Me: Rarely have I seen a team live up to the hype the way the Chiefs have this season. What's the secret?
JT: Competency. The Chiefs replaced an incompetent quarterback with a competent one, an incompetent head coach with a competent one and an incompetent GM with a competent one. Those are arguably the three most important positions on a football team and the Chiefs unquestionably got better at each spot. Andy Reid is the biggest ingredient there. He brought a confidence that the Chiefs, who had enough individual talent over the last couple of years, simply didn't have. Oh, and not turning the ball over and playing lights out defense. That's the other part of the secret. It's not so much about new personnel as it is that things are just coming together at the perfect time for the Chiefs.
Do Chiefs fans realize the Raiders have beaten the Chiefs six straight times in Kansas City? Do you think the records will matter much this week?
You're right that you can throw the records out in this game and I have a good example of that. The Chiefs won 10 games in 2010, their best season in a decade, and made the playoffs as the AFC West division winner. Also that season: Oakland beat the Chiefs TWICE. So, yeah, the records don't matter. Two things make me feel better about this game. There are early indications that Andy Reid is taking this Raider rivalry seriously (more like Marty Schottenheimer did, less like Romeo Crennel and Todd Haley). That's good for the Chiefs in this game as Oakland would be the type of team you could overlook. The Chiefs are also reviving their home-field advantage, so Arrowhead will be slightly different than the ghost town you saw last season.
What does Alex Smith bring to the Chiefs that Matt Cassel didn't?
The biggest thing is that Alex Smith doesn't screw it up. Matt Cassel threw a lot of picks and fumbled a lot of balls last season. Simply getting a competent quarterback in there was going to create a dramatic upgrade, and that's what happened with Alex Smith. Even better, he was at the extreme of protecting the ball in the first three weeks not turning it over once. He has thrown a few picks since then but overall his decision making is better. I get the impression Alex Smith has more freedom to read the defense and make the best decision because Andy Reid repeatedly tells us that reading the defense pre-snap is one of Alex's strengths. Whereas previous coaches would dictate to Cassel what the offense would be, Alex Smith seems to have a larger role in the decision making process. Alex Smith brings a steadiness that we didn't get from the up-and-down Matt Cassel.
A season like this after a 2 win season usually requires a surprise performer(s). Who has that been for the Chiefs?
Oh boy, a lot of them. Dontari Poe took a HUGE leap this season, really establishing himself as one of the top nose tackles in the league. Justin Houston, as many of us expected, also took a big leap. His career trajectory suggested that was coming so it's less of a surprise, but he's dominating. Marcus Cooper is a little known CB who filled in for Brandon Flowers two weeks ago and did an outstanding job. So good, in fact, that the Chiefs moved Flowers to the slot last week. Yeah, that's a 7th round pick moving your $50 million man to the slot. No. 1 TE Anthony Fasano has been out since Week 1 with an injury and No. 2 TE Travis Kelce has played just one snap this year. That hasn't mattered very much as Sean McGrath, who was picked up on cut down weekend along with Cooper, has done an excellent job as a fill-in. The biggest surprise as a whole this season is the defense's domination. We knew the individual talent was there, they just had to put it together. And that's exactly what they've done through five games.
The Chiefs look a bit banged up at the moment with Jamaal Charles, Justin Houston, Anthony Fasano, Kendrick Lewis, and Travis Kelce all missing practice this week. Who looks most likely to be out Sunday and how concerning are their absences?
You can expect Jamaal Charles to play. He's the big one on this list. He has some blisters on his feet that are apparently pretty bad. (Chiefs TE Sean McGrath made a joke about Jamaal riding around in a Flintstones car.) But he IS expected to play. He had these blisters last week, too, and played.
Justin Houston is a little up in the air because he didn't practice to start off the week. Andy Reid has made it sound like it's no big deal (he was hit in the neck area last week) so I'm thinking he will end up playing, assuming he practices at some point.
Anthony Fasano isn't likely to play. He had an ankle injury in Week 1 that morphed into a knee injury. This injury has been a question mark for a few weeks now. But right now I would say don't expect him to play.
Lewis has had a banged up ankle for a couple weeks now and should play.
Travis Kelce has been out all season and just had knee surgery, so he's probably done for the year. He was a third round pick.