- Ashley Fox
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Worst to first. Fourteen times in the past decade, a team has made the arduous climb out of the cellar to capture a division title. Washington did it last season. Denver did it in 2011. Kansas City did it in 2010.
The Chiefs could do it again in 2013. They are one Peyton Manning injury away. Even without that, Kansas City could be playoff bound, which would be a meaningful consolation prize for a team that went 2-14 last season and had its share of adversity.
In January, Andy Reid agreed to become Kansas City's coach for a multitude of reasons. After Philadelphia fired him, Reid needed a job, yes, but he had options. He liked the Hunt family. He liked the passionate Chiefs fan base and the location in the Midwest. Reid liked that he could help select the team's next general manager. He liked that he wouldn't have to be in charge of personnel and instead could get back to his roots: coaching football and calling plays for the offense.
And Reid liked that there was talent on both sides of the ball. He saw potential. He saw opportunity. He saw a chance for a quick turnaround.
Acquiring Alex Smith in a trade with San Francisco in March solidified the Chiefs as contenders in 2013. Smith is the perfect fit for Reid's version of the West Coast offense. He is a veteran who has endured his share of adversity. He has run the West Coast offense before. He can complete short, crisp passes. During his career in San Francisco, Smith endured a revolving door of offensive coordinators and systems, so he has had to adjust and study and learn.
Does Smith throw the prettiest long ball? No. Does he have a cannon for an arm? No. But in Reid's offense, those things aren't prerequisites.
"Once we got Alex Smith, we felt like, 'OK, now we've got something. We can start this thing,'" Chiefs assistant head coach David Culley said. "We've got to have that guy, whoever that guy is. Well, it was Alex who was the guy. ... I don't know if there was another guy out there available that would've been better than Alex Smith, and now he understands why we got him."
Smith gives the Chiefs a chance.
Reid also is enamored with Jamaal Charles. Culley called Charles "a football player playing running back." Three times in his career, Charles has rushed for more than 1,000 yards, including last season, when he finished fourth in the NFL with 1,509 rushing yards. It is unlikely, given Reid's history of relying on the pass, that Charles will reach that number this season, but the more telling statistic will be his yards from scrimmage.
In his first five seasons in Kansas City, Charles was not asked frequently to catch the ball out of the backfield. Reid will demand it because a screen pass in Reid's offense is the equivalent of a run play.
Of Charles, Culley said: "He's seen how those backs back there have been successful, LeSean [McCoy] and Brian [Westbrook] and Duce [Staley]. This guy is in that same class. He's a little different, but he's in the same class.
In Brian Westbrook's 2004 breakout season in Philadelphia, he caught 73 passes in 13 games for the Eagles. In 2005, he caught 61 in 12 games. In 2006, Westbrook caught 77 passes, and in 2007 he caught 90.
The Eagles selected LeSean McCoy in the second round of the 2009 draft to fill the Westbrook role, and, from 2010 through 2012, McCoy averaged 60 receptions per season.
"The one thing I think Andy's always been good at is when you've got good players, put those players in position to be successful," Culley said. "Jamaal Charles is an excellent player, and he'll be as successful here as he was in the offense before, and more successful in the way we'll use him in more ways."
Reid and the Chiefs have made other savvy decisions. They re-signed wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and franchised left tackle Branden Albert. They used the No. 1 pick to select Eric Fisher, who will play right tackle. Reid stuck with the 3-4 defensive alignment that fit the players the Chiefs had drafted in the past, such as Dontari Poe and Tamba Hali. They solidified what should be a formidable secondary by signing Miami cornerback Sean Smith.
Sure, there are holes. A team doesn't go 2-14 by accident. Kansas City desperately needs a No. 2 wide receiver and must get production from its tight ends. No other team committed more turnovers or scored fewer points than the Chiefs did in 2012. They didn't score a defensive touchdown last season and haven't had a punt return for a touchdown since 2010 or a kickoff return for a touchdown since 2009.
The schedule is favorable, and it is to Reid's advantage that the AFC West is playing the NFC East. No one is more familiar with how to play Dallas, Washington, the New York Giants and Philadelphia than Reid.
Seven of the Chiefs' first nine opponents didn't have a winning record in 2012. Only one, Houston, made the playoffs. All but one of Kansas City's divisional games come after a Week 10 bye. In Philadelphia, Reid was 13-1 the week after the bye. The Chiefs play at Denver in Week 11 and host the Broncos in Week 13.
Until the train wreck of the last two seasons, Reid's Philadelphia teams typically were stronger and better in November and December. He would push hard early, then pull back late. And his players responded.
Worst to first. It is a lot to ask of a team that won just two games a year ago and plays in the same division as Denver, but the Chiefs could be that team this year. Even if they aren't, they have a very real opportunity to snag a wild-card berth.
In Year 1 of Andy Reid, that would be a smashing success.
23hEric D. Williams