The Kansas City Chiefs have had a number of close calls this season, but should fans be concerned?
If you’ve been a Chiefs fan for a long time, there’s no doubt simply saying that fact gives you goosebumps. It might even bring a tear to your eye. The Broncos are arguably the Chiefs most hated rival, I wrote about that here, and the Chiefs have embarrassed them the last several years.
Even though the Chiefs won, and improvee to an impressive 11-1 overall record, there is some growing unease in parts of Chiefs Kingdom. This isn’t the first game in 2020 where the Chiefs have played what appears to be a woefully undermatched football team and barely eked out a win. The question is whether or not the blessed residents of Chiefs Kingdom should be concerned about their favorite team.
Is this simply the result of a Super Bowl champion, who arguably got better in the offseason, taking a game lightly here or there? Or are these close games uncovering cracks in what seemed, after last season’s playoff run, like an impenetrable wall of talent and scheme?
The best way to look at this is to compare the 2019 Kansas City Chiefs in their most similar form to the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs. I’ll accomplish this by focusing on the games Patrick Mahomes took part in during 2019 and compare those to the games so far in 2020. The Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 2019, even with some hiccups, and thus are the perfect barometer for week-to-week success.
We’ll also want to look at the difference in basic production when the two teams in question played teams they should beat handily versus team’s where a tight contest was expected. To accomplish this, I’ll separate the production in games played against opponents with a record equal to or less than .500 from that of games played against opponents with a record greater than .500.
After accounting for these factors, we have 14 games from 2019 to compare to the 12 played so far in 2020. In 2019, Mahomes and the Chiefs played 10 opponents who finished with eight wins or less and four opponents who finished with nine wins or more. In 2020, they have played seven teams who currently have a record below .500 and five teams with a record above .500.
For our purposes, lesser teams will refer to those at or below .500 and greater teams will refer to those above .500. The results are pictured below, with higher performance in a given statistic highlighted for each team.
As you can see, the 2020 Chiefs offense has outperformed the 2019 offense both against lesser and greater opponents in every single basic statistic. They are gaining more yards, scoring more points, and turning the ball over less.
In this case, it appears that the real decline has been on defense, but not against greater opponents. While the 2019 Chiefs defense outperformed the 2020 Chiefs defense against lesser opponents, the 2020 defense has outperformed the 2019 defense against greater opponents. Importantly, they have outperformed them in points, total yards, rushing yards, and turnovers.
What does this basic analysis really show? It shows that, for the most part, the 2020 Kansas City Chiefs have improved from 2019’s Super Bowl winning season. It shows that the defense has slightly underperformed statistically when facing the teams the Chiefs are expected to beat handily, but there’s a rather easy explanation for that.
Three of the seven teams the Chiefs have played with a record at or less than .500 are the Los Angeles Chargers, the New England Patriots, and the Carolina Panthers. Against the Chargers, a team with five wins the year prior, the quarterback the defense prepared for punctured his lung before the game and didn’t play. In his place started first-year phenom Justin Herbert.
Against the Patriots, a similar situation took place. Cam Newton, a mostly running quarterback at this stage of his career, was sidelined hours before the game due to COVID restrictions. While Brian Hoyer isn’t exactly an All Pro, he’s a totally different quarterback. It’s likely most of what the defense had prepared for had to be thrown out the window.
The Panthers were a whole different animal. While they had only won three of their eight games on the year, their losses were close and that game saw the return of their best player Christian McCaffrey. Had he played the whole season, it’s likely their record would have been much better.
The 2020 Kansas City Chiefs are unquestionably playing like one of the best teams in the league through 12 games. . The best part of that sentiment is the they are arguably the only team this season who clearly has another level to which they can rise. We’ve seen it in several games now.
What’s more, the Chiefs are now the odds-on favorite to grab the one-seed in the AFC Playoffs, which would mean home-field advantage for the third-straight season. Outside of one of the most experienced teams in the past 20 years, they have not lost in that situation with Patrick Mahomes as their starter.
There are a number of caveats to these ideas, and the Chiefs still have a couple tough contests in front of them. Still, if this analysis tells fans anything it’s that they shouldn’t be concerned. This team is primed for another Super Bowl run