Reid, Chiefs ready to contend now

Whether he wanted to admit it or not, there’s no way Thursday night’s win in Philadelphia wasn’t just a little bit special for Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid. (It still seems weird to call Reid “Chiefs Head Coach,” doesn’t it?) After 14 mostly successful seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, Reid and the Eagles parted ways, and with a 26-14 win last week it’s Reid who’s winning the break up so far.

Playing the respectful role he has throughout his career, Reid won’t be taking the chance to rub it in to his old team, but he has every right to feel satisfied. The Eagles’ notably dour fans were calling for his head nearly every year even while Philly played in the NFC Championship four straight times from 2001-2005 and five times overall. The beautiful thing for Big Red…he doesn’t need to gloat because he’s got a contender to coach.

In last week’s Power Rankings, I mentioned that the Chiefs were 2-0 in part because they’re taking care of the football. They didn’t turn it over once in the season’s first two games, and the not-so-vaunted Eagles defense didn’t change that stat. Compare that to last year’s 2-14 nightmare. Kansas City turned the ball over nine times in the first three games and 36 times overall. Their turnover ratio of -24 was next-to-last in the NFL.

If Reid is winning for “Best Actor” in this redemption story, Quarterback Alex Smith gets the “Supporting Actor” nod. The last time we saw Smith, he was being replaced in San Francisco after a concussion paved the way for the Colin Kaepernick era to begin. Before his benching, Smith led the NFL with a 70.2 completion percentage, and his 104.1 QB rating was more than adequate.

Reid said that was the guy he wanted to lead his West Coast Offense, and that’s proving to be master stroke number one.

Smith can’t do it himself, though. Never so much a game changer as he is a great manager, Smith thrives on a team with a strong running game and a stronger defense. It worked the last couple years in San Fran, and it’s happening again in KC.

A year after tearing his ACL, Jamaal Charles rushed for 1500 yards a season ago, not a small feat on a two-win team. In this year’s more balanced attack, the 6th year back is finding his stride on the ground and through the air, touching the ball 27 times Thursday night for 172 total yards and a score.

The difference this year is that Charles isn’t the only one doing his job. His defense has stepped up going the other way. Big defensive end Tamba Hali and back Eric Berry usually get the headlines for this unit, but in 2013 they’re being overshadowed by one of the game’s next great linebackers, Justin Houston.

Houston was a third round pick out of Georgia in 2011, and he seems primed to blow his first two years out of the water (No small feat considering his 10-sack, Pro Bowl season in 2012). A 4.5 sack performance against Philadelphia was his marquee game, putting him at 6.5 this year along with a forced fumble and a pair of fumble recoveries, all three in this same game.

That dominance at the point of attack is what causes havoc for offenses. A great pass rush (a league leading 5 sacks/game) leads to success in causing turnovers (3 per game, 4th best overall), which keeps teams out of the end zone (11.3 ppg against, 2nd best overall). The formula is simple, and the Chiefs are putting it in motion to near perfection through three games.

So, as the first team (and one of seven overall) to reach the summit of 3-0, it’s not unfair to ask if the Chiefs are really a contender, if they are the 2012 Arizona Cardinals (finished 5-11 after a 4-0 start) or if they are somewhere in between.

In this writer’s humble opinion, this is a team that can scare a lot of squads the rest of the season and become a playoff team. They combine a stable quarterback with a star running back on offense, and the defense clearly has the pass rush and ball hawking ability to make quarterbacks think for an extra second before taking the snap.

Will they compete with the so far untouchable Denver Broncos in the NFC West? Who knows, but the reality is they don’t need to. One of the AFC Wild Card berths is most likely reserved for either the Indianapolis Colts or the Houston Texans in the South, but that leaves Kansas City as an early front runner for the other one.

Who is the biggest competition for that spot? You can’t count out the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens. The team’s combination of an offseason roster overhaul and a rash of early injuries had them looking rough, but a blow out of Houston in Week Three has fans jumping back on the bandwagon.

Other than that, you’re likely looking at the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans. The Dolphins are built similar to the Chiefs on defense with a great pass rush being the catalyst, and a win over the Falcons to send them to 3-0 has put the league on notice. The Titans, meanwhile, seem like a bigger dark horse than either KC or Miami. They’re not particularly excellent in any facet right now, and it’ll be tough to stay in the race when you have to play both Houston and Indianapolis twice.

The best thing for Reid and the Chiefs is that momentum might just be in their favor. The next six weeks include just two games against teams with a winning record: at Tennessee and home against Houston. Then, they get their open week before a November 17th battle at Denver.