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Four weeks of NFL play have come and gone and all I can think about is just how strange the start of this 2013 season has been. Usual playoff contenders such as the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers are winless, while some usual cellar dwellers such as the Miami Dolphins are finding ways to win. Perhaps the most surprising start this season has been the resurgence of the Kansas City Chiefs under new Head Coach Andy Reid. Sparked by a stellar defense, the Chiefs look like they may be in contention for a playoff spot in the AFC.
While it would take a miracle for the Chiefs to surpass the high-powered Denver Broncos, Kansas City certainly looks capable of securing a wild card spot, especially with a 4-0 record already on the season. When examining the schedule, naysayers may note that the Chiefs have yet to beat any team of merit this season, but at times, the Chiefs look straight up dominant.
For Kansas City, it all starts on the defensive end. The Chiefs lead the NFL in points allowed, surrendering just over 10 points per game. To put that in perspective, if the Chiefs were to maintain that average the entire season, they would narrowly edge out the 2000 Ravens for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season. While that mark is almost undoubtedly sure to rise for KC, there is still no denying the fact that its defense has been a revelation this season.
Third-year outside linebacker Justin Houston started the year on fire, registering an NFL high 7.5 sacks this season and almost equaling his career-high 10-sack mark he set during last season’s Pro Bowl campaign. Houston may not be able to keep up the same sack pace this season, but he certainly looks like he is capable of registering 15-plus sacks on the season for the Chiefs’ solid front seven, which leads the NFL with 18 sacks this season.
The strength of the Chiefs’ defense certainly seems to be its linebacking corps. Houston and veterans Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson form an intimidating trio to go along with a solid fourth linebacker in Akeem Jordan, who is usually pulled when the team switches from its base 3-4 defense to a nickel to defend the pass.
Hali and Houston provide tremendous quarterback pressure from the edges while Johnson is a more do-it-all type of linebacker, as evidenced by his three-straight 100-plus tackle seasons. The defensive line may not add a whole lot, aside from nose tackle Dontari Poe, who has 3.5 sacks this season, but the Chiefs’ front seven has the looks of a young but promising defense.
Kansas City’s secondary, meanwhile, has put up extremely strong numbers to start the season, allowing fewer than 190 passing yards per game this season. Much of that success can be attributed to the pressure the front seven has managed to place on opposing quarterbacks, but the secondary deserves similar credit as well. Headlined by safety Eric Berry, this young and aggressive secondary has proven capable of shutting down high-powered passing attacks such as the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles.
With the eldest starting defensive back (Brandon Flowers) at 27 years old, this Chiefs’ secondary certainly has shown it is willing to grow together and become one of the more consistent and dangerous units in the NFL.
Andy Reid has revitalized this Chiefs franchise into a legitimate playoff contender in just one year and deserves much of the credit due to his leadership style. Sure, the Chiefs could flame out similar to last season’s Arizona Cardinals, but this Kansas City team has the looks of a playoff team with a strong defense to go along with a veteran quarterback who has many dangerous offensive weapons at his disposal.
If there is one thing the Chiefs have on the offensive side of the ball, it is speed. Running back Jamaal Charles is arguably the fastest back in the NFL, and he has proven dangerous in both the running and passing game throughout his career. Wide receivers Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster also possess that breakaway speed that allows the Chiefs to stretch the field, while Dwayne Bowe is the big target over the middle for Alex Smith.
Smith may not have felt the love in San Francisco, but he is doing a fine job finding his weapons in the open field and staying efficient in the process. His 7:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio is amongst the best in the league, and Smith has continually proven dangerous with his arm and legs, tools that constantly allow him to avoid pressure from opposing defenses. Smith may not be a quarterback that can lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl, but he is a veteran and is off to a great start this season.
Look for the Chiefs to continue winning games this season and to at least challenge Denver’s clinching of the AFC West by Week 12 of the season. I’m predicting an 11-win season for a Chiefs team that finished last season with the worst record in the NFL.
I’ll be honest, it has been a tough start in fantasy football for me this season. Some of the guys I thought were going to have really big years (C.J. Spiller in particular) have gotten off to slow starts. Nonetheless, my team is surviving through injuries to Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and Roddy White, so I’m still holding out hope.
However, along with the struggling veterans come exciting breakout players that have been fantasy all-starts throughout the first four weeks. Here are my fantasy breakout stars of the first quarter of the NFL season.
Quarterback: Philip Rivers, San Diego Chargers
As weird as it is to say, Rivers has been one of the better quarterbacks to start this 2013 season. Only Peyton Manning tops his 11:2 touchdown to interception ratio, and Rivers ranks second in the league behind only Manning in quarterback rating as well. Rivers is finding ways to put the ball in the end zone and avoid the costly turnovers fans have come to expect from him. He is a solid starting quarterback option any time he takes the field, and with matchups against Oakland and Jacksonville looming in weeks five and seven, there is no better time to ride the hot hand with Rivers than now.
Running Back: Reggie Bush, Detroit Lions
Bush is finally showing why he was so highly prized coming out of USC eight years ago. While he was reliable the last two seasons while in Miami, Bush has proven deadly thus far in Detroit. Matthew Stafford gets him the ball regularly out of the backfield, and Bush is perhaps the biggest dual-threat back this season in terms of both rushing and receiving. If he can stay healthy, Bush will continue to be a focal point of the Lions’ offensive attack and rack up a monster fantasy season.
Wide Receiver: Pierre Garçon, Washington Redskins
There may have been better breakout options than Garçon at the wideout position, but you can’t argue the type of year he is having. Garçon has recorded at least six receptions in all four games this season and looks like the most dangerous weapon that Robert Griffin III has at his disposal. If the Redskins can get back to any of the same offensive production they had last season, Garçon will continue to build upon his already promising year.
Tight End: Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns
Anyone who drafted and started Cameron this season knows they potentially picked up the biggest steal of the season. While he has cracked 100 receiving yards only once this season, Cameron already has five touchdown receptions and has scored 15 or more points in three of four weeks. Despite the Browns’ quarterback deficiencies, Cameron will remain a threat in the red zone, thus racking up touchdowns for the rest of the year. He has been a stud at the tight end position this season, rivaled only by Jimmy Graham in terms of consistency.
Defense: Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs have posted 20-point fantasy performances three times this season and look like a top-tier option and must-add for any owner. Add their league-leading 18 sacks to five interceptions and seven fumble recoveries and it is no wonder the Chiefs’ defense is lighting it up on a weekly basis. Keep in mind they also get to play the Raiders twice this season, so expect them to continue to put up great numbers.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of October 1st’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Art by Emily Zhang of the Daily Nexus