Chiefs strength of schedule? Not as easy as the Broncos through 6 weeks

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Chiefs still face some detractors given their strength of schedule. But let's flip that around and apply it to the Broncos, who have had an easier schedule thus far, according to one ranking.

The Kansas City Chiefs are just one of two undefeated teams left in the NFL, an incredible feat after a two-win season. The Chiefs are now mentioned alongside the other elite teams in the NFL in the 2013 season, in the midst of fellow unbeaten Denver Broncos and other teams like the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots.

To this point, the Chiefs look like a lock for the NFL playoffs a season after picking first in the NFL Draft. Upcoming games against the Houston Texans, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns could have them at 9-0 heading into the bye week before facing the Broncos in an AFC West showdown. It's the sort of high-profile match-up between truly great teams that fans and broadcasters would love.

However Grantland's Bill Barnwell seems to disagree. Instead of placing the Chiefs alongside these peers given their won-loss record, Barnwell thinks the schedule might have something to do with it. In a recent column, Barnwell writes that the Chiefs don't deserve such inclusion into any elite conversation just yet:

The poor man's 2011 49ers, the Chiefs never turn the ball over, play stifling defense with an incredible pass rush, dominate field position, and wait for you to make a mistake. It's very clear this team is going to beat up every weak team on its schedule (and oh, there are still so many to come) and that it has very little hope of beating the Broncos or anybody serious in the AFC.

To date, the Chiefs have taken out the Jacksonville Jaguars, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders. Barnwell would likely point out that the Titans were without Jake Locker and the NFC East is certainly not what it's been in past years.

A quick look at strength of schedule rankings will indeed show that the Chiefs have enjoyed one of the easier schedules in the NFL so far (with SOS from Pro Football Reference):

Team Record Strength of Schedule (SOS)
Denver Broncos 6-0 -4.6
Chicago Bears 4-2 -3.8
Kansas City Chiefs 6-0 -3.6
New York Jets 3-3 -3.5
Pittsburgh Steelers 1-5 -2.8
New England Patriots 5-1 -2.6
St. Louis Rams 3-3 -2.4
Cleveland Browns 3-3 -1.9
Carolina Panthers 2-3 -1.9
Cincinnati Bengals 4-2 -1.6

However, it's important to note a few things here:

  • The Chiefs are 6-0. That means they've given six losses to other teams. Their schedule will look easier, in other words, because they are making their opponents' records look worse. By definition, a team with a great record is going to have a lower strength of schedule rating than if they'd lost to those same teams.
  • Conversely, the Jags have the best strength of schedule (+8.1) with the Giants in second place (+6.4). This is because they are contributing to the win total of their opponents with each game they play.
  • No one is bringing up strength of schedule about the Broncos, Bears or Jets. It's also not a part of the national conversation about the Rams, Steelers or Patriots, who sit just below the Chiefs on the scale.

If anything, some members of the national media are still grasping at straws for reasons why the Chiefs' turnaround might not be as impressive as their record. When expectations are dashed in any situation, it's human nature to reach for reasons why things didn't go as planned. For some, it seems strength of schedule is the next crutch to fall on.

In the end, if you're going to criticize the Chiefs for running through the schedule they've been given, then the criticism should be uniform for every team. The Broncos have the easiest schedule in the NFL through Week 6 but everyone believes in them. The Chiefs also have a light strength of schedule rating, but some people's opinions, they're just mowing over cupcakes. It's a biased opinion that gives more credit to Peyton's offense than the Chiefs' defense and shows that selective stats can make a case for anything.

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