We’ve had a night to digest the schedule and now some of the quirks are starting to be revealed. Most notably, the Chiefs enter the 2014 season facing the 7th hardest schedule based on their opponents’ winning percentage in 2013. This would seem to signal a strong step back for the Chiefs in 2014, but there is reason to believe that may not be the case.
Kansas City’s schedule is incredibly top heavy. The Chiefs will play three of the four teams who participated in the AFC and NFC championship games from a season ago in the first five weeks of the season. Add in a week 11 matchup with the Seattle Seahawks and the extra game against the Broncos and five of their games are played against the four best teams in the NFL. This can be viewed as a very scary situation for the Chiefs.
However, if you take the five games agains the conference championship game participants, the schedule falls back down to earth. San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and New England combined to go 50-14 last season, 63-17 when you double-count Denver. The combine record of the 11 remaining games is a reasonable 80-96 (counts Oakland and San Diego twice). This helps show how top-heavy the schedule is when it comes to strength of opponents.
Even the Chiefs schedule structure is top-heavy. As stated earlier, the three of the first five games are against Denver, San Francisco, and New England. Two of those three are on the road. The winning percentage of the teams in those first five games is .650 (52-28).
The rest of the season? .517 (91-85). That’s a pretty significant fall off. Then consider Denver and Seattle make up 26 of the wins, which means the winning percentage of nine of the remaining 11 games will be .451 (65-79).
The obvious key here is to survive the five games between Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, and New England. Coming out with at least two wins would be huge, and put the Chiefs where they would only need to go 8-3 against the chunk of their schedule that is beatable. Ten wins should be enough to make the playoffs. And considering how hard Denver schedule is – significantly harder than the Chiefs’ – 10 wins could be enough to win the division.
Of course, this is all easier said than done, but the path is not quite as daunting as one would think.
There are two key stretches to the Chiefs’ season: The first being the opening five weeks of the season and the second being between weeks 11 and 13.
The first five week of the season are crucial for them to not dig themselves a big hole. This means no lapses against Tennessee and Miami, and finding a way to pick off a game against San Francisco (road), New England (home on Monday Night), and Denver (road). Two wins is survivable, but three wins would be absolutely huge.
Beating excellent teams on the road is an incredibly difficult thing to do, so there would be no shame in losing to San Francisco and Denver in weeks two and five. The New England game is huge. A home game, a team that’s aging at key positions, and a team the Chiefs matchup well with. If you’re circling the most important games of the season, this would be one you circle multiple times and draw a star next to.
Weeks 11 through 13 are also huge. The stretch includes a home game against Seattle, a Thursday night game on the road against Oakland, home to Denver on Sunday night, and a road game in Arizona.
The Seattle-Oakland-Denver stretch will be the defining part of the second half of the season for the Chiefs. How the Chiefs deal with the short week and travel to Oakland and the undoubtedly hyped games against Seattle and Denver will either make or break the Chiefs’ playoff chances.
The Oakland game is scary. Short week (Thursday night game), cross-country travel, a team that’s had a history of giving the Chiefs fits with their style of play (Kansas City was 3-8 against Oakland prior to KC’s two wins last season). Oakland is still a team trying to get better, but they’re recent history of awful play hasn’t stopped them from beating up on the Chiefs before. Include the road and short week elements and this game should be terrifying.
There is an incredibly good chance the Chiefs could go 0-3 during this stretch. A bad open to the season plus three losses here would almost assuredly knock the Chiefs out of playoff contention.
The flip side of this is a 3-0 swing here plus a three or four win opening to the season means the Chiefs should be in tremendous position to win the division and compete for the top seed in the AFC. If Kansas City is beating Denver, Seattle and New England then they are legit Super Bowl contenders. That resume should do wonders for the Chiefs confidence, which could be key considering they will be such a young team.
If you are someone who believe in Vegas odds, the over/under on wins for the Chiefs was set at 8.5, which ties them for the 10th highest win odds in the NFL. Breaking it down to the AFC, Kansas City has the fifth highest wins over/under total. This would seem to indicate the Chiefs are going to be wild card contenders in Vegas’ eyes.
Now, Vegas’ purpose is to make money and not predict the actual win total. Whatever they can do to earn some cash, they’ll do it. For instance, the Broncos’ win total is set at 11. This is mostly because everyone is so high on Denver. But when you consider the history of quarterbacks at age 38 and the assumed regression from an historic season, plus having the second hardest schedule in the NFL, and 11 seems to be the max number of wins they’ll earn in 2014.
No matter where you stand on Vegas numbers it is still better to have the high win total attached to you as opposed to Oakland’s 5-win number. So seeing the Chiefs in the realm of the AFC playoff contenders is a good thing.