Are The Chiefs Still A Solid Bet After Eric Berry’s Injury?
The defending AFC West champs dealt a significant blow to the defending Super Bowl champs in week 1, and the fates dealt one right back. Star safety Eric Berry ruptured his achilles in the fourth quarter, and was placed on injured reserve the following day. Nonetheless, the Chiefs beat a -4.5 point spread en route to a big upset. It was a bittersweet moment for KC. Now bettors who may have capitalized on the Chiefs’ underdog success in week 1 must be asking whether they’re a good bet in week 2.
On Thursday night, the Kansas City Chiefs traveled to New England to face the Patriots on primetime television. In a surprise turn of events, the Chiefs pulled out a major 42-27 victory. Their success was due in large part to rookie running back Kareem Hunt who ran for 148 yards with an 8.7 yards per carry average; he caught passes for 98 more and scored three touchdowns. Alex Smith looked perfect as well, outshining Tom Brady in rare fashion. He completed 28 of 35 passes for 368 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. But their successes were inevitably overshadowed by the devastating loss of Eric Berry.
The Chiefs’ star safety ruptured his achilles while covering Rob Gronkowski on a crossing route late in the game. He appeared to be in little pain at the time. But the news came a day later, and with it speculation as to how the Chiefs will recover from the loss.
So what’s the prognosis?
“You know you’re not going to replace Eric Berry with another Eric Berry,” coach Andy Reid said. “That’s not what happens. We’ve obviously got some guys here between [Eric] Murray and [Daniel] Sorensen that we know can play and we feel comfortable with. But the Eric Berrys only come around every once in a while. He’s a heck of a player.”
Berry was coming off arguably his best year in 2016, when he made 77 tackles, picked off four passes and returned two for touchdowns. He nearly won a game in Atlanta by himself and played a prominent role in KC’s 12-4 record, and AFC West division title. And he did it all in the wake of the lymphoma that almost killed him. His resilience has become an anchor for this team. It’s unlikely we’ll see him stray far from the locker room during his recovery. Andy Reid even hinted at involving him in coaching the secondary–to what extent we don’t know but it’s clear Berry will still have an off-field presence.
That being said, how does the impact the Chiefs’ future odds?
Well, there were already lingering concerns for the Chiefs as to the strength of their secondary and the loss of Berry only exacerbates them. The Chiefs looked good against New England. They held the Patriots when it counted the most. They looked like the better offense. And Berry almost single-handedly shut down Gronkowski while amounting seven tackles. The league’s top tight-end was held to two catches and 33 yards. Would the Chiefs have fared so well without Berry to contain Gronk?
Chances are the game would have looked slightly different.
Nonetheless, the Chiefs have one of the best linebacker cores in the league with Justin Houston and Dee Ford on the outside and Derrick Johnson in the middle. They demonstrated their strength in a number of key passing and short-yardage situations. If Houston is blitzing, he’ll get a sack at least every game.
Essentially, in order to examine the impact of Berry’s injury, we must examine their strengths (and the rest of the AFC West). Right now it appears that’s their offense, with Alex Smith at the helm and Kareem Hunt in the backfield. While it’s unlikely he’ll average 8.7 yards a carry every game, Hunt shows promise for a team that’s still healing from the loss of Jamaal Charles.
Can they best the Raiders in 16 games again? Our guess is yes. The Raiders looked solid on Sunday in their 26-16 win over the Titans. Marshawn delivered 16 furious carries for 78 yards. Derek Carr tossed two scores. But the right side of their O-line looked spotty. That happens to be Justin Houston’s side. In any case, it’s going to be a tight race in the West, with questions still looming around the Broncos and Chargers.
Don’t get it twisted. Berry’s injury hurts. But apparently it didn’t hurt enough to stop ESPN’s Football Power Index from moving the Chiefs into the top spot for Super Bowl favorites. That’s right. After Thursday’s game FPI was so impressed with Kansas City’s 42-27 win over the Patriots Thursday that it bumped the Chiefs up to the top spot in its rankings. Andy Reid’s team is 6.7 points better than the NFL average, per FPI, and a point better than the Patriots.
Of course, we’re a week into the season. But the Chiefs made a strong impression on the NFL’s biggest stage. They can’t replace Eric Berry. But it’s clear, they’ve got the pieces to go long in 2018.