Chiefs 2011 Preview Part 2

In Part 1 of what is now a two part series, I described in detail exactly what the Chiefs strengths and weaknesses should be next year. But there's two sides to every football game, and this time I will talk about the strengths and weaknesses of our 13 opponents next year.

For those who didn't read Part 1, I don't use traditional stats like yards and touchdowns because they have a lot of noise in them. For example, while the Chiefs were close to last in the NFL in passing yards, it was almost entirely due to the fact that we rarely passed it. I instead use per-attempt stats, specifically yards per play (Y/P) for the offense (or defense) as a whole, yards per carry (Y/C) for rushing, and net yards per attempt (NY/A, similar to yards per attempt but includes sack yards) for passing. Using these we can see that the Chiefs passing game, while below average, wasn't that bad.

Week 1: Buffalo Bills

Offense: 5.1 Y/P (T20th in NFL)
   Passing: 5.7 NY/A (T28th)
   Rushing: 4.3 Y/C (T10th)
Defense: 5.4 (T18th)
   Passing: 6.1 (T15th)
   Rushing: 4.8 (32nd)

My first thought when I saw this game was "We won last year, we improved more they did in the offseason, so we should win." Unfortunately, the game last year was about as close to a tie as you could get without it being a tie. And struggling so much against such a bad team is kind of distressing, so I looked at the game stats to see if they got lucky or if we really were equals.

It turns out they just got lucky. We beat them in all three categories; Y/P (5.6 vs. 3.9), NY/A (4.8 vs. 3.7), and Y/C (6.1 vs. 4.2). The reason why it was so close, despite the Chiefs' dominance, was that we failed to convert yards into points. We got to the red zone 4 times and scored once while they went once and scored once. I have no real evidence to back this up, but I figure that better red zone performance correlates with better offense, so for the weaker team to out-perform the stronger one in the red zone is, I would guess, pretty unusual.

In short, last year's game was about as close to winning as the Bills could have hoped for, so it will take a miracle for them to win this year.

Week 2: Detroit Lions

Offense: 5.1 (T20th)
   Passing: 5.8 (T24th)
   Rushing: 4.0 (T19th)
Defense: 5.5 (T22nd)
   Passing: 6.2 (T20th)
   Rushing: 4.5 (T22nd)

Although they weren't that great last year, everybody is assuming they're going to be the next team to turn it around. There's a couple things everybody assumes about them that I don't quite buy.

First of all, they're supposed to have an All-World D-Line next year since they drafted Nick Fairly to go along with Suh. While I do believe Suh is really good, I don't think Fairly will be his rookie season. We should know all too well that rookie D-Linemen take time to develop, and with this short offseason it shouldn't surprise anybody if Fairly isn't quite living up to his potential by Week 2. And in focusing on their D-Line, everybody forgets to mention that they still have weaknesses everywhere else on defense, so it shouldn't be too hard to game plan around their Suh and Fairly.

Secondly, everybody assumes that their offense should improve with Stafford finally healthy. Although I don't quite believe he'll make it through the whole season, it's not too much of a stretch to say he'll make it to Week 2 without serious injury. What I don't except is that he's any good. He has been very underwhelming in the little action he's so far. He had 5.2 NY/A his rookie season and 5.0 in the 3 games he played last year. (For comparison, as you can see above, the Lions offense had 5.8 NY/A last year and were still not very good) and has a career Int% of 4.4%. Sure, he might have improved over his rookie season, but I see no evidence that he's actually any good.

Overall, I simply don't see how they can stop our offense and won't be able to score enough to keep up.

Week 3: San Diego Chargers

Offense: 6.1 (1st)
   Passing: 7.8 (1st easily)

   Rushing: 4.0 (T19th)
Defense: 4.6 (2nd)
5.3 (T1st)
   Rushing: 3.7 (T5th)

I mentioned in Part 1 that the Chargers and the tough schedule are my two biggest fears for this season, and the stats above should be plenty of evidence for that. I also mentioned in Part 1 that the main reason they were only 9-7 seemed to be their terrible coverage units on special teams. If they can fix that and manage to get even close to those same numbers, there isn't a whole lot we can do to stop them.

Luckily for us they are coached by Norv Turner, who's main talent seems to be making good teams under perform. I remember watching their game against New England, and I couldn't believe how much better the Chargers looked. It was almost not fair. However, the Chargers had two of the stupidest turnovers I have ever seen, and managed to lose a game they thoroughly dominated.

But, since they are our main only competition in the division, this game is very important. If we win, we are in great shape to win the division. If they win, then it puts a ton of pressure on us to win the MNF game. A sweep by the Chargers pretty much destroys our playoff chances.

