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A Cautionary Tale for KC

As much as the media loves to hype surprise fast starts for NFL teams, we've all grown accustomed to routinely not taking 3-0 or 4-0 teams seriously unless they have shown us something in prior seasons or have acquired a great quarterback in the offseason. Most of us knew not to buy too much into the Cardinals and their 4-0 start a season ago. The Bills have perhaps become the poster boys of this phenomenon, with 4-0 and 3-0 starts in 2008 and 2011. Each time, they managed only 3 more wins the rest of the season.

Due to the nature of the amount of luck involved in fast starts for undeserving teams, they rarely do stay undefeated past 4 or so games. By the time a team reaches a 6-0 record it is usually time to take them seriously, but not always. In fact, you don't have to look any further than Kansas City's main current rival in the AFC West for such an example.

The '09 Broncos

The Denver Broncos came in to the 2009 season with a new offensive minded head coach (Josh McDaniels), who had brought in an underappreciated defensive coordinator (Mike Nolan) and attempted to rejuvenate the career of a game-managing QB (Kyle Orton) who most of the league had written off. They jumped out to an incredible 6-0 start to the season by playing great defense and avoiding mistakes on offense, winning the turnover battle 12-5.

This year the Kansas City Chiefs have followed largely the same path to 6-0 with their trio of Andy Reid, Bob Sutton, and Alex Smith. Though of course their head coach comes with more experience. Let's look at a breakdown of some standard and advanced stats to compare the 2 teams through their first 6 games. Keep in mind that defensive EPA and ratings are better when they are negative because they represent the opponent's offensive production.

'09 Broncos '13 Chiefs
Avg Margin of Victory11.214.5
Turnovers Forced - Committed12 - 518 - 6
Offensive EPA / Game3.5-0.4
Defensive EPA / Game-7.3-15.9
Offensive Rating1.8 (14th)-0.7 (24th)
Defensive Rating-0.4 (3rd)-0.9 (1st)
Overall Rating2.2 (9th)0.2 (15th)
Avg Opponent Rating-0.2-0.6

The 2009 Broncos actually compare favorably in our overall ratings to the Chiefs, but while their defense was very good it wasn't quite as dominant as Kansas City has been. In their final 10 games of the 2009 season, Denver went 2-8, finishing 8-8 and missing the playoffs. Their offensive rating dropped to 20th and their defensive rating dipped slightly to 5th, finishing 17th in our overall ratings. Their turnover margin stayed at the same +7 that it had been through 6 games rather than further increasing.

2013 Chiefs Outlook

How can a team with the best defense in the league only be rated in the middle of the pack overall? Because defensive success is not as easily repeated as offensive success in the NFL. The nature of the game dictates that the offense has a bigger impact than the defense. Because of this, great defensive success is usually just as attributable to random chance and the offensive opponents as the defensive side themselves. Facing a string of offenses that aren't playing their best football on that particular day can greatly inflate a defense's statistics.

Certainly, we don't project the Chiefs to completely collapse like the '09 Broncos, but they aren't nearly as likely to have continued success as most people would believe. Kansas City's soft schedule continues for another few weeks, so their lucky run could actually extend further. But starting with their Week 11 trip to Denver, the Chiefs final 7 games will be the real test. We aren't likely to have them favored in more than a couple of those 7 games.

Overall, we project only about 4.5 more wins for the Chiefs in their final 10 games, finishing with 10 or 11 wins. They still have a 77% chance of making the playoffs, but only an 11% chance of winning the AFC West. Most likely, Kansas City will make the playoffs as a 5 seed and lose their first game, which is not very impressive for a team that is currently being touted as one of the best teams in the league by some power rankings.

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