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How bad were the Chiefs last year?

  • Kansas City went 2-14, tied for the worst record in the league with Jacksonville. Since the Chiefs faced an easier schedule, they received the first pick.
  • With an Simple Rating System score of -14.0, Kansas City had the worst SRS rating in the league. They ranked 32nd in points scored and 25th in points allowed, leaving them 32nd in points differential. With a slightly easier than average schedule, that left them 32nd in the SRS, too.
  • The Chiefs ranked in the bottom three in both NY/A and NY/A allowed.
  • With a -24 turnover differential, K.C. tied several other teams, including the 2012 Eagles, for the third worst turnover differential since 1978.
  • Brian Burke ranked the Chiefs 31st overall, 31st on offense, and 31st on defense, just edging out the Jaguars (who ranked 32nd on offense and 30th on defense).
  • Kansas City finished 32nd in Aaron Schatz’s efficiency rankings, as Football Outsiders ranked them 31st on offense, 30th on defense, and 22nd on special teams.

Make no mistake: the Chiefs were a terrible team very much deserving of the first pick in the draft. Based on their underlying statistics, they earned every bit of their 2-14 record. That said, there are reasons to be bullish on the Chiefs. Consider:

  • RB Jamaal Charles, ILB Derrick Johnson, OLB Tamba Hali, SS Eric Berry, and P Dustin Colquitt were all named to the Pro Bowl; OLB Justin Houston, was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate, and promoted to the roster once Von Miller pulled out due to injury. Prior to 2012, no team since the merger with fewer than 6 wins had ever sent six players to the Pro Bowl, but setting Pro Bowl records is nothing new for Kansas City.
  • The Chiefs went 17-15 over 2010 and 2011, so in some ways, the 2-14 season came out of nowhere. However, the 7-9 record in 2011 comes with an asterisk.1 No team was “luckier” in 2011 than the Chiefs. According to their Pythagorean Record, Kansas City was a 3.8-win team in 2011, so a 2-win follow-up season doesn’t seem crazy in that light. The narrative entering 2012, however, wasn’t that the 2012 Chiefs were likely to regress but that K.C. was a darkhorse in the AFC race. In 2011, the Chiefs lost Berry, Charles, and tight end Tony Moeaki by the end of week two to season-ending injuries, and all three entered 2012 with a clean bill of health. The Chiefs also went 1-3 in 2011 when forced to start Tyler Palko at quarterback, making them .500 in their other twelve games. As it turned out, the 2012 Chiefs get marked down as a “win” for using the Pythagorean record and a “loss” for expecting improvement due to good health. Even with a fantastic season by Charles (albeit an inconsistent one), Kansas City played like the bad team they were in 2011, just without the good fortune.

So, when projecting the 2013 Chiefs, how much “bonus” credit do we give them for having a bunch of Pro Bowlers or for being a pretty good team (based solely on record) the prior two years? And what about the fact that they added Andy Reid, Alex Smith, Anthony Fasano, and Donnie Avery (and Eric Fisher, Travis Kelce, and Knile Davis) on offense and Sean Smith, Dunta Robinson, and Mike DeVito on defense?

Charles was in charge against the Saints

Charles was in charge against the Saints.

Let’s start with the Pro Bowls point. If we look prior to the merger, we can find some teams that had terrible records with a bunch of star players. It won’t mean anything about the future of the Chiefs, but it’s always fun to take a quick stroll down football history. The 1958 Eagles went 2-9-1 but had six Pro Bowlers; two years later, they beat Vince Lombardi in the NFL title game. Some other bad teams — the ’55 Lions and the ’62 Chargers — sent a ton of players to the Pro Bowl, but those were isolated down years in long runs of good play. On the other hand, in ’67 and ’69, the Patriots had 13 total Pro Bowlers, which equaled Boston’s wins total from 1967 to 1970.

The real issue for the Chiefs is that their Pro Bowlers are generally at unimportant positions. Having a Pro Bowl punter is a nice piece of trivia and little more. Running back and inside linebacker are two positions that are much less valuable than they were a decade or two ago. Berry was a Pro Bowler based on name recognition: not only did Pro Football Focus grade him as average in 2012, but it’s hard to come up with another explanation than “name recognition” to select a safety on a defense that allowed 29 passing touchdowns, forced just 7 interceptions, and ranked dead last in ANY/A allowed. And while Hali and Houston give the team a great set of outside linebackers, but the rest of the team recorded just eight sacks. Getting more out of last year’s first round pick, nose tackle Dontari Poe, would go a long way towards improving a defense that’s bigger on names than production. DeVito should help the run defense, but he’s not a pass rusher, which means the perennially underachieving Tyson Jackson will again be tasked as the team’s third best option to get to the quarterback. The Chiefs hired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who had been with the Jets over the past 12 seasons, hoping that his version of the 3-4 will be more successful than Romeo Crennel’s.

What benefit of the doubt should the Chiefs get due to them winning 17 games in 2010 and 2011? From ’93 to ’11, 39 teams won fewer than four games in a season.2 On average, those teams won 2.3 games, but in the following year, the group averaged 6.2 wins. Regression to the mean is alive and well. As a team with a better track record, Kansas City is probably better off than your average 2-14 team. Thirteen teams won 16+ games in Years N-1 and N-2 before the bad season in Year N. As a group, they averaged 2.5 wins in Year N and 18.3 wins in Years N-1 and N-2; in Year N+1, they won 7 games. On the other side, of the 12 teams to win 11 or fewer games in Year N-1 and N-2, they averaged 2 wins in Year N, 8.9 in Years N-1 and N-2, and then only 5.5 in Year N+1.

