Kansas City Chiefs  

 

Kansas City Chiefs can't be ignored as last undefeated NFL team

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck dropped to a knee in victory formation Sunday night, handing Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos their first loss of the season.

That left the Kansas City Chiefs as the NFL's last undefeated team -- just as we all predicted.

Deal with it, people.

The Chiefs are 7-0, yet in the eyes of critics, they're hardly perfect. Sure, there are flaws, like the lack of an explosive passing attack. And I won't suggest that the Chiefs are better suited for a sustained playoff run than their AFC West rival Broncos. But you shouldn't count out, disrespect or discredit Kansas City. That'd be unfair. That'd be missing out on one of the great turnarounds in NFL history, as the Chiefs have gone from last-place laughingstock to legitimate force.

The Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start a season 7-0 after having the league's worst record in the previous campaign. (And while we're at it ... In the Super Bowl era, 31 teams have started 7-0, and all 31 qualified for the playoffs. Fifteen of those 31 clubs advanced to the Super Bowl and nine won it all. But I digress.)

I raved about Andy Reid's appointment in Kansas City this offseason. And when the Hall of Fame-caliber coach traded for Alex Smith, I explained why this marriage would be perfect and why the savvy, safe Smith would equal a minimum six-game improvement over the Chiefs' two-win band in 2012.

I undersold it.

It's easy to knock Smith. He'll never win a quarterback beauty pageant. He doesn't take big chances downfield. His yards-per-attempt figure (6.3) is small. But you absolutely can win big with him.

Other quarterbacks have bigger arms, but they don't have Smith's toughness or ability to handle adversity. Smith had to deal with a different offensive coordinator just about every year he was in San Francisco, plus Mike Singletary's sheer insanity as the 49ers' head coach. When Smith finally received good direction under coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, he nearly guided the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Let's not forget that the "game manager" outdueled Drew Brees and made significant, clutch throws to shock the New Orleans Saints in those playoffs.

Reid told me on SiriusXM Radio this offseason that he hand-picked Smith when he took the Chiefs job, citing the quarterback's combination of smarts, skills and toughness as a perfect fit in his offense. Plus, Reid knew Smith would come in with a chip on his shoulder after losing his job to Colin Kaepernick thanks to an injury.

In a related story, Kansas City hasn't lost a game.

I'm not naïve about Smith. You need the other elements around him to be strong. And those other elements certainly have held up their end of the bargain.

Running back Jamaal Charles is having a great season, with 898 total yards (561 rushing, 337 receiving) and eight touchdowns. And the Chiefs have a fantastic, game-changing defense that's taking over games.

Reid made two brilliant decisions after the Hunt family made their own brilliant decision to hire him. The first, of course, was bringing in Smith. The second was hiring well-respected coach Bob Sutton to be his defensive coordinator.

Sutton, the former Army coach, was a longtime New York Jets assistant under Al Groh, Herm Edwards, Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan. As former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum recently told me on SiriusXM Radio: "It takes someone special to be on (so many) different staffs with (so many) different head coaches. That's Coach Sutton."

The players are buying in, too. Linebacker Derrick Johnson, the leader of the Chiefs' defense, explained on our "Schein on Sports" SiriusXM show: "This is the most fun I've had in my career on defense. It's because of Coach Sutton. He instills a great confidence in our defense."

And wow, are the Chiefs fun to watch on defense. They have one of the best -- if not the best -- units in the NFL, with Sutton and Reid maximizing the talent assembled by former GM Scott Pioli.

Some critics saw Sunday's tight win over the banged-up Houston Texans and downgraded Kansas City on their power rankings. I saw a third-quarter, game-altering, goal-line stand that forced the Texans to settle for a field goal and defined the greatness and toughness of the Chiefs' defense. I saw Tamba Hali stripping Case Keenum with under two minutes to go and Johnson picking up the ball to seal the victory. These Chiefs don't lead the league in aesthetically pleasing wins; they lead the league in wins -- period.

The Chiefs have 19 takeaways, tied for first in the NFL, and they lead the league with 35 sacks, 10 from Justin Houston and nine from Hali. It's the 2013 formula for success: Kansas City grabs a lead, Smith doesn't mess it up on offense, and Houston and Hali disrupt and badger the opponent to maintain the advantage.

Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, Marcus Cooper and Quintin Demps have been difference-makers in a defensive backfield that has helped Kansas City allow a league-low 11.6 points per game while holding opponents to just 25 percent on third-down conversions. And don't discount the talent, leadership and tackling prowess of Johnson.

And in the bigger picture, don't discount what it means simply to win in the NFL.

Critics point out that the Chiefs' victories have come against the Jaguars, Cowboys, Eagles, Giants, Titans, Raiders and Texans, with Dallas being the only team currently owning a record over .500. But let's remember that it's difficult to win any game in this league, and the results are wacky week in and week out.

The Chiefs will lose at some point. And they will lose at some point after that. That's the nature of the game. That's what makes this 7-0 start so impressive.

When will that first loss come, though? Maybe not for a bit. Over the next two weeks, prior to a Week 10 bye, Kansas City plays Cleveland and Buffalo -- two very winnable games. If the Chiefs can take care of business, they will be undefeated for a Nov. 17 showdown with the Broncos in Denver. If Peyton Manning and Co. come out flying in that game and gain an early lead, as critics will predict, Kansas City might be in trouble -- the team isn't built to come from behind. But let's flip the conversation: How will Manning match up against this nasty Chiefs defense?

I'm not here to crown Kansas City. I'm simply trying to recognize why it's the last perfect team standing. The Broncos and Colts might be better AFC teams, although Indianapolis just lost Reggie Wayne for the season. The Saints and Seahawks are playing great over in the NFC. But give the Chiefs their due for being the only unblemished team in the NFL today.

It's amazing what the right coaching staff and quarterback can do for a franchise.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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