KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It took them longer than expected to get there, but the Kansas City Chiefs are finally the team they expected to be when the season began.
The 5-5 Chiefs have won four straight games, all by double-digit margins, to climb back into the AFC wild-card race. The Chiefs would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, owning the tiebreaker over the AFC’s other 5-5 teams.
It's quite a turnaround after the 1-5 start to their season. At that time, ESPN's Football Power Index gave the Chiefs a 4.7 percent chance of reaching the postseason. That number is now at 74.6 percent.
The Chiefs will hold on and make it back to the postseason for the first time in two years. Here’s why:
They believe. The Chiefs never gave up on their season or vision for what they could become, even at the depths of 1-5. Coach Andy Reid believed the Chiefs would turn things around and he succeeded in getting the players to think the same way. That’s no small effort in a locker room with 53 players, but the Chiefs kept their eyes on the prize even when it seemed out of their reach. Now they believe anything is possible.
The defense is for real. One of the most mystifying parts of the early season was the play of the defense. The Chiefs allowed more than 30 points in each of three straight losses. They simply have too many good defensive players and are too well-coached to play that way. Now all of their good defenders are playing well and the Chiefs are difficult to throw or run against. They haven’t allowed more than 18 points in any of their last six games.
Opponents usually have to go the long field. It’s been difficult enough to have to go a few yards for a touchdown against the Chiefs’ defense. But opponents have consistently had to negotiate the long field against the Chiefs. In the last three games, opponents have had 36 possessions. One started outside the 29, and that one was at the 38. Twenty-eight started at the 20 or inside the 20. The Chiefs are too good defensively to allow many long touchdown drives. Cairo Santos' kickoffs and Dustin Colquitt's punts have been excellent and the Chiefs haven’t committed a turnover in more than a month.
The schedule. The Chiefs don’t have a game left against a team that currently has a winning record. Their next opponent, Buffalo Bills, is the only one that’s even at .500 (5-5). Otherwise, the Chiefs have two games left against the Oakland Raiders (4-6) and one each against the San Diego Chargers (2-8), Baltimore Ravens (3-7) and Cleveland Browns (2-8). Four of those games will be played at Arrowhead Stadium.
An improved passing attack. Nobody will confuse Kansas City’s passing attack with the league’s best. But the Chiefs are much improved over last season. They’re averaging 7.45 yards per passing attempt, which is 11th in the NFL and above the league average of 7.3. They have 31 pass plays of 20 yards or more, which is only 21st in the league. But they were last in this category last year. Quarterback Alex Smith still throws mostly short passes, but the Chiefs help to make up for that by being sixth in the NFL in yards after the catch.