ST. LOUIS - JANUARY 3: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers passes the ball during the game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on January 3, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri. The 49ers beat the Rams 28-6. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Kansas City Chiefs will be a playoff team this season. No, seriously.
The trade for Alex Smith was a huge step in the right direction, but Monday’s roster moves — highlighted by the signing of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to a five-year extension and franchising of tackle Branden Albert – solidified the necessary foundation for the NFL’s worst team to morph into a legitimate contender.
Even before the big offseason moves, the Chiefs weren’t that bad. Sure, they won just two games, topped 20 points just four times all season and lacked any semblance of a starting quarterback, but K.C. also sent six players to the Pro Bowl — the first time in NFL history that a team has fielded six Pro Bowlers and won fewer than six games.
Jamaal Charles is one of the few true “factor backs” in the league, rushing for 1,509 yards in 2012 to lead the NFL’s fifth-ranked ground attack, and the Chiefs also return five defensive players that made the trip to Hawaii. Slapping Albert with the franchise tag allows the team to shift its draft focus away from Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel and onto its porous run defense, which ranked 27th in the league last season.
The Chiefs greatest shortcoming was under center, as Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn combined to rank last in the league in both passing yards and passing touchdowns. The team’s eight scores through the air was the lowest total for an NFL team since 2009 — a number that should increase dramatically in an Andy Reid-led offense with Smith at the helm.
But even the best quarterbacks cannot function without a serviceable receiving corps, making the decision to retain Bowe an important one. Third-year wideout Jon Baldwin and fourth-year slash back Dexter McCluster have shown promise, but Kansas City’s air attack runs through Bowe. He and Smith will likely become very well acquainted this fall.
These improvements may bring a team up to .500 in the NFC North or AFC South, but the Chiefs have the luxury of playing in the worst division in football. Though the AFC West produced the conference’s No. 1 seed in Denver, the Broncos’ 14-2 record was bolstered by six wins over struggling division opponents while Peyton Manning‘s squad went just 2-3 against playoff-bound teams. With Oakland and San Diego still unable to find a winning formula and Denver far from an unbeatable juggernaut, it would not be shocking to see the Chiefs field a wild-card squad or even a division winner.
Substitute Andrew Luck, Reggie Wayne and Chuck Pagano for Smith, Bowe and Reid, and the Chiefs are the 2013 version of the Indianapolis Colts. Expect to see similar results.
Photo via Facebook/The Kansas City Chiefs