Why Chiefs-Broncos could be a make-or-break game for Alex Smith

The Kansas City Chiefs are probably not going to make a quarterback change this year. Alex Smith probably is their man, for better or for worse in 2016.

"Probably" is the key word. It would take something truly terrible to make a change.

But in 2017 and beyond? That’s another story, and an important chapter might be written Sunday night.

This Chiefs team is talented enough to compete for the Super Bowl. They have a defense that can be suffocating, an offensive line that can win the line of scrimmage, playmakers on the outside and in the backfield, and a coach that gets plenty of flack but is absolutely one of the best in the NFL.

Then there is Kansas City’s signal-caller. Quarterback might be the most overrated position in the NFL from a salary cap perspective — too many are paid too much at the detriment of the rest of the team — but it’s still a vitally important position, and the Chiefs have to ask a big question about it:

Can the Chiefs win a Super Bowl with Smith as their quarterback?

That’s a big-picture question, but it’s one that Kansas City will likely start to answer come Sunday night, when the Chiefs take on the Denver Broncos in a contest that’s critical to both team’s playoff chances.

These sort of existential quarterback conundrums haven’t been as pressing to the Chiefs in recent years because the team around Smith hasn’t been this good. Smith’s value has been in playing a safe, error-free football — he wouldn’t lose the Chiefs games and they’d find ways to win from there.

But now that the Chiefs are no longer afraid of losing, the inverse scenario is up for debate.

Smith has an adjusted completion rate of 77.8 percent — that’s excellent — but those completions mostly come on dink-and-dunk passes. His depth of target, per Pro Football Focus, is 7.5 yards — 30th in the NFL.

That’s what good NFL defenses want to hear. It makes great NFL defenses’ mouths water.

The Broncos face a similar situation with their team — is Trevor Siemian a good enough quarterback for the Broncos to repeat as Super Bowl champions? The difference is that Denver knows their defense is great enough to get the job done. Last year, the Broncos had some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL and were still champions. Kansas City’s defense is good, but it’s not on the level of the Broncos in either this or last season.

Kansas City’s defense is good, but it’s not on the level of the Broncos in either this or last season.

They need more than Trevor Siemian (or an over-the-hill Peyton Manning) at quarterback.

Backup Nick Foles is probably not the man to lead the Chiefs to the AFC West title or a Super Bowl, but if Smith cannot produce against the Chiefs’ ideological and divisional counterparts Sunday, the calls for Foles to play in Kansas City’s final five games, which are all against teams that can beat KC — Atlanta, Oakland, Tennessee, Denver, and San Diego — will rise to the surface.

It seems unlikely that Andy Reid would heed those calls in the final month of the season, but it could certainly create a dynamic that all but guaranteed that Smith won’t be Kansas City’s quarterback in 2017.