KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- With the Kansas City Chiefs heading into their bye weekend, let's address some critical issues as they push for the AFC West championship:
1. Will the Chiefs win their first division title since 2010?
I've already written I think the Denver Broncos will wind up 12-4, so under that scenario, 12 wins might do the job, and 13 would. So to me, the magic number is 13. That would require the Chiefs to win four of their last seven games, a seemingly easy task for a 9-0 team. But their schedule from this point takes a decidedly more difficult turn. Other than possibly their Dec. 15 game against the Raiders in Oakland, there are seemingly no gimmes remaining. If the Chiefs can split their two remaining games against the Broncos and their two against the Chargers, they should get to 13 wins. Splitting those four games would put the Chiefs at 11-2, so they would need to win two from the remaining schedule of games at Oakland, at the Washington Redskins and home against the Indianapolis Colts. Tough call whether they can do it. But the prediction for the Chiefs here is 13-3 and the AFC West championship.
2. Is Alex Smith good enough to win a Super Bowl championship?
Quarterbacks less talented than Smith have a title ring, so the easy answer is yes. But most of those lesser players have long since retired. The game has changed since Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson each won a Super Bowl. The last 10 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks have at some point had to carry their teams. Is Smith capable of that? Nothing he's done since joining the Chiefs would be evidence that he is. But because the Chiefs have trailed in the fourth quarter in just one game, there's still much we don't know about his ability in the clutch. One thing we do know about Smith is that he's plenty good enough to not screw up a good thing. So if the Chiefs, as they've done through the first nine games, are going to lead the way with a dominating defense, Smith is good enough to win a championship. If the defense collapses down the stretch and the Chiefs need a high-powered offense in order to win, he probably isn't.
3. Will the defense lead the NFL in sacks?
Despite their pass rushing slump, the Chiefs still lead the league in sacks with 36, five better than their closest pursuers, the Cleveland Browns. But the Chiefs, who have just one sack in their past two games, are no longer on a pace to set the NFL record. They also no longer lead the league in sacks per pass attempt. The St. Louis Rams have caught them. With regard to what lies ahead, the Chiefs are going up against opponents who don't allow many sacks. Denver, San Diego and Washington have allowed few sacks. The league record of 72 is probably out of reach. But with as many strong pass rushers as the Chiefs have, the sack title is certainly in play.
4. Who is the Chiefs' rookie of the year?
Sorry, had to throw an easy one in here. Eric Fisher, the first pick in the draft last April, is a candidate only because he's been the starting right tackle. Though Fisher appears destined to become a good if not great player, he hasn't been very good this season. Cornerback Marcus Cooper, a seventh-round draft pick of the San Francisco 49ers who was plucked off waivers at the start of the regular season, has been the Chiefs' best rookie. Cooper has made one big play after another since joining the playing rotation early in the season. Like Fisher, Cooper appears to have a bright future. Unlike Fisher, Cooper is producing for the Chiefs this year as well.
5. Who is the Chiefs' most valuable player?
This one is more complex. But on a team with many good candidates, one stands out above the rest. To find out his identity, you'll have to come back Friday morning and read my post on that subject.