I see a lot of Power Rankings having the Chiefs in the top-10 going into this season and some experts even see them as a team that could make a deep playoff run before their salary structure forces them into a rebuilding phase. Let’s take a look at them.
Adjusting towards the schedule
I always preach how important the schedule is to measure a team’s performance. Kansas City had a crazy 11-win-run last season before losing at New England along with stupid clock management by Andy Reid in the final two minutes. Let’s take a look at their schedule in 2015. The Chiefs started 1-5 and 1-4 against 5 playoff teams with their starting QB (even though we shouldn’t describe the Texans as a playoff-caliber team as they have shown us in January). Then they went on to an 11-game-winning-streak:
Steelers – without Big Ben.
Lions – in London while Detroit made coaching adjustments to finish the season 6-2. Lions were 1-6 coming into that game and sacked some coaches on a short week while travelling to London.
Broncos – against a declining PM who had his worst career game. Chiefs had one scoring drive of over 50 yards.
Chargers (2-8) – in a meltdown. The Chargers were WITHOUT their five offensive line starters.
Bills – which I would describe as in the near of a quality win.
Raiders – off THREE Derek Carr interceptions in the fourth quarter. KC scoring drives were about 2 and 13 yards plus a pick-six. Raiders were up 20-16 coming into the fourth.
Chargers (3-9) – on a last-second goal line stand.
Ravens (4-10) – easy win against a team decimated by injuries and a QB named Jimmy Clausen.
Browns (Nr. 2 pick) – a home game in which the Chiefs were outgained by 0.2 YPP with playoffs on the line. Browns had a shot to win at the end.
Raiders – ugh yeah. The season for the Raiders was over and the Chiefs have clinched the playoffs. Meaningless game.
Texans – a team that wasn’t a playoff team by any means and would have finished behind the Fins in the AFC East. Brian Hoyer is one of the worst starting QBs in the league. KC also benefited from 6 turnovers.
Just one win against a team above .500 and that was the worst career game of Peyton Manning. People talk about the Chiefs being efficient and not turning the ball over. That’s true, but almost no team on this winning-streak schedule was able to jump a lead on the Chiefs to disturb their conservative gameplan. The Raiders did it, but the Chiefs didn’t need to come from behind. The Raiders just destroyed themselves. They had real competition against the Packers and Bengals on the road. Once these teams built a lead, the game was literally over, because the KC offense isn’t built to come from behind.
So was it really a good season by the Chiefs? They lost against good teams and needed some sweating on a cupcake schedule. They didn’t impress me.
The only reason to be optimistic is the Chiefs’ schedule, which looks very favorable on paper. BUT… there is more than one “but”.
The Chiefs won’t be improved from 2015. They get Jamaal Charles back and signed RT Mitchell Schwartz, but they still have checkdown-Alex at QB. Per the Football Outsiders Almanac, Alex Smith threw a record-setting 3.5 yards per pass short of a conversion on 3rd downs. That’s the biggest number since FO started recording the “ALEX”-number in 2006. On top of that, Andy Reid will once again call the plays after ex-OC Doug Pederson departured to Philadelphia. The big problem for this offense is that they can’t play from behind. They just aren’t built to air it out.
The great defense of the past two seasons took a hit this year. Sean Smith who can be described as a shutdown corner, left KC and joined the Raiders. This leaves DROY Marcus Peters playing the No.1 corner spot. Behind him there are Phillipp Gaines and a couple of rookies. Marcus Peters was a ballhawk last season but he covered a lot of No. 2 receivers and gave up many big plays (7.9 adjusted yards per pass). Without Sean Smith, this is going to be a different scenario in 2016.
Derrick Johnson is 34 years old, while Tamba Hali will turn 34 during the season. They lost their best pass rusher Justin Houston due to an ACL injury. He is not expected to be back before November. That leaves the aging Hali and young pass-rusher Dee Ford on the edges. Ford is a massive downgrade from Houston. Mike DeVito retired and rookie Chris Jones from Mississippi State will likely grab the starting job. That looks like another downgrade atleast early in the season as Chris Jones isn’t expected to be a Leonard-Williams-type of player who can contribute immediately.
They went 5-1 within the division and this is ikely going to regress to 3-3. The Raiders improved and the Chargers are going to be a completely different team from 2015. And remember, both teams had the Chiefs at their balls in two games last season. I expect the Chiefs to win 7-9 games and fight for a wild card spot along with the Raiders. Maybe the Broncos can be in the mix if Kubiak can get risk-free play out of Mark Sanchez or Trevor Siemian. My favorite to win the division are the Chargers.
2016 ATS Outlook
The public perception of the Chiefs is relatively high. Their lines are going to be inflated early in the season as you can see in the Chargers game. I have the Chargers as favs on a neutral field yet the number opened at 7 and was bet down to 6.5 in several places. I won’t lock anything in before game week though.
I think aside from bad scheduling spots it’s a good idea to fade the Chiefs when playing against high-powering passing offenses with above-average offensive lines. Once the Chiefs have to go into a shootout, your bet has a good chance of hitting, especially when getting points. Take the Chargers game for example: if San Diego scores first, the Chiefs are 13-14 points behind on the spread and I wouldn’t put my faith into checkdown-Alex to bring the cover. A prime spot would be at Atlanta in week 13. The Chiefs are sandwiched between a road game at Denver and a home game vs. the Raiders. The Falcons have the quality on their OL and in the passing game to force Alex Smith into airing it out. That’s a good spot to circle in regards of fading the Chiefs.
On the other side we should look to take the Chiefs against below-average offenses if the number is within value.