 2003. Whether they can go down as the best since ... well, prior to 2003, is entirely up to them.

I feel like 3,100 words is a good place to stop for Part 1. We’ll get to Part 2 either this weekend or early next week, and keep an eye out for a full-fledged Terrance Mitchell review. Because you deserve it.

See you in Kansas City, all!