On a neutral field, I’d take the Jets over the Chiefs. Unfortunately, they play very few NFL games on neutral fields: you’ve got one or two in London everyone forgets to watch because of the time difference and, oh yeah, the Super Bowl.
Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium is anything but a neutral field. The ancient (at least in today’s pro sports world, where new stadiums are seemingly built every 2 or 3 minutes) edifice provides an enormous home field advantage, as do the 76,000-plus screaming Chiefs fans who pack it for every contest.
If anything, the Chiefs have gotten even tougher to play at their place since head coach Andy Reid took the helm before the 2013 season. In Reid’s time in KC, the Chiefs are 18-7 at Arrowhead. Their performance at home has essentially propelled them to the playoffs in two out of the past three years. Of course, once in the postseason, they haven’t fared so well. That pattern is every bit as established as their prowess at home.
KC has made the playoffs 12 times since 1990, but only got as far as the AFC Championship Game once, and that sole appearance should come with an asterisk, because Joe Montana was under center. Montana could win vs. the Harlem Globetrotters.
However, many think it will be different this year. In fact, a lot of prognosticators are calling for the Chiefs to make it to the conference title game and beyond.
I don’t buy it. I think Reid is a lot better at turning around a franchise in trouble than he is at making a pretty good team great. Additionally, if your faith in your QB is as shaky as the coach’s is in Alex Smith, then you’re basically playing with one hand behind your back (hopefully not the one you throw with).
Now in his 12th NFL season, Smith is who he is: the quintessential game manager, a guy who doesn’t make many mistakes and takes even fewer risks. Reid keeps the reins very tight on his quarterback, amping up the pressure both on KC’s running game and defense. As for the former, it gets a big boost this week if the enormously talented but extremely fragile Jamaal Charles returns to the lineup for the first time since suffering an ACL injury nearly a year ago.
When he’s healthy, Charles is as good as any back in the game. But you’ve gotta wonder if he’ll be anywhere near 100 percent after this much time off the field.
As important as Charles’ return is for the home team, the ongoing absence of LB Justin Houston is equally crucial. Houston, the one-man sack machine, is also recovering from ACL surgery, and he may miss the entire season. Two games in, the Chiefs’ D -- one of the league’s best in 2015 -- looks a bit less formidable without their star ‘backer.
I don’t think they’ll go very far this season -- not as far as the team coming to Arrowhead this weekend. But prevailing there will be an uphill battle for Gang Green.