Week 4: Minnesota Vikings

Offense: 5.1 (T20th)
   Passing: 5.7 (T28th)
   Rushing: 4.4 (T8th)
Defense: 5.1 (T6th)
   Passing: 6.0 (T13th)
   Rushing: 3.9 (T7th)

The Vikings will be interesting to watch next year. Was their collapse due to Favre doing poorly, or were there other factors at work? Judging by the stats above, I would think the drop-off in the passing game was at least partly to blame (the other part would be the change in turnover differential; +6 in 2009 compared to -11 in 2010). So the question becomes how well will McNabb perform? (I'm assuming they won't be ready to start Ponder by Week 4, and if they do he will almost certainly do poorly).

Last year McNabb had a 6.1 NY/A, which is pretty poor (Cassel had 6.2 NY/A). But it's entirely possible that it was due to a bad situation, so we should look at his stats for the last couple years:

2007: 6.0 NY/A
2008: 6.3 NY/A
2009: 6.9 NY/A
2010: 6.1 NY/A

So it seems that, even in a pretty good situation, he didn't do all that great. I find it hard to imagine that Minnesota without Rice will provide a good enough situation for his NY/A to break 6.3, which would put him below Cassel if Cassel improves even slightly (which he should considering Baldwin and Breaston). Our defenses were about equal last year (with ours more likely to improve), and our running back is better, so it looks like we should have at least a slight advantage. I wouldn't sleep on them though, it looks like they have a shot at winning the division if they get a couple breaks.

Week 5: Indianapolis Colts

Offense: 5.6 (T7th)
   Passing: 6.6 (8th)
   Rushing: 3.8 (T25th)
Defense: 5.4 (T18th)
   Passing: 6.1 (T15th)
   Rushing: 4.6 (T25th)

The Colts are obviously a very good team who did relatively poorly last season due to injuries. It shows exactly how good Manning is that the Colts still had a top 10 passing game despite having only one receiver play 16 games. The problem for us is that they are now fully healed and as strong as ever, and we haven't had much luck historically against them. We can only hope Manning isn't at 100% because of his neck surgery this Summer. There's not a whole lot more to be said about this game that everybody doesn't already know, so let's move on.

Week 6: Bye

Last year we had a week 4 bye. It seems like later byes would be more advantageous since you are more in need of a break in week 10 than week 6, but there's nothing we can do. I guess the schedule makers just don't like us very much.

Week 7: Oakland Raiders

Offense: 5.5 (T12th)
   Passing: 5.9 (T19th)
   Rushing: 4.9 (2nd, although the #1 team is Philly which is inflated by Vick)
Defense: 5.2 (T13th)
   Passing: 5.9 (T10th)
   Rushing: 4.5 (T22nd)

Looking at these stats, it appears the Raiders were pretty good last year. Their offense was even better than ours (although, since our passing games were equal, it was due entirely to Thomas Jones). The problem is that they've lost some talent in free agency this year, and don't have enough room to sign anybody, so they are almost certainly going to get worse. Combined with a harder schedule (which includes Houston and Cleveland, who could both be pretty good), and we're looking at another 10-loss season for them.

Their offense depended heavily on McFadden being surprisingly good. He was the second best rusher (with more than 150 attempts) with 5.2 Y/C, which is pretty good for people not name Jamaal Charles. (OT, but Charles Y/C was 6.4 while Vick's was 6.8. This was pretty amazing considering that Vick pretty much only ran when he had a gaping hole). If I were to guess, however, I would say that he won't get above 5.0 Y/C next year, seeing as most running backs go back down after posting those kinds of numbers. Chris Johnson, for example, went from 5.6 Y/C in 2009 to 4.3, Ray Rice from 5.3 to 4.0, and DeAngelo Williams 5.2 to 4.1. Charles was the only back to have a 5.2 Y/C or above in 2009 and have above 4.5 Y/C in 2010 (both with more than 150 attempts). With their passing game likely to remain stagnant, McFadden's regression back to normal numbers should mean a weakening of their offense as a whole.

As far as their defense goes, they should do worse against the pass (for obvious reasons) and, as I'll describe in the Green Bay part, passing offense and defense are far more important than rushing.

Week 8: San Diego Chargers

I don't have much more to say about this game than the first San Diego game, except that our home field advantage will be a little weaker this time around. I think a part of our win last year on Monday Night was that they were caught off guard at how loud it was going to be. The fans will also probably be less excited this time unless we're 6-0 or 5-1 or something.

