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What we’re watching for as the Chiefs face the Dolphins with the AFC West on the line

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It seems we can finally believe in this team again after two convincing wins over division opponents. They are on the cusp of clinching the division, and are finally putting forth good efforts on both offense and defense. This week, they face a Dolphins team that is even more inconsistent than the Chiefs so anything can happen. Andy Reid’s squad looks focused and poised to treat this as a playoff game and get back on a run.

Below are a few trends to watch this week, to see if they can stay on track. As always, let us know what you’ll be watching for on Christmas Eve.

1) Can the offensive line keep it simple and productive?

Over the last couple of weeks, the Chiefs offensive line has gotten back to basics, and have shown marked improvement. Kareem Hunt has enjoyed a resurgence with the return of the outside zone. Zach Fulton is making himself a lot of money with Mitch Morse on IR. He’s getting an extended audition for the Chiefs or another team to see that he’s a capable starting center. Watch against the Dolphins, who have some talent in their front seven, to see if the big uglies are getting the job done again this week.

Prediction: The offense rolls along with another strong game upfront.

2) Will the defensive line sustain the energy and swagger?

Led by Chris Jones and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, the Chiefs defensive front has suddenly been able to win their one on one battles and disrupt opposing offenses. When these guys are making plays, and hyping up the defense and the crowd, you can see the effect it has on the entire squad. Watch for RNR, Bailey and Jones to get into the backfield against a Miami interior OL that has been struggling.

Prediction: At least 1 sack and multiple TFLs from the DL group, as the Chiefs live in the Dolphins backfield.

3) Can the secondary keep up their improved play?

It started with Peters sitting out the Raiders game on his team-imposed suspension. While he was out, Mitchell and Revis each returned to form by playing their aggressive brands of football. Then, last week against the Chargers Peters came back with a vengeance with two INTs, a forced fumble and even a big open field tackle. The improved pass rush is clearly a factor, as Jones, Houston and company are affecting opposing QBs ability to pick apart the secondary. There’s no mistaking the fact that the Chiefs CBs have taken their play up a notch at the right time. Watch Revis and Peters against Jay Cutler this week, they have a real opportunity to change the game again.

Prediction: These guys come up big again with 3 INTs of Cutler.

4) Matt Nagy and the RPO

Part of the improvement in the Chiefs offense coincided with Matt Nagy’s increased role in playcalling. It seems simple, put the stress on the defense having to defend both run and pass. Use the playmakers on offense to force defenders to make a choice. Play to Alex Smith’s strengths in making quick, simple reads. Use plenty of motion to disguise what is otherwise a small number of standard plays. They appear to have found an identity and are back on track. Watch to see if the RPO continues to be successful this week, and if the offense can execute against the Dolphins.

Prediction: The Chiefs offense runs the ball well, and hits a couple big plays. Around 120 yds rushing, 250 yds passing.

5) The Chiefs run defense: no longer a problem?

During this mini-winning streak, they’ve held both teams to under 100 yards. That’s not to say that opposing running backs haven’t found any success. Marshawn Lynch and Melvin Gordon each got loose in the Chiefs secondary a couple of times. The days of this defense watching helplessly as opposing backs put up video-game number might be over. Watch this week as these guys try to contain Kenyan Drake, who can break a long run at any time.

Prediction: under 100 yards again, as this unit gains confidence going into the playoffs against some really good running teams.

6) Are special teams no longer a strength?

Maybe they haven’t found the right combination of blockers. Maybe Akeem Hunt and DAT are not dynamic enough. Maybe Dave Toub lost his touch. Whatever it is, week after week, we hope the Chiefs can break a big return that’s not called back for a penalty, and each week, they aren’t even close. It’s not just the returners, there have been missed kicks and partial blocks, muffed punts and penalties that have brought this once-dominant unit squarely in the “average” category at best. Watch to see if they can prove me wrong this week, they may need a spark from this unit in the playoffs.

Prediction: The kicking games are back on track, but nothing exciting comes out of the return units once again.

7) The playoff energy

The Chiefs played the Raiders and Chargers with the urgency of a playoff game. This week, the playoff atmosphere continues against the Dolphins, as the Chiefs have a chance to clinch the division with a week to go. Win this week, and the starters may get a rest in Denver for week 17. Chiefs fans are all hoping they do, for a couple of reasons. Obviously, winning the division for the 2nd year in a row would be great, especially considering the ups and downs of this season. But, perhaps equally as exciting would be the potential debut of Patrick Mahomes if the team has nothing left to play for.

Prediction: The Chiefs finish strong this week, clinching the division, and all eyes are on Mahomes next week.