The Chiefs will Miss the Playoffs
Coming into the season, it felt like a certainty that the Kansas City Chiefs would return to their third consecutive Super Bowl.
While they may have been coming off of a historically bad Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but they had fixed that with their new and improved offensive line. It seemed to address the one egregious flaw exposed by the Buccaneers.
Sure, their defense had problems but Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill were the solutions to all of that. That offense could dig the Chiefs out of any hole they were put into by their defense.
The Chiefs currently sit at 3-4, and just suffered a horrendously bad loss to the Titans 27-3. This coming after their 38-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
I had initially thought that at this point in the season the Chiefs would be 5-2, at worst 4-3. If the Chiefs had either one of those records, I would feel great about them making the playoffs.
But they are 3-4, have one win against a team that is above.500, and are third in their division. If I gave you that resume and did not tell you it was the Chiefs, there is no reason you would assume that team could make the playoffs.
So the question is, can they?
Odds of Making the Playoffs
At the time of writing this, the Chiefs’ playoff hopes are not looking all that good.
My own independent projections system (ZLO) was not optimistic of the Chiefs’ chances of making the playoffs coming into the weekend, and it had them a game behind the Bengals, sitting at 8th in the AFC.
After the Bengals’ incredible upset of the Ravens, and the Titans’ handling of the Chiefs, Kansas City, is firmly a game behind the Cinncinatti. And based on the performances of both teams, I would expect that gap to increase once I update my model.
(ZLO is based on individual player statistical performances, so after every weekend, I update it from FootballReference.com, which takes time to update.)
I am not the only one that thinks that Kansas City is going to miss the playoffs.
538 uses an ELO system, which reacts to the scores of each NFL game to give each team a rating.
538 currently has the Chiefs with a 9-8 record and a 48% of making the playoffs. That is incredibly similar to the 9-8 records (and lower probability) ZLO gives the Chiefs.
The main difference between ZLO and 538 is that the Chiefs are currently the 7th seed thanks to their head-to-head win over the Browns. In my ZLO model, the Browns are expected to finish at 10-7.
But, either way, you slice it, the Chiefs are projected to finish the season at 9-8, and 9-8 is very unlikely to get a team into the playoffs. Maybe if the Chiefs were in the AFC South, but my ZLO model has both the Raiders and Chargers finishing at 11-6. At best, 9-8 would get Kansas City the seventh seed.
The current NFL Playoff format pits the seventh seed against the second seed. And as of right now, ZLO projects the second seed to be the Titans.
And we all know what happened last time the Chiefs played the Titans.
So the question changes from will the Chiefs makes the playoffs (likely no) to why they will miss the playoffs.
The first reason is that according to FootballReference.com, the Chiefs have had the 5th hardest strength of schedule.
The only teams who have a higher strength of schedule are the Seahawks, Vikings, Steelers, and Lions.
The second problem is that the Chiefs also have one of the hardest remaining schedules remaining in the season. They currently rank second, behind only the Minnesota Vikings.
The third problem is a lot bigger than the Chiefs’ strength of schedule: their defense. Currently, by FootballReference.com Simple Rating System, the Chiefs have a defensive rating of -4.3 (0 is average).
A rating of -4.3 is the fourth-worst in the AFC and the eighth-worst in the NFL. In the Chiefs’ past two seasons, when they made it to the Superbowl, they were both well above average (2.9 in 2019 and 2.3 in 2020).
The fourth problem is that Mahomes is playing worse than he has in seasons past; he has a turnover ratio of about 2:1 (18 TD 8 INT). He has been sacked 14 times when last season he was only sacked 22. And his QBR of 64.2 is a career-low.
Defenses just play Mahomes differently this season: they are blitzing less and dropping more people into coverage. They play conservative, with a mindset that you can have everything underneath, but if we keep you in front of us, you cannot be quite so explosive.
And it is working.
Mahomes knows he has a bad defense that is going to give up points and seldom get a stop. And he also knows that he has to maximize every drive just to give himself a chance to win. So he is less likely to take the check-down or the easy 5-yard completion and opts to make a trickier throw.
In the past, it worked, but that was when he was being blitzed more. Teams have figured out that blitzing Mahomes is an exercise in futility.
I legitimately do not see a way the Chiefs can improve their play. The Titan’s defense should have been a defense that the Chiefs cut up, but they scored only a field goal. All while the Titans outgained, out-possessed, and outplayed the Chiefs defense.
With the Chiefs’ defense being so bad, the pressure on Mahomes has never been higher, which is going to force him to compensate, which, as demonstrated by the Titans, drops his play. He had an INT, was sacked four times, fumbled twice, and had a lower QBR than his backup Chad Henne.
And with no offense keeping them off the field, a bad Chiefs defense will get worse as it gets more tired and will allow more points.
Meaning Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense will have to compensate, which leads to lower play. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts.
So, as I said on NFL Kickoff, the Chiefs will miss the playoffs.