With still a few months to go until the first kickoff of the NFL season, we continue our weekly previews of matchups we can’t wait to see in 2014.
Chiefs vs. 49ers (Week 5)
Finally, we get a cross-conference game that has the potential to develop juicy story lines. To some, the San Francisco/Kansas City matchup is inherently a personal battle between Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and his former team. But it could also evolve into a bigger, intense contest. Why?
Well, looking beyond the Smith-Niners layer — which we have seen in preseason action in 2013 — Kansas City is coming off its best season since 2003. But they played one of the league’s easier schedules last season, and although it was out of their control, it undoubtedly helped the Chiefs reach the postseason.
Here’s how Kansas City’s strength of schedule played out in 2013:
- Overall win/loss record: 11-5
- Combined opponents’ record: 141-142
- Combined record of opponents defeated: 86-117
- Combined record of opponents who beat Kansas City: 55-125
In games the Chiefs won, they outscored their opponents 316-152, inflated a bit by a 45-10 triumph over Washington (who finished 3-13) and a 56-31 win over Oakland (finished 4-12). In games the Chiefs lost, they were outscored 114-153, but they had to face the division rival and eventual AFC champion Denver twice.
So what do all of these numbers mean? The Chiefs feasted on lesser opponents, and despite losses, they were competitive against the league’s best.
Kansas City also followed the tried-and-true approach of defense-first football, earning six of its 11 wins by 10 points or less. It’s a classic strategy — limiting opposing offenses and relying on a better-than-average offense to win games — and it’s en vogue again after the Seattle Seahawks put on a defensive clinic against the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The Chiefs lost cornerback Brandon Flowers after being forced to terminate his contract because of a huge payday looming on the horizon. But Kansas City, anchored by four members of the Top 100 of 2014 in safety Eric Berry, pass-rushing linebacker Justin Houston, middle linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Tamba Hali, still boasts one of the NFL’s best defenses — fifth in the league in 2013 — and their approach won’t change in 2014.
What they likely hope will improve this season is the play of their offense — namely, the play of Smith. The Chiefs quarterback had a solid season in 2013, completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 3,313 yards and an attractive 23-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. But much like an actor who struggles for years to land his or her career-defining role, Smith has long been typecast as a game manager. It’s part of the reason why San Francisco easily bid him adieu after the 2012 season.
The Chiefs bowed out of the playoffs in scintillating fashion in 2013, with Smith watching helplessly as Andrew Luck and the Colts completed an improbable comeback to advance with a 45-44 victory. The loss left many Chiefs’ fans feeling robbed, as they watched such a promising season come to an abrupt and heartbreaking end.
But 2014 offers the possibility for redemption for Smith and the Chiefs, and what better way to get the wheels rolling on their way to what they hope will be another postseason appearance than to beat a team that was one play away from its second-straight Super Bowl appearance?
The 49ers were left on the Super Bowl’s doorstep in January, when they had an NFC Championship victory snatched from their hands by Seattle. This time around, San Francisco will bring in a new stadium with a renewed sense of determination in their quest to get back to the biggest stage in professional sports. Week 5 is likely circled and highlighted on their schedule, because what’s sweeter than denying an attempt at redemption while proving their elite status at home?
Colin Kaepernick gets to face the man he once sat behind in San Francisco, and after a tumultuous offseason, it’s likely the 49ers can’t wait to get back on the field and start speaking with their actions.
This Sunday afternoon game will provide one of two dramatic — and depending on who you ask, satisfying — results: Smith gets his long-awaited revenge, proves doubters wrong and jump-starts the Chiefs on another quest to make good on a successful regular season, or Kaepernick again grabs victory and glory from the hands of Smith.
We can’t wait.