Kansas City Chiefs 2019: Fight for the Playoffs

Kansas City Chiefs 2019: Fight for the Playoffs
Kansas City Chiefs 2019: Fight for the Playoffs

Kansas City Chiefs 2018 Stats Review

Record: 12-4

Pythagorean Wins: 11

ATS: 8-6-2; average line -5.0

Over/Under: 9-6-1; average total 54.0

Close Games Record: 5-4

Turnover Differential: 0.6

Adjusted Games Lost (injuries): 60.8 (9th)

Offense: 1st in EPA per play (+0.258);  6.94 yards per play

Defense:  24th in EPA per play (+0.079);  5.86 yards per play

Most Valuable Player For a Reason

Sir Patrick Mahomes was the league’s MVP for a reason. He took the NFL by storm and posted fantastic numbers with the help of Sir Andy Reid and a good supporting cast. Their 0.365 expected points added per pass was the second-highest number of any offense since 2009, right behind the 2011 Packers and in front of the 2013 Broncos. It’s safe to say that the Chiefs offense played on an unsustainable level. Since 2009, five other offenses averaged more than 0.30 EPA per dropback in a single season. Here are the list and the number from the upcoming season they regressed to:

  • GB 2011: 0.371 -> 0.153
  • DEN 2013: 0.347 -> 0.240
  • NO 2011: 0.343 -> 0.176
  • ATL 2016: 0.336 -> 0.183
  • LAC 2009: 0.305 -> 0.200

These five offenses saw an average decrease of 0.15 EPA per pass the following season. Assuming that average regression, the Chiefs would drop to 0.215, which would have ranked fourth in 2018. The Rams had that spot with 0.207. I expect the Chiefs to be at least a top-five offense once again this year, but we should expect regression from these astronomic numbers last year. It’s also worth noting that Mahomes had incredible interception luck in 2018, according to Football Outsiders. He had ten potential interceptions dropped by defenders or defense by his receivers. His adjusted interception rate ranked 25th out of 34 qualifying signal-callers.

On the season, the Kansas City Chiefs rightfully went 12-4 because of their offensive efficiency, but we could have argued about 11-5. They didn’t have any extraordinary luck in close games, but their Pythagorean win expectation was 11.0 wins, and Mahomes had a lot of interceptions dropped. Incredible offense, lousy defense. Surprisingly, the defense contributed with 27 turnovers, collecting the fourth-highest total win probability added.

Speed, Speed, and Speed.

I’ll make it quick and straightforward: the Chiefs offense is elite. They will be elite again next year. It’s just highly probable that they are going to regress from their unsustainable 2018 performance. Andy Reid is likely the greatest offensive mind in the NFL. His situational play-calling is plus expected value (+EV) and gives his offense a head start over opposing defenses. His passing concepts are superb. In addition to the reigning NFL MVP, the Kansas City Chiefs will also return their three best receivers – Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Travis Kelce – and added another speedster in the second round of the draft: Georgia product Mecole Hardman.

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Sammy Watkins had a 40-dash time of 4.43, Hardman had 4.33, and Tyreek Hill had 4.29. Also, running back Damien Williams clocked 4.45. Tight end Travis Kelce belongs among the elite group of tight ends in the NFL. It’s is not only the receiving corps with the most speed, but it may also be the best receiving corps in the league – depending on Hardman’s development as a route-runner. Early in the season, Hardman will likely battle with Demarcus Robinson for snaps. This offense is loaded, and I bet that Andy Reid cannot wait for the new season.

If There’s One Weakness…

…for the Kansas City Chiefs, it is the offensive line. But weakness in this context means that it’s an average unit that relies more on Patrick Mahomes maneuvring the pocket than providing clean platforms consistently. Pro Football Focus ranked this unit at 17th going into the season which seems fair. Projected starting center Austin Reiter, who replaced the departed Mitch Morse, is 27 years old but has played only 335 snaps during his four-year career. In limited playtime, right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif ranked 47th out of 88 qualifying guards in PFF’s pass-blocking grade last year. Left guard Cameron Erving ranked 67th. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz is one of the best right tackles, left tackle Eric Fisher settled near league-average.

Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Depth Chart Projection
Kansas City Chiefs Offensive Depth Chart Projection

Most of the teams have a problem with depth on their offensive line, but I could hardly name any backups except for Andrew Wylie who played significant snaps in the absence of Duvernay-Tardif last year. And Wylie graded poorly. The Chiefs need to pray for offensive line health more than other teams.

Did They Forget the Secondary?

The Kansas City Chiefs hired Steve Spagnuolo as their new defensive coordinator who emphasizes switching this defense from a 3-4 to a 4-3. That was the biggest reason why they got rid of Dee Ford and Justin Houston. But that hardly matters in an age where defenses stay in their base defense on only 20 percent of their snaps. In a shocking event, the Chiefs traded away their first-round pick to give former Seahawks edge rusher Frank Clark a monster contract.

That trade still doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. After ranking top-10 in pressure rate, they could have kept Ford for a big contract and also Justin Houston while saving their first-round pick. In my opinion, that package is more valuable than Clark and free-agent acquisition Alex Okafor. I’m not sure whether the Chiefs upgraded from Ford and Houston. Chris Jones remains a stud on the interior and should cash big time soon.

Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Depth Chart Projection
Kansas City Chiefs Defensive Depth Chart Projection

Former Jet Darron Lee – who improved in 2018 – could be an upgrade at the linebacking position, but the secondary still looks very lousy on paper. Safety Tyrann Mathieu is a big name and likely a fabulous presence in the locker room. But he’s no Earl Thomas or Jamal Adams. Rookie free safety Juan Thornhill is a wild card, especially since he has been playing that position for only one year. Both outside cornerbacks are underwhelming, too. It seems like GM Brett Veach had little interest in upgrading the secondary. I am not expecting any improvements from this defense over 2018.

2019 Schedule

Using the wisdom of the crowd – Pinnacle regular-season win totals – the Kansas City Chiefs are projected to play the 8th-hardest schedule with an SOS prediction of 0.5119. Their defensive schedule prediction looks more relaxed, using the EPA per offensive play metric from 2018 which ranks 16th. That’s a small advantage because we shouldn’t expect the defense to put the offense in favorable game scripts. There are some teams on their schedule like the Jags, Broncos (2x), Raiders (2x) and Lions, but also a lot stronger opponents on paper, like the Chargers (2x), Ravens, Pats, or Colts. The NFC North and the Texans aren’t a cakewalk, either. Kansas City will open their season with back-to-back road games, including a flight to the west coast.

Kansas City Chiefs 2019: Fight for the Playoffs

Here are the things I am looking at when forecasting the Chiefs season: last year, they were closer to an 11-5 team than a 13-3 squad. Their offense is very likely going to regress from their historic 2018 campaign, even though they will still be elite. Probably a lower touchdown rate but a higher interception rate for Mahomes. I don’t see how the defense is significantly improved personnel-wise, and they have to replace 27 takeaways as well. Last season, they went 2-4 against playoff teams, and they will probably have at least six such teams on their schedule again this year.

With the current setup, it will be hard to reproduce a 12-4 record. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw the Chiefs fighting for their tenth win and a playoff spot against the Bolts in Week 17. That’s likely a bold prediction for some folks, especially for Chiefs fans. The betting markets agree with my prediction, the win total is set at 10.5 and saw action on the Under across the board. Pinnacle prices it at -118 currently, Bookmaker and CRIS already moved to -149.

 

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