Are the Chiefs Unbeatable?

At 12-1 this season and 21-1 in their past 22 games including their Super Bowl run, it might be time to ask the question: are the Kansas City Chiefs unbeatable right now?

People might not be impressed by the final score of their win over the Dolphins yesterday, 33-27, but keep in mind that the Chiefs basically didn’t even show up until the second quarter and spotted the Dolphins a 10-0 early lead. And then the Chiefs basically packed it in for the fourth quarter and allowed the Dolphins to outscore them 17-3.

But in the two quarters where the Chiefs were firing on all cylinders–the second and third–they went on a 30-0 run. They started with a 10-0 deficit and then by early in the third quarter they were up 30-10.

The Dolphins are a playoff-caliber team. I know people are still having trouble believing the Dolphins are actually good, but they are. They’ve beaten the Rams this season. Prior to the Chiefs game they had won 7 of 8 games. The Dolphins are currently a playoff team even after losing to Kansas City.

And Kansas City was just clearly on a whole different level. They only had to show up for 2 quarters in that game–plus a little extra effort at the end to get that field goal–and that was enough to beat a playoff team. Patrick Mahomes threw three INTs–including two deep in Miami territory–and it didn’t derail them at all. He took a 30-yard loss on a sack in the first quarter and it was fine. They had 4 turnovers to the Dolphins’ 1. Didn’t matter.

The Chiefs averaged 7.3 yards per play against the Dolphins. To give you an idea of how good that is, consider that you need 10 yards to get a first down and they give you 4 tries to do it. The Chiefs averaged 2 first downs for every three plays on offense. That’s just ludicrous.

They had a 30-10 lead on Miami going into the 4th quarter despite already having committed 4 turnovers. According to Ben Baldwin of the Athletic (a big numbers guy), the Chiefs’ turnovers cost them 20.5 expected points. What that means is how many points they were expected to get on those drives had they not committed those turnovers. For example, when Byron Jones picked off Mahomes at the Dolphins 23 yard line, it cost the Chiefs 6.3 expected points. It’s not a full 7 expected points because even when you’re Kansas City and you’re deep in enemy territory, you’re still not 100% guaranteed to get a TD. But it’s darn close.

The Chiefs still scored 33 points on a team that ranks #2 in scoring defense and allows just 18.8 points per game.

Bigger picture, as I went over above, the Chiefs are 21-1 in their last 22 games including their Super Bowl run. This season they’ve beaten the Ravens, the Bills and the Buccaneers as their highest-quality wins.

I’m trying to figure out here: can anybody actually beat the Chiefs?

Close Games

We’ll start by looking for any potential weaknesses this Chiefs team may have. After all, despite all the winning, they’ve been in a lot of close games this season. The Dolphins roared back in the 4th quarter and tightened things up significantly, at one point narrowing the Chiefs’ lead to 30-24 with about 4:15 to play.

Last week, the Chiefs only beat the Broncos 22-16. The week prior, they held on for a 27-24 win over the Buccaneers despite jumping out to a 17-0 first quarter lead.

They needed a final-minute drive to come back and beat the Raiders the week prior to the Bucs game. Final score of that game: 35-31 Chiefs.

And the week before the Raiders game, they narrowly hung on against a very mediocre Panthers team 33-31. In fact, the Panthers were driving in the final minute and set up for a 67-yard field goal to potentially win the game, but of course it missed. Maybe if the Panthers had a bit more time they could’ve gotten a closer field goal attempt and won the game. The Chiefs lead in the game was never greater than 9 points at any time.

So Kansas City’s past five games have all been pretty close.

On the one hand, you can look at it and say, “Any day now, they’re bound to lose.” Or you could look at it as, “Even when things get close, they still find ways to win.”

Maybe the Chiefs just aren’t taking these games seriously and only start trying when it really matters. But here’s the problem with that: if they can’t take teams like the Raiders (the only team to beat them this season), the Bucs (an NFC playoff contender) and the Dolphins (AFC playoff contender) seriously, then that’s a major issue. Or maybe Kansas City is just so good that they don’t take anybody seriously.

I don’t know what it is. They have a lot of Golden State Warriors in them, where they get down in a game and then go on an unbelievable scoring run. It was the story of their Super Bowl run, too: they fell behind 24-0 to the Texans in the divisional around before rallying to win 51-31. They fell behind 17-7 to Tennessee in the AFC Championship game before rallying to win 35-24. And in the Super Bowl, they were down 20-10 to San Fran with like 7 minutes to play in the game, but wound up winning 31-20.

