Kansas City, Mo. As much as Alex Smith tries to avoid it, the veteran quarterback can’t help but hear what outsiders are saying about his Kansas City Chiefs.
That they’re the worst team to ever start 9-0. That their offense is sluggish at best, sloppy at worst. That their defense can’t possibly carry them forever. That they make far too many errors to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Here’s the problem with that logic: Even if everything had gone perfectly, Smith observed, the Chiefs would have the exact same record as they head into their bye week.
“I feel like, what are we really talking about?” he said. “There’s a system in place in the NFL to find out who’s the best, and it’s a 16-game season and then the playoffs. To speculate right now who’s the best and who’s not — they don’t give any trophies out after nine weeks.
“All the talk of any of that is just talk,” Smith added. “It’s pointless in my mind. It’s set up to find out who’s the best, and that’s our focus.”
Well, their focus right now is on getting some rest on their week off.
The Chiefs met to review video of Sunday’s 23-13 win over Buffalo on Monday before scattering for some down time. The coaches plan to begin preparation for a high-profile showdown with AFC West rival Denver the following week.
The Chiefs visit the Broncos (7-1) on Nov. 17, a game that has been moved to prime time.
“I think every guy in this locker room, in the back of their head this who week, will be thinking about Denver,” Smith acknowledged. “Big game ahead of us. But a little time, get away a little back, we’ll come back fresh and ready to roll.”
Ready to prove all the doubters wrong, too.
The Chiefs have played arguably the weakest schedule in the NFL through the first nine weeks of the season, and finish up by playing quite possibly the toughest down the stretch. Along with two games against the Broncos, they have two against the Chargers, a game against the Redskins, another against the Colts and their return game to Oakland.
“No matter who it is or what anybody is doing, there’s always going to be people who doubt you. It lets you know you’re doing something good,” defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “Whoever doubts you, whoever thinks you can’t do it, you work that much harder to prove them wrong.”
The place to start with that might just be the offense, which was outscored 14-9 by the Chiefs’ opportunistic defense on Sunday. The Chiefs managed three field goals against the Bills while taking advantage of a 100-yard interception return and a fumble return touchdown.
In all, the Chiefs were out-gained 470-210 by the Bills.
“The main thing I think is getting the ball in the end zone,” Smith said. “That’s our job. We had some times there where we were moving the ball, we got in the red zone and just stalled out. We have to find a way to get in the end zone.”
The Chiefs have only scored 16 offensive touchdowns this season, and they ranked 29th in the league in passing at less than 200 yards per game. But those short-comings have been assuaged by a defense that already has scored six touchdowns, the most for the Chiefs in a season since 1999.
It’s not just touchdowns off turnovers, though. It’s sheer quantity of turnovers.
The Chiefs have a league-leading 23 takeaways this season, two more than second-place Dallas, and their plus-15 turnover differential is five better than the Cowboys and six better than the Patriots, the next-best team in the AFC.
Those numbers, combined with a torrid pace at getting to the quarterback, have resulted in this obscure stat: The Chiefs are the first team to navigate its first nine games without allowing more than 17 points in any of them since the 1977 edition of the Falcons.
“We definitely work hard,” said cornerback Sean Smith, who had the pick-six against the Bills. “We try to make the plays when they’re available. Sometimes you have to improvise. But all that together makes us a pretty special defense.”
Makes them a pretty special team, too. Of the 18 previous teams that started 9-0, 11 of them made it to the Super Bowl. Seven of them won it all.
Regardless of what outsiders are saying, that’s all that matters to the insiders.
“We’ve positioned ourselves well,” Smith said. “It’s time to get rested up, kind of recover here for the homestretch, especially with a big one coming in two weeks.”