Not that long ago, the Kansas City Chiefs’ season looked to have gone badly awry. With a loss to the Vikings on Oct. 18, the team fell to 1-5. Their star running back, Jamaal Charles, was out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Coach Andy Reid was under fire, notably for a puzzling decision to hand off to Charles at the end of regulation in Week 2 against Denver, which led to a fumble and a loss.
Still, Reid was hopeful. “It’s a very fine line between winning and losing in this league,” he told The Associated Press.
The Chiefs crossed that fine line or, rather, obliterated it. Kansas City won its final 10 games, including victories over the Steelers and the Broncos, and became the first 1-5 team to make the playoffs since the 1970 Bengals. They will be favored at Houston on Saturday afternoon in the wild-card round.
The 10-game streak has lifted the Chiefs near the top of most computer rankings: They are fourth in Simple Rating System on Pro-Football-Reference and fifth in Jeff Sagarin’s rankings, ahead of the Broncos and Patriots, among others.
Quarterback Alex Smith, in his third season with the Chiefs, continues to put up solid numbers, notably a very low interception rate. His interception totals for the last three years are 7, 6 and 7. Over the last five years, his interception rate is second best to Aaron Rodgers’s. He also remains one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the league.
Without Charles, the Chiefs still managed 4.7 yards per rush, the third best total in the league, thanks to Smith and contributions from the young backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. The Pro Bowlers Eric Berry and Marcus Peters led a secondary that ranked fourth in the league in net yards per pass allowed.
There are caveats. The 10-game run came against a bit of a soft schedule; only the Steelers and the Broncos from the list wound up with winning records. Among the victims were struggling teams like the Browns, the Raiders and the Chargers (twice). And illustrating Reid’s “fine line,” half of the wins were by 10 points or fewer, including 17-13 over Cleveland and 23-17 over Oakland in the last two weeks of the season.
There is certainly a hunger for playoff success in Kansas City. The Chiefs have been snake-bitten in the postseason in recent times. They have lost their last eight playoff games, dating to 1993, some heartbreakingly, like a 2013 game against the Colts in which they blew a 38-10 lead and lost, 45-44.
Still, it has been a boom year for Kansas City sports, with the Royals winning the World Series on Nov. 1, the same day the Chiefs improved to 3-5. Sporting Kansas City won the U.S. Open Cup, and F.C. Kansas City was the women’s professional league champion. Even the local minor league hockey team, the Missouri Mavericks, are 27-3.
Perhaps it is time for departed franchises like the Kings of basketball (now in Sacramento) or the Scouts of hockey (now the Devils) to consider a return to the City of Fountains.