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Alex Smith proves why he’s the frontrunner for 2017 NFL MVP

Travis Kelce was out with a possible concussion. Kareem Hunt had a relatively quiet day. The Chiefs still pulled off a 42-34 win over the Texans, thanks to Smith.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs look unstoppable right now. They lead the league in scoring with 32.8 points per game, and they’ve taken down tough opponents — including the Patriots, Eagles, and Texans — on their way to a 5-0 start. That’s just part of the reason Alex Smith is our frontrunner for league MVP through the first five weeks of the season.

Smith has been serviceable in recent memory. He’s 26-4 in his last 30 regular season starts. But he’s taken his game to the next level this season en route to the hot start for the Chiefs. His quarterback rating of 125.8 is better than every quarterback in the league but Sam Bradford. That’s only because Bradford just played one game before being sidelined with a knee injury. Smith’s 11 touchdowns with no interceptions puts him in lofty company.

Smith won’t take all the credit.

“I’ve got some good teammates, some good coaches making me look good,” Smith said to Deion Sanders on Sunday night on GameDay Prime on NFL Network.

Smith can make things happen no matter who’s on the field

The way Smith’s game has progressed was on display on Sunday night in the Chiefs’ 42-34 win over the Texans. He completed 29 of 37 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns. In the first half, the Chiefs converted seven of 10 third down attempts. Every single successful third down in that half came on a pass from Smith. He was able to spread the ball around, hitting 10 different receivers en route to the 42-34 win.

He did it with Travis Kelce sidelined for most of the game and on a relatively quiet day for rookie sensation Kareem Hunt, who was held out of the end zone.

Kelce left the game in the second quarter to be evaluated for a concussion, but he was cleared to return. He was out again with a possible head injury in the second half. Kelce still contributed while he was on the field. Even in limited action, he was the team’s leading receiver with eight catches for 98 yards.

Hunt didn’t make much of a difference in the game, even though he still finished with 107 rushing yards. That’s a low-key performance for the rookie whose second-half rushing total alone was more than any other running back this season. Against the Texans, Smith showed he is able to guide these Chiefs to a win even without outrageous production from Hunt.

The key for the Chiefs is balance

“I think this year I feel like we are a more complete team, all three phases,” Smith said. “I feel like we can win a game a lot of different ways.”

That means Smith could go to Charcandrick West, who had just 12 receiving yards but punched in two touchdowns, instead of Kelce or Hunt. West’s first score of the day, an 8-yard pass from Smith, came on a third-and-4. Smith extended the play with his legs to avoid pressure, set his feet, and delivered a perfect strike.

Smith finished the game with just 19 rushing yards on five carries, but each one seemed to come at a crucial moment. At age 33, Smith hasn’t lost his mobility that has been a hallmark of his career.

On special teams, opponents have to contend with the dynamic athleticism of De’Anthony Thomas or Tyreek Hill, who sprinted in an 82-yard punt return touchdown against the Texans. New kicker Harrison Butker — less than a week after he was the hero for the Chiefs against Washington — was flawless, going 5-for-5 on his field goal attempts.

And on defense, the Chiefs are opportunistic. They rank No. 8 in the league in sacks with 14, and they also have four interceptions and seven forced fumbles. Last season, Kansas City’s defense was the main story surrounding the team’s success. This year, it’s more on Smith, and Chiefs players know he can get it done.

“I think there’s kind of a quiet confidence in our locker room, because we know that and we believe that really deep down to our core,” Smith said.

The Chiefs should be confident. Smith is having the best season of his career, with 1,391 yards, 11 touchdowns, and zero turnovers. He’s not missing many passes, either:

The Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes in the first round this year, making it clear that Smith wasn’t a part of their long-term plans. But Smith has reacted to that with a career season, and he’s gotten his name firmly in the MVP conversation because of it.

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