Week 9: Miami Dolphins

Offense: 5.0 (T25th)
   Passing: 5.9 (T19th)
   Rushing: 3.7 (T29th)
Defense: 5.0 (T4th)
   Passing: 6.2 (T20th)
   Rushing: 3.6 (T3rd)

This is the first game where there seems to be a non-obvious disadvantage for us. Their offense is obviously mediocre at best and unlikely to do significantly better, but I was very surprised to see how good their defense was, in particular their rush defense. This is bad news since we are and will continue to be a run-first team and their rushing defense will take away the huge advantage Charles gives us (an advantage I'll go in detail in the Packers section). We'll have to rely on Cassel and the passing game, which may turn out to be fine (We beat the 49ers easily and they had almost identical defensive stats), but I would much rather be forced to lean on Charles.I'm not too concerned about this game, but don't be surprised if it's closer than people think.

Week 10: Denver Broncos

Offense: 5.5 (T12th)
   Passing: 6.5 (T9th)
   Rushing: 3.9 (T23rd)
Defense: 5.9 (T29th)
   Passing: 7.2 (30th)
   Rushing: 4.7 (T28th)

With these stats, it's easy to see what the Bronco's greatest weakness was; Defense, specifically passing defense. So it's a little concerning that Cassel didn't do that well in the second game. Overall though they didn't do too much beyond Von Miller to improve their defense, so I'm not too concerned. I'm still holding out hope that they'll start Tebow though.

Week 11: New England Patriots

Offense: 5.9 (T4th)
   Passing: 7.2 (2nd)
   Rushing: 4.3 (T10th)
Defense: 5.6 (T25th)
   Passing 6.4 (T23rd)
   Rushing: 4.2 (T13th)

At this point in the season, we really need to be at least 6-3 if we expect to make the playoffs, seeing as this is the first in a five game stretch that is probably the toughest in the NFL. These five games are against, in order, the best team in the NFL by record, Super Bowl runner up, NFC runner up, AFC runner up, and Super Bowl champion. It is very possible for us to go 0-5 in this stretch, which would put us at 6-8 with games against the Broncos and Raiders left. I think 8-8 could win the Division, but I think we shouldn't even bother going to the playoffs if we can't win one of these five games.

As for the Patriots, they were only 14-2 because of Tom Brady. He, along with Charles, changed the way the game was played last year (as I'll describe in the Green Bay section). Basically, a quarterback with a top 5 NY/A rating and an interception percentage less than 1% (which Brady had) is a gigantic advantage. Fact is that the Patriots' +28 turnover differential was the main cause of their 14-2 record. When they had a -1 turnover differential in the playoff game against the Jets, they lost.

Hopefully Brady cannot repeat that performance again this year, because if he can't they become the Broncos with a slightly better passing game.

My main concern is that MNF games on the road are tough, and we're facing a good team who we are modeled off of, so it's possible that some of our players will be intimidated. But other than that there's no real reason why we can't win this game.

Week 12: Pittsburgh Steelers

Offense: 5.6 (T7th)
   Passing: 6.9 (5th)
   Rushing: 4.1 (T17th)
Defense: 4.5 (1st)
   Passing: 5.3 (T1st)
   Rushing: 3.0 (1st easily)

These stats are why the Steelers are competing for Super Bowls every year. They're like the Chargers without the mistakes. In my opinion they have been the best team in the NFL for the past half-decade (except 2007 where they were second to the Patriots). It's hard to beat a team with the best passing and rushing defense and a top 5 passing offense, especially on a short week.

Fortunately for us we're at home on Sunday night, so it will help offset the short week. However, the Steelers are still the better team and our best hope is if Polamalu is injured again, since they become mortal without him. Other than that we just need to pray for luck or that they suffer the Super Bowl loser slump that everybody thinks is going to happen.

Week 13: Chicago Bears

Offense: 4.9 (T28th)
   Passing: 5.8 (T24th)
3.9 (T23rd)
Defense: 5.0 (T4th)
   Passing: 5.8 (T6th)
   Rushing: 3.7 (T5th)

With defense being both teams' strengths, this should be a really low scoring game. Add in the fact that it'll be cold and count on Cassel having a poor game. I'm pretty optimistic about this game though, considering that Jay Cutler and Mike Martz are prone to high turnover games, and we are not, which will give us a huge edge in a low scoring game like this. (Fun Fact: The Chiefs have an NFL best all-time turnover differential of +362, which is 171 better than the #2 team).

Week 14: New York Jets

Offense: 5.2 (19th)
   Passing: 5.9 (T19th)
   Rushing: 4.4 (T8th)
Defense: 4.8 (3rd)
   Passing: 5.6 (4th)
   Rushing: 3.6 (T3rd)

In 2009, when I saw that the Jets traded up for Mark Sanchez I thought they were complete morons. And sitting here before the 2011 season, I think I've been vindicated. With their old first round pick the Bucs chose Freeman, and we traded our second for Cassel and Vrabel. Last year both Cassel and Freeman outperformed Sanchez. If they had gotten Freeman instead there is a very good chance they would have made the Super Bowl last year.

