The Last Unbeaten Team: Surprise, It’s the Chiefs

The Last Unbeaten Team: Surprise, It’s the Chiefs

With four weeks of the N.F.L. schedule complete, only one team stands undefeated: It’s the Kansas City Chiefs, after their 29-20 win over the Redskins on Monday night.

Last season, the Chiefs were 12-4, and the season before that 11-5. Still, their lack of postseason success (a playoff win in 2015 is their only one since 1993) makes it a little hard to think of them among the N.F.L. elite. Their last Super Bowl appearance came with Len Dawson under center.

You certainly cannot credit their record to beating up solely on patsies. The Chiefs stated a case for themselves in Week 1 with an upset of the Patriots in New England. Wins over the Eagles and Chargers followed before Monday’s game. Pro Football Reference rates their schedule so far as the fourth toughest in the league.

Alex Smith has led the way at quarterback. After years of reliability, if not excellence, he is having a career season so far at age 33. His adjusted yards per attempt figure is 10.1, ranking behind only Tom Brady; his previous high was 8.1.

He is helped by not having yet thrown an interception. He leads the league in completion percentage (76), touchdown percentage (6.6), game winning drives (3), and quarterback rating (124.2). The numbers come in spite of his being sacked 16 times, second only to Carson Palmer of the Cardinals.

SportRadar stats show that Smith has been uncanny when facing a blitz: 9-for-10, easily the best in the league, for 184 yards. He has mostly enjoyed throwing to the right so far, where he is 33-44 for 489 yards and four touchdowns, with Tyreek Hill a favorite target. Though still accurate going left, he tends to throw shorter that way and has just one TD.

Drawing even more attention has been the astonishing rookie Kareem Hunt. On opening night, he tore up the Super Bowl champions for 246 yards from scrimmage, a record for a first career start. He has kept it up, and leads the league in rushing by more than 100 yards.

The Chiefs are showing resiliency too. They won Monday night on a game winning 43-yard field goal by Harrison Butker, who was picked up from the Panthers’ practice squad because of an injury to Cairo Santos.

The game ended on a strange note: The Redskins, trailing by 3 after the field goal, with four seconds left at their own 25, tried a desperate series of laterals hoping for a miracle touchdown. They fumbled, and Justin Houston ran in a touchdown to increase the Chiefs’ margin to 9 with the clock at zero. No big deal, except to gamblers, who had wagered on either the Chiefs minus-7 or the Redskins plus-7.

(Besides the disappointment of the loss, the Redskins got bad injury news: Cornerback Josh Norman has a rib injury and will miss several weeks.)

The Chiefs’ win came after being down 10 points early. They also trailed the Patriots by 10 and the Eagles by 4.

The flip side of the Chiefs’ success are the four teams that haven’t yet won: a motley crew of the Browns, Chargers, Giants and 49ers. While of course not mathematically eliminated, they are already in deep trouble. At online bookmakers their Super Bowl odds range from 100-1 (Giants) to 1,000-1 (Browns and 49ers).

Don’t award this year’s Super Bowl to the Chiefs yet. Most bookies are listing them as only third favorite behind the 2-2 Patriots and 3-1 Packers. And the records of the last unbeaten team in recent seasons are a mixed bag. In 2016, the Vikings were the last perfect team, winning their first five, but staggered to an 8-8 record. In 2015, the Panthers won 14 in a row to start the season, then lost in the Super Bowl to the Broncos. And who remembers that 2014’s last unbeaten was the Bengals? They lost in the first round of the playoffs.


Published at Tue, 03 Oct 2017 20:17:28 +0000

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