Smoke Signals: Super Bowl or Bust ... Literally

So one article this week bummed me out even more than the never-ending lockout.

The piece in question was this week’s Monday Morning Waterboy on ColdHardFacts.com. In it, Luis DeLoureiro basically says the Cheifs are either going to the Super Bowl, or they’re slated to take a step back in 2011. Even more discouraging was that his argument was pretty airtight.

In short, 30 NFL teams between 2002 and 2009 increased their season-to-season records by five or more games. Of them, 24 had worse seasons following their surge – with 13 of them losing at least four more games after their surprising season.

Yikes.

So first off, there are reasons to believe this will not happen to the Chiefs, and they are the following:

1.) We have a young and improving team. Basically our only weak spots are now filled with young players that are likely to progress, and most of our strengths are populated by young talent as well.

2.) Our division is going the other direction. San Diego is always a threat, but I refuse to have fear in those underachievers. Oakland is a mess as usual, and is set up to lose lots of its free agent talent, and Denver is a total rebuilding project with no defense to speak of.

3.) This is Haley’s third year. It took him a while to make his mark on the team – both installing his offense, gathering players, etc. but also molding it to reflect his personality. I think going into 2011 we are starting to see a mostly finished product, which means a more dangerous product.

4.) Free agency isn’t likely to greatly impact the Chiefs. As I mentioned last week, we definitely need to resign Hali and Carr, and I agree with Andrew that we should bring back Wiegmann as well. But, other than that, we don’t have much talent going out the door, and we have plenty of cap room to make sure the aforementioned studs are locked up for the season.

So now back to the bad news after the jump.

Speaking generally, in science, a surprising result is usually followed by what’s called “regression towards the mean” – essentially lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice and the Chiefs phenomenal 2010 season will be very, very difficult to reproduce.

But, speaking specifically, the real issue is the schedule. Here are two examples of past overachieving teams and how the schedule from one year to the next affected them:

2008 Dolphins

The 2008 Dolphins took advantage of a schedule that featured eight games against the AFC and NFC West – the two worst divisions in football that year with a combined winning percentage of 35%.

This schedule advantage – along with Tom Brady’s season ending injury – was a major contributor to their 10 win increase from 2007 to 2008.  The Dolphins went 7-1 against the AFC and NFC West and 4-4 against the rest of their schedule.

Unfortunately, in 2009, the Dolphins replaced the aforementioned 2008 games against the AFC and NFC West with four games against the AFC South (with a league best 59% winning percentage) and four games against the NFC South (with a 52% winning percentage).

The Dolphins have not returned the playoffs since the 2008 season – which appears to be something of a fluke right now.

2007 Browns

The 2007 Browns went 10-6 – a six-win increase from their 2006 season.

Some have suggested that Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards sold their souls to the devil in exchange for their first Pro Bowl appearances that season.

While this may be true, the 2007 Browns also benefited greatly from an easy schedule. They played eight out of division games against the AFC East (44% winning percentage in 2007) and the NFC West (41% winning percentage – worst in the league).

In 2008, their non-division schedule took a brutal turn when they had to play the two best divisions in the NFL – the AFC South (a shocking 66% winning percentage) and the NFC East (an almost equally shocking 63%).

The result was a 4-12 record.

Like the Dolphins, the Browns have not made the playoffs since the season of their improvement. Unfortunately, unlike the Dolphins, the Browns didn’t even get to the playoffs in 2007 – the year of the improvement.

So how about the 2010 surprising teams – the Chiefs, the Bucs and the Rams?

KC and Tampa both kicked around the lowly NFC West last year, and the Rams were a rebuilding team rising up in a legendarily bad division (remember, their division leader was 7-9 Seattle).

This year the Chiefs face the NFC North, the AFC North, plus the Colts and Patriots in what is arguably the toughest schedule in the NFL. It features six 2010 playoff teams, while their 2010 schedule was rated as one of the easiest.

The silver lining in all of this? Well, of the 30 teams with five-game win-boosts from one year to the other, two teams improved for a second consecutive year –the 2005 Bears and the 2003 Panthers. Both of those teams ended up going to the Super Bowl in their second year of improvement.

So there you have it, either the Chiefs are going to the big dance, or we’re headed for disappointment. Sorry guys, I have a feeling you’re all about as bummed as I am now.

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