But luckily for us they didn't pick Freeman, so we get to play the Jets team who is entirely dependent on their defense. Like the Bears game, this should be very low scoring, and again it will probably come down to either turnovers or one team getting lucky on a big play. And, once again, I think we have the edge there simply because Charles can score at any time, and we'll probably only need one big run to put us ahead. Plus Sanchez had a higher interception percentage than Cassel last year (2.6% vs. 1.6%), and since most turnovers occur when passing (as I'll explain the the Green Bay section), this is yet another edge for us.

Week 15: Green Bay Packers

Offense: 5.7 (6th)
   Passing: 7.1 (3rd)
   Rushing: 3.8 (T25th)
Defense: 5.1 (T6th)
   Passing: 5.4 (3rd)
   Rushing: 4.7 (T28th)

Since discovering how useful per-attempt stats are, I've slowly come to a conclusion that nobody else seems to talk about; Rushing doesn't really matter that much. I've hinted at this throughout this preview, but waited until now because the Packers are a prime example of what I think every NFL team should do. The stats clearly show that they pretty much completely ignored their rushing offense and defense and instead concentrated on passing, and that strategy led them to the Super Bowl.

Why does rushing not matter that much? There's two reasons. First, you gain fewer yards running than passing on any given play (4.2 vs 6.2 on average). But, more importantly, it's because the variation is much greater in passing than in rushing. In other words, a bad rushing team isn't that much different than a good rushing team, while a good passing team is far different than a bad one. Last year, the #1 passing offense (San Diego) gained 3.5 more yards per pass play than the worst passing team (Carolina), while the #1 rush team (Philly) only gained 1.8 more yards per run play than the worst run team (Cincinnati), and this doesn't even include the fact that Philly's rushing numbers are artificially inflated by Vick.

(If you still aren't convinced, make a list of the top 5 running backs in the NFL. Of mine--Charles, Foster, MJD, Johnson, and Peterson--only one was in the playoffs last year. Now try and think of the elite QB's that weren't in the playoffs last year.)

But if passing is that much better than running, why does anybody bother to run at all? The obvious answer is that it keeps the defense from selling out against the pass, which, if you think about it, reaffirms my point about passing being more important.

But I think there's another answer. As I mentioned above, you're far more likely to turn it over on a passing play than on a running play. The only way to turn it over on a running play is to fumble, but you can turn it over by interception or fumble when passing. And you're even more likely to fumble it on a pass play than a run play. (If you don't believe me, look up the players who led the NFL in fumbles last year.) So passing is high risk-high reward while running is low risk-low reward. A good passing team is like somebody who put all their money on one number in roulette and won, while a good running team is like somebody playing the penny slots.

And that's why Brady and Charles were so important last year. Brady changed these rules by throwing so few interceptions while still being an effective passer, while Charles changed it by running at a rate equal to some of the best passing teams without turning it over. Those two players are unique in the NFL and we are lucky to have one of them.

I have also come to the conclusion from this that running backs are about as valuable as punters. And before you scoff, consider this. Almost every team has a good running back. No, really. Try to think of a team that doesn't. Sure, you may think of one or two, but if you're like me it took a while. I would say more teams have two good running backs than there are teams without one. And, besides Charles, the really good ones aren't that much better than the pretty good ones. If I were Minnesota or Tennessee I would trade Peterson and Johnson. They would easily go for at least one 1st round pick, and that is worth the slight decrease in production.

This is also why I think we have an excellent shot at beating the Packers. They gambled that, even though they have a bad rushing defense, nobody has a good enough rushing offense to take advantage of it. Sure, your running back may gain 5 or 6 Y/C, but when your passing game is only getting 5 NY/A, it is easily worth it. But when they play the Chiefs they suddenly are facing the one running back who can seriously hurt them. With a bad rushing defense, Charles can get 9 or 10 Y/C without a problem, and now you're completely screwed, because you have no way of stopping it. You are now forced to try to keep up with your passing game, but your QB, in the long run, will commit more turnovers than Charles, so chances are you lose this battle.

In short, Jamaal Charles gives us a huge advantage over the Packers, one that no other team has. So it doesn't matter that much if they're good against other teams, as long as they keep betting on stopping the pass and not the run.

Week 16: Oakland Raiders

Week 17: Denver Broncos

I don't have much else to say about these teams that I didn't say above, except that these two games may end up being must-wins. We're lucky that they're against such easy teams.

Overall, I expect an 8-8 or 9-7 team to win the division, so if we're 7-7 or better heading into these two games, we should be in good shape to make the playoffs.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of Arrowhead Pride's writers or editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of Arrowhead Pride writers or editors.

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