I really don’t know what it is. Maybe they need to get punched in the mouth before they really start playing. Maybe they need to look up at the scoreboard and see they’re losing in order to light a fire under themselves. I don’t know what it is, but clearly this team is at their best when the other team draws first blood. They have full confidence that they’re going to come back and win no matter how large the deficit. Again, it’s very Golden State Warriors-esque.

So unless you’ve got like a 21-point 4th quarter lead, you’re probably not beating the Chiefs. In the game they lost to the Raiders earlier this season, the Raiders scored after an INT to make it 40-24 with 5:26 to play in the game. But even then, the Chiefs got a TD + 2 point conversion to make it 40-32 in just a minute-and-a-half. They lost because they could not stop the Raiders on their ensuing drive; Vegas was able to get a first down and run out the clock.

The way I see it, Kansas City wins in one of two ways:

  1. They get up big on you but then let their foot off the gas and allow you to come back into the game, however your deficit was so big to begin with that you come up just short (Bucs game, Dolphins game).
  2. Or you get a lead on the Chiefs, but it’s not nearly big enough to bury them, they come roaring back in the second half or even in the 4th quarter and pull ahead (all their 2019 playoff games, Panthers game, Broncos game, second Raiders game).

If they go up 14 or more points on you, you’re toast. If you’re only up 8-14 points on them, you’re toast unless it’s very late in the game. But even then they can still beat you, see: Super Bowl 54.

Weaknesses?

When the Raiders beat the Chiefs, the Raiders held the ball for a bit over 35 minutes to the Chiefs’ ~25 minutes of possession. This is a key to beating them. Yes, they have a quick-strike offense and can score from anywhere on the field and in almost no time at all, but you cannot get into that kind of game with them. You cannot expect to be able to go blow-for-blow with them on bombs and big plays.

You’re going to have to win in a shootout, probably, but you’ll have to score differently than they do. You will not beat them at their own game. You have to hold on to the ball for as long as possible against them in order to minimize their scoring opportunities. They’re going to score points on you, but you just have to minimize the number of opportunities they have to do so. In order to do this, you have to be able to run the ball. The Raiders ran for 144 yards in their win against the Chiefs. They ran the ball 35 times.

Oh, they also threw it 31 times for 346 yards and Derek Carr had two TD passes of 59 yards or more. But not every team that plays them close has done that, so I wouldn’t say it’s completely necessary. The Raiders don’t have a good defense so they had to get into a shootout.

Where are Kansas City’s weak point(s)? I’ve identified several areas where they rank poorly:

  1. Penalty yards: they’re 25th in the league. So they can be undisciplined at times. But this is not really something other teams can or should bank on. But you can help yourself by not committing a lot of penalties and racking up a big net-penalty yards margin against the Chiefs.
  2. Run defense: they rank 27th in run defense. This is where you can have success against them. If you can run you can eat up the clock.
  3. Getting to the QB: the Chiefs rank just 24th in the league in defensive sacks. Which means you’ll have time to throw.
  4. Red zone TDs allowed: they’re dead last in the league in preventing opponents from converting red zone possessions into touchdowns.

So we’re looking for a team that is well-disciplined and doesn’t get a lot of penalties, can run the ball well, can keep the pocket clean, and can get TDs in the red zone. You’re not going to beat them settling for field goals.

So who in the league meets the criteria for beating them? We’re looking for a team that can exploit their weak run defense, control the clock, not make mistakes, and get TDs in the red zone. We need a team that is capable of scoring 30-40 points consistently.

AFC Contenders

My first thought was the Titans. They may have a bad defense, but they are an elite running team. They’re 5th in yards-per-play, they score TDs when they get in the red zone, and they’re 3rd in scoring per game overall. I just thought that Derrick Henry could potentially run all over the Chiefs and chew up clock. But then I thought about how the Browns were throwing all over the Titans’ pass defense and made Baker Mayfield look like Patrick Mahomes. What would the real Patrick Mahomes do to that Titans’ pass defense? I just don’t see the Titans being able to stop the Chiefs at all.

My next thought was the Bills: Josh Allen has become one of the best QBs in the league this season. They just had a huge win over the Steelers. And Allen even has a little Mahomes in him, too: he’s not afraid to sling it, he loves the deep ball, he can extend plays by scrambling, and he makes seemingly impossible throws on the run that probably 0.1% of the guys to ever take a snap under center in the history of the NFL could make. The Bills are actually quite similar to the Chiefs, although I would consider them a poor-man’s Chiefs. They just don’t have the type of offensive speed that the Chiefs do. And at tight end, there’s no comparison between who the Bills have and Travis Kelce (who, by the way, is currently leading the NFL in receiving yards. Yes, you read that correctly). And the Bills just wouldn’t be able to take full advantage of KC’s weak run defense since the Bills don’t have a great rushing offense. I’d say the Bills would score some points on the Chiefs, but would come into the game as at least 5 point underdogs.

