Chiefs can’t shake pretender label despite perfect start

The National Football League has only one undefeated team left. The Kansas City Chiefs boast a 9-0 record, but questions abound regarding the AFC leaders and their rise to the top.

Are these Chiefs a potential juggernaut or are they going to fizzle out down the stretch?

In 2012, the Chiefs finished with an NFL-worst 2-14 record, which yielded the first overall pick in the draft (offensive tackle Eric Fisher). The Chiefs named former Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid head coach in January, wanting a veteran presence to help change the face of the franchise.

The Reid era started with a bang, beginning with the acquisition of quarterback Alex Smith, formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. Smith, like Reid, needed a fresh start, and he immediately developed chemistry with his teammates.

That chemistry has developed into an NFL-best 9-0 record in 2013. The question, however, remains: are the Chiefs as good as their record might indicate? The answer is a resounding NO.

The Chiefs are not exactly going all Richie Incognito on their competition. Over their last five games, the Chiefs’ average margin of victory is only 8.6 points.

The Chiefs have scored only 16 offensive touchdowns this season, and they rank 29th in the NFL in passing.

They also haven’t played an experienced quarterback in the last five weeks. Ryan Fitzpatrick (Tennessee), Terrelle Pryor (Oakland), Case Keenum (Houston), Jason Campbell (Cleveland) and Jeff Tuel (Buffalo) are all either rookies or backups. These quarterbacks are not household names, to say the least. The Chiefs hold an unblemished record thanks in large part to their favorable schedule.

If anybody on Kansas City deserves some credit, it’s the defense.

That defense has scored an NFL-best 6 defensive touchdowns, which is the most since 1999. It has also recorded 23 takeaways. The Chiefs are the first team to navigate the first nine games without allowing more than 17 points in any game since the 1977 Atlanta Falcons.

In Week 9, the Chiefs’ defense was exposed to the Buffalo Bills and their undrafted rookie quarterback, Tuel. They allowed 470 yards to the Bills and only mustered 210 yards of offense.

How did they win?

Thanks to an opportunistic defense that capitalized on the Bills’ mistakes.

Kansas City scored two defensive touchdowns – one on an interception return, and the other on a fumble return.

Remember that old saying, “defense wins championships.” That was true a decade ago, but the NFL has changed and the Chiefs will need more from their offense to even have a chance in the playoffs.

The Chiefs had a bye in Week 10, but a primetime matchup against the Denver Broncos in Week 11 should help shed some light on where Kansas City actually sits among the NFL hierarchy.

If the Chiefs beat the Broncos in Week 11, then Kansas City will have proven that they can play with the NFL’s elite. Until then, they’re merely placeholders for the league’s true leaders.