Most bad teams experience a lot of turnover, and the Chiefs are no different. As bad as they were in 2012, a new coach and a new quarterback can solve a lot of problems. According to Vegas, the Chiefs are projected to be about 2.3 points worse than average, which jives with the 6.5 win total projected for the team. Kansas City has also hired Chris Ault as a consultant, and the father of the Pistol offense could mean the Chiefs are actually fun to watch this year. I’m cautiously optimistic about the Chiefs, but they seem unlikely to resemble last year’s version in style or production. That has to be considered a very good thing.

  1. For that matter, so does the 10-6 record in 2010, when Kansas City rode an absurdly easy schedule to the playoffs []
  2. 1993 was the first year of free agency, so that seemed like a good cut-off point. []
  • Bob

    I’d imagine that some (many?) of those “worst” teams brought in either a new head coach or a new starting quarterback the following season. Did you notice any trends?

  • Chase Stuart
    • mrh

      I’m a Chiefs fan, so a few biased comments. First, they were really bad last year and basically have been really bad for several years with two fluky playoff appearances since Vermeil left.

      Berry’s Pro Bowl selection: I’m not sure it was merited, but it’s hard to say that it’s purely a reputation pick. How good a reputation can a 3rd year player on a terrible team have, particularly after missing a season. Technically he’s the strong safety and while that distinction may not matter a lot, it’s worth noting that the tackles on most of those long pass plays were only twice made by Berry and twelves times by the various free safeties (Elam – 7, Lewis – 4, Hartman – 1). I think I counted 5 25+ yard passes to TEs which are more likely Berry’s fault, at least in part.

      The problems with the Chiefs secondary: I looked at the snap counts for the DBs using FO’s tool. Here are the numbers of 25+ yard pass plays allowed when these players were in the top 4 DBs in snaps (i.e. the starters at corner and safety), normalized to 16 games:
      Berry – 36 (he played every game)
      Flowers – 34 (missed one game, hurt after only 16 snaps in another so the 30 long pass plays in his 14 games converts to 34 for 16 games)
      Arenas – 32 (starting corner from Week 9 on but hurt part way thru Week 15)
      Lewis – 32 (missed several games, probably not fully healthy in others)
      Routt – 46 (20 long pass plays in 7 games as a starter, then cut)
      Elam – 51 (mostly replaced Lewis and was terrible in the six games he was a top 4 DB)
      Jacques Reeves – 64 (out of football since 2009, for some reason he started in Week 1 when Flowers was suspended, didn’t take another snap of defense until cut in late September)
      Jalil Brown – 32 (three games as a top 4 db)
      Tysyn Hartman – 24 (two games, Carolina and Cleveland, so possibly this number is low because of the opponents).

      I’m sure the FO charters or PFF numbers would be more revealing, but it sure looks the problem was thinking Sanford Routt was worth a big contract and that Abram Elam was the answer at safety when Lewis was out.

      Also, when the Chiefs used Travis Daniels as their nickle or dime back (defined as the db with the 5th or 6th-most snaps), they were on pace for 41 big pass plays. They did much better with Brown (4th rd pick in 2011) or Hartman (UDFA, 2012) as the nickle/dime rather than the veterans Daniels and Elam.

      Turnovers – my perception watching the games was that Cassel (especially) and Quinn had a lot of deflected INTs. For a while I thought this was fluky but I came to realize that with no deep threat because of their weak arms, defenses were compacted, not stretched. So there were always defenders in the area when balls were tipped.

      I don’t completely buy the “very-talented” team story either, but to the extent that throwing INTs and giving up big pass plays were the problem, I think those problems will be solved by Smith and a new offense and getting rid of the worst of the secondary (Routt, Elam, and probably Daniels). I think that gets the Chiefs to 6 wins right away.

      • Chase Stuart

        Good stuff. I agree with the 6-win projection.

  • Richie

    How often do teams stay terrible for consecutive seasons?

    It seems so common for a team like Jacksonville to be terrible. Then everybody predicts them to be terrible again, but they aren’t.

    How often do teams have consecutive seasons with an SRS lower than, say, (-5)? Is that something easy for you to look up?

    Since the merger, I count 37 teams that had back-to-back seasons of 12+ losses (or a .250 percentage for non-16-game seasons). The last being the 2009 Lions and Rams. If I drop the threshold to 13+ losses, I count 18 teams – with the Lions and Rams still being the last one. Before them was the 2002 Lions.

    Eight teams had consecutive 14+ loss seasons:
    73 Oilers
    79 49ers
    82 Colts (0-8-1 in strike season)
    83 Oilers
    85 Bills
    86 Bucs
    09 Rams
    09 Lions

    I find 7 teams that had three-straight 12+ loss seasons:
    77 Jets
    84 Oilers
    86 Bills
    00 Bengals (then they went 6-10 in 2001 and 2-14 in 2002. That’s sustained crapitude!)
    07 Raiders (the 5th year of a 7-year streak of 11+ losses, see: Bengals)
    09 Chiefs
    09 Rams

    I would have guessed that the modern NFL would be less likely for teams to string together bad seasons, but the recent vintage Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Bengals and Lions are proving me wrong.

    • Chase Stuart

      Let me see if I can get to this over the weekend.

    • Richie

      And a few teams had the first pick in the draft in back-to-back seasons:

      Cleveland (99-00)
      Cincinnati (94-95)
      Tampa Bay (86-87)
      Tampa Bay (76-77)
      Cardinals (39-40)

      Special nod to the Colts and Cowboys who alternated first overall picks from 1989-1992. (Though I think maybe the Colts traded up for the Emtman pick in 92?)

      • K.L.

        Cowboys traded up to select Russell Maryland in ’91.