Pittsburgh? Probably not. They have become the worst running team in the league over the past few weeks. Ben would have to throw 70 times in the game in order for the Steelers to have a prayer. Would you really want to bet on that? I think the Steelers’ defense would be able to slow Kansas City down some, however. But if the Steelers can’t even beat the Bills, then how are they supposed to beat the Chiefs? I just don’t see it with Pittsburgh.

What about the Colts? The Colts have a good defense and a good offense. They’re balanced. Their running game has really been coming around as of late. TY Hilton has finally showed up. I could actually see the Colts being highly competitive–more so than the three teams I just listed. Would I pick the Colts to win? Probably not, but I I have less confidence in the Chiefs’ ability to beat them than I do the Chiefs’ ability to beat Tennessee, Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

The Browns? They’re an elite rushing offense, and they just won a shootout with Tennessee. Maybe. But I just don’t have enough faith in Baker Mayfield’s ability to get into a potential shootout with Mahomes.

I’m just not seeing much legitimate competition in the AFC for the Chiefs. I’d rank their competition as follows: Colts, Bills, Titans, Browns, Steelers. That’s in terms of highest odds to beat KC to lowest. But none of those teams will be or should be favorites entering a potential matchup with KC.

Super Bowl Competition

Okay, so if we don’t have confidence that anybody in the AFC can beat them, then what about the NFC? What about their potential Super Bowl opponents?

The Seahawks might be able to score on them, but the Chiefs could probably hang 60 on that Seahawks defense. The Seahawks just wouldn’t be able to keep up. They’d probably lose something like 48-38.

The Saints? Well the Saints and Chiefs play this weekend, so we’re about to find out. But I don’t think the Saints could get into a shootout with them. Their defense might be able to hold Kansas City relatively in check (meaning under 30 points) but would they be able to score enough to win? Or would they end up losing like 28-23? The latter is the more likely scenario in my mind.

The Rams: now we’re talking here. They’ve got an elite defense and a highly competent offense. I don’t think Jalen Ramsey would be able to stop Tyreek Hill, but he’d at least be able to hold him in check. I think the Rams could actually beat the Chiefs. If Aaron Donald is up there wreaking havoc on the pocket, that’s a good thing, but then again Mahomes is incredible at throwing on the run so maybe it wouldn’t be as big a deal to have Aaron Donald in his face all game. I would never want to base my gameplan against the Chiefs around stopping their passing game, but the Rams have as good a chance as anybody to at least hold them under 30. And the Rams can score on offense, too, which is the other key ingredient. You have to be able to score 30 on them and hold them under 30. Or score 40 on them and hold them under 40. The Rams are much better suited to the former, but not so much the latter.

The Packers get the 8th fewest penalty yards, have the 8th ranked run offense, have the second-fewest sacks allowed on offense, and and rank #1 overall in red zone TD%. If anyone in the league is equipped to go into a shootout with Kansas City, it’s the Packers. Aaron Rodgers is the only QB who is on his level.

The Bucs might be able to do it. They got torched in the first quarter by the Mahomes-Cheetah connection, but after that it seemed like the Bucs managed to find some footing. I don’t know if it was because the Chiefs let off the gas or because the Bucs made some good adjustments, but the final score was close: 27-24. I’m not going to count the Bucs out if somehow they were to meet up with the Chiefs in the Super Bowl for a rematch. Especially since it would be a home game for the Bucs.

So as for the NFC, I’d rank the teams most likely to take down the Chiefs as follows: Packers, Rams, Bucs, Saints, Seahawks. I would not consider any of those teams to be favorites going into a game against the Chiefs, however, I would give the Packers, Rams, Bucs and potentially the Saints (depending on how this week’s game goes) much better odds than any of the AFC competition.

The way I see it, Kansas City will win the AFC and probably the Super Bowl. However, I think the competition in the NFC is much tougher than the AFC. Kansas City should roll through the AFC Playoffs, but they might ultimately meet their match against the NFC Champion. Four NFC teams–the Packers, Rams, Saints and Bucs–represent a far greater threat to Kansas City’s hopes for a repeat than do any of their AFC rivals.

Octavian

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