Under the current 32 team, 2 conference, 8 division format which has been in place since 2002, exactly 37.5% of NFL teams make the playoffs each year. Statistically speaking, since 2002, roughly half of the teams that make the playoffs end up making a return trip to the playoffs the following season. In fact, this latter statistic has held up pretty well ever since the NFL went to the 12 team playoff system that started in1990. However, some teams have been a lot more consistent and successful than others at making these repeat performances; the Colts lead the pack in that category with 8 repeat appearances since 2002.
Another scenario with special relevance for the Chiefs that I thought it might be interesting to consider is how often teams that were last in their division one year, made it to the playoffs for at least two consecutive years thereafter? The answer, along with a few corollary thoughts right after the jump.
Since 2002, only 3 of 19 teams have made back to back playoff appearances after finishing last in their division. That’s less than 1 in 6. Those teams were the 2004 Bears, the 2007 Eagles, and the 2008 Saints. Also, none of the 3 teams just mentioned made it to the Superbowl in either of their back to back playoff seasons.
I think we all agree, going into this season, that the Chiefs are most likely facing a much tougher schedule that what they played last year. That’s just how it tends to be when you’re an up and coming team that experiences a little success. It is a situation that no doubt is also a major reason why teams who find themselves going from “worst to first” struggle to maintain a comparable level of success the following year. Everybody knows about you and prepares accordingly. Everybody takes you a little more seriously than they did before.
The first question that begs asking is whether the 2011 Chiefs are likely to resemble either the 2004 Bears, the 2007 Eagles, or the 2008 Saints? What about the 2011 Chiefs suggests they will be next to join those ranks? Do they resemble any of those teams in any particular way?
Second, and, I think, better general question: What does it take to build an NFL dynasty and are the Chiefs on such a path? For reference, I’ll return to my earlier point on how 50% of playoff teams make return visits. Here is how it has actually broken down since 2002:
The Colts are far and away the most successful team in this category so it seems appropriate to analyze them in the greatest detail. I believe their perennial success can be attributed to a number of factors.
First, they invariably get exceptional quarterback performance year after year. Second, the better they protect their quarterback, the more they win. Third, they typically provide their quarterback with several quality weapons whether that be several good receivers or a combination of solid running with 2 or 3 good receivers. Fourth, their defenses, while not always great, tend to be fast and untiring. Fifth, they tend to control the tempo of most games on both sides of the ball.
In what ways, if any, do the Chiefs resemble the Colts of the past 8-9 years?
First of all, I would say that the Chiefs quarterback situation is not showing signs of going where the Colts quarterback situation is or has been. Not yet anyway. Second, while the Chiefs seem to be making progress at protecting their quarterback, there is still much to proven on that front. Third, the Chiefs do have some good offensive weapons, but they need more than what they’ve had to work with so far. Fourth, the Chiefs defense is pretty fast and appears to be getting better but they also seem to wear down against the more physical teams. Fifth, I would say the Chiefs are not really a team that controls game tempo with any level of consistency.
Now let’s look at the best of the rest. In general, I’d say that the Eagles, Packers, Seahawks, Giants, Steelers, and Chargers over the past 8-9 years have been, for the most part, teams that could be characterized first and foremost as both strong and balanced. Generally speaking, they’ve featured defenses that will beat you up and wear you down and offenses that more often than displayed good quarterbacking and very strong running games.
The Chiefs defense has not yet truly shown itself as being particularly physical. I would say the absence of a dominating interior presence is the primary explanation for why that is so. On offense, we have a pretty good running game but at the same time it’s also not been all that effective against physical defenses, particularly between the tackles in red zone and short yardage situations. Again, I would point to inadequate interior linemen as being the leading factor for that lack of success.
Lastly, I believe the quarterback question remains an open one for the Chiefs. Matt Cassel certainly showed signs of progress last season but he also showed scant ability to carry the team on his back whenever such need arose. I am hopeful for his continued development but reserving judgment on him until I see what he can accomplish with another good receiver and better blocking inside.
Assessing the rest of the division is also an important consideration in this analysis. Even with another coaching change, I still have to think that the Raiders are going to be the toughest divisional opponent we’ll face this coming year. They too, are a team on the rise and they play physical. The Chargers are still the Chargers and I don’t expect them to go away anytime soon. Bottom line, winning the division will not be any easier for the Chiefs in 2011.
Addicts, do you believe the Chiefs will beat the odds and return to the playoffs this coming season? If you believe it, what, other than your unwavering trust in Scott Pioli/Todd Haley or “Chiefs Will!” convinces you that such an outcome will result? If not, what do you believe will be the main obstacles that prevent it from occurring? Sound off!