Back in January of 2017, I watched the Kansas City Chiefs endure a slow death by field goals in an 18-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Divisional Round. I thought to myself “they’re drafting a QB to replace Alex Smith”. And they did exactly that in the first round, trading for Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes. There was the usual offseason hype around AFC juggernauts like the Patriots and Steelers, while there was new hype for on-the-rise teams like the Raiders and Titans. What about the Chiefs? All the hype seemed to be around Mahomes, and when he would replace that bore of a game manager in Alex Smith.
Flash forward to Thursday, September 7th, 2017. I’m getting excited for the return of football season, even though I know there’s little chance for the Chiefs to upset the New England Patriots, the NFL’s model of success. I watch the pregame show, which discussed in great length the Pats’ Super Bowl comeback, the offseason additions of Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gillmore, and the possibility that the Patriots team we were about to witness would go 19-0. There was one interview with Travis Kelce sprinkled in there, but practically all of the spotlight was put on New England. Flash forward a few hours later, and Tyreek Hill has scored a big touchdown to put the Chiefs up 21-17, their first lead of the night. The crowd in Foxborough has died down a little bit, but they are re-energized by a Mike Gillislee touchdown run to put the Pats back on top, 24-21. I look at the clock, and realize I have to get up for school tomorrow, so I make myself an ultimatum. If the Chiefs don’t score on this drive, I’m going to bed. They punted the ball away, and I felt confident that the Patriots would score a touchdown to put the game away.
When I woke up the next morning and saw the Chiefs had won 45-27, the best word to describe my emotion would be shocked. The Chiefs not only won, they won by 18 points! So when I say that the Chiefs are the NFL’s Ultimate Sleeper team, in a way I mean that literally. I actually went to bed thinking they had no chance of winning the game. This was a Chiefs team that did not look like the typical Kansas City Chiefs. They overcame adversity, as they were down 17-7 at one point. At another point, their rookie running back Kareem Hunt fumbled the ball away on his first NFL carry (despite never having done that at college), and yet he went on to have an incredible debut.
Want proof that practically everyone was sleeping on the Chiefs before this season? I recently picked up the issue of SI that previewed the NFL Season, and it gave 5 possible matchups the Patriots could slip up on and take an L (Patfalls, as they called it). The Saints and their road game against the Dolphins were two of the matches, and the Chiefs weren’t. Here were my words on the Chiefs before the season started in my season prediction article: “I still expect them to make the playoffs. That’s what Andy Reid teams do. They don’t do much after that.” The Chiefs seem ready to assert themselves as a Super Bowl contender, not a Super Bowl pretender. They are tired of being slept on.
Now, I understand that this is just Week One. I understand that Alex Smith isn’t going to play like this every week, and I understand that Eric Berry is out for the season. However, Super Bowl teams are able to overcome injuries (the Patriots lost Gronk last season, and the Falcons lost Desmond Trufant). If the Chiefs are to truly become a Super Bowl contender, they have to go with the “next man up” mentality. With Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt, their offense is much more explosive than what we’re used to from Kansas City. Their defense will probably regress with the loss of Berry, and the loss of Dontari Poe to free agency. But they still have plenty of solid pieces, and allowing 27 points against the G.O.A.T isn’t that bad.
To conclude, I’d say Alex Smith plays best with a chip on his shoulder. Remember the 2011 49ers, the year they went to the NFC Championship and nearly beat the Giants? That was the year San Francisco drafted Colin Kaepernick in the 2nd round, and it was also arguably Alex Smith’s best career year (he threw only 5 interceptions in 2011). Smith is tired of hearing the label “game manager”. And the Chiefs are tired of losing in the playoffs. We’ll see if they build off this Week One win.