As many of you are aware, in this week's "The Best and the Worst", HisDirkiness provided us with the image of a Pete Prisco tweet that said the Kansas City Chiefs "might be the worst 8 - 0 team I've ever seen."
Well. Are they?
The Worst "Undefeated-through-8-Weeks" Team of all Time
First, I tried to find Mr. Prisco's age so that I could quantify the "I've ever seen" part of his statement, but he doesn't seem to have a wiki page. As it turns out, my name was once on a wiki page; which means I might be more famous than Pete Prisco. Stand by.
With Prisco's celebrity status in limbo, I turned to a blurb from his CBS resume which states he has been covering the NFL for three decades. Three decades!? If I had been doing anything publicly for three decades without somehow stumbling into my own wiki page, I'd probably just off myself.
Pete Prisco: 0. Rude, distasteful joke: 1.
A quick search to corroborate this lack of a wiki identity brought me to a page with Prisco's name on it. It turns out Prisco was high on quarterback Jevan Snead (who?) out of Mississippi. Here is Snead's claim to fame, as his wiki page describes it (yes, even Jevan Snead has a wiki page):
"When playing with Ole Miss, Snead was named to be a part of Bill Simmons' tongue-in-cheek 'Reggie Cleveland All-Star Team', a team of athletes from all sports whose names and ethnicities do not seem to match."
Well played. Prisco had this young, racially confused lad as the #1 draft pick for 2010, before a lacklustre season at Ol' Miss left him undrafted. Now Snead is a member of the Arena league, where he starts for the Tampa Bay Storm.
No, wait. They released him before the season.
Pete Prisco: 0. Bill Simmons: 1.
So, we don't have Prisco's age because I'm 23 and if it's not on a wiki page then it's not on the internet at all -- which means all we know is that he's been with CBS for three decades. That's 30 years and, just to provide some cover, I went back to the start of the 16 game season: 1978.
Since that time, 16 teams have started the season 8 - 0, including the Chiefs.
For each team, I recorded the following:
Using an exponent of 2.3 (which seems to be roughly what PFR is using), the expected Pythagorean wins of a team account for point differential and "lucky" wins. Pythagorean win percentage is useful for predicting future wins and are seen as a reliable indicator of underlying talent. Close wins are worth less than blowouts.
For example, let's say the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars, and not the 2013 Chiefs, were actually the worst team to ever go 8 - 0, but that they had won those 8 games by a combined 8 points. Their expected wins, therefore, would be somewhere right above 50%, or 4 total wins in 8 games. The fact that they are actually 8 - 0 means they are "outperforming" their expected wins -- i.e., getting lucky.
We would expect regression to follow in the second half of the season, where the Jags would likely finish the season closer to their expected win percentage: 4 - 4.
Close Wins and Big Wins
Close Wins are any win by 7 points or less. This records how often a team was "lucky" in that a field goal or touchdown would have cost them the game or at least sent it into overtime.
Big Wins are wins by 10 points or more, based on the work of Jim Glass in the Community Forum of Advanced NFL Stats, who noted that teams with many Big Wins in a season do better in the playoffs than teams with many close wins.
Opponent Wins is a strength of schedule estimate. How many wins did the undefeated team's opponents have through 8 games? Were the undefeated teams beating up on nobodies? Or were they playing tough S.O.B.'s week-in / week-out?
Since the 2013 Chiefs are the only team whose opponent wins are affected by a bye week (since Week 9 has not happened yet), they were given 0.5 wins in that column for each of the 3 teams who have only played 7 games.
Points For and Points Against mean exactly what you think they mean through 8 games.
Final Wins is the number of wins the team tallied by the end of the 16 game season.
Lastly, Season Result is how far into the post-season each team made it.
So... how bad are the Chiefs?
The data has been put into this Google spreadsheet, and is organized by Pythagorean Wins. Here are the 2013 Chiefs rankings in each category:
- #2 scoring defense
- worst scoring offense
- slightly above average Pythagorean Wins
- by far the easiest schedule
Of the 15 teams to ever start a season 8 - 0 (not counting this year's Chiefs), 9 have made the Super Bowl, with 6 winning it. Regardless of any other stat, the Chiefs will be happy to accept a 40% chance of winning the Big Dance in February. There is a quite a bit in their way, but any doubts over their legitimacy as a Super Bowl contender are odd given the parity of today's NFL and the random chance of playoff games. Basically any team who makes the playoffs is a "Super Bowl contender", so why not the league's lone undefeated squad?
Pete Prisco: 0. Andy Reid: Ohhh yyeeeaaaa!!
Which brings us to the point of which 8 - 0 team appears the "worst."
No one, of course, is going to confuse the squad for the New England team of '07, or the less-mentioned '91 Redskins. These two teams dominated opponents at historic levels. The Chiefs sit roughly in the middle of the Pythagorean rankings, right next to teams very similar in both quality and style: the 1990 Super Bowl Champion Giants, and the 2008 Tennessee Titans.
Both teams scored less than 200 points, but gave up only around 100. They serve as polar opposites of the outcome one might expect for this year's Chiefs. The Giants won the Super Bowl behind a stout defense that allowed only 35 points during their 3-game run. The Titans, meanwhile, went one-and-done when their offense could only put up 10 against the Baltimore Ravens, who managed a win with 13 points of their own.
Andy and Alex and Avery, oh my!
The Chiefs have the worst scoring offense in the group, as the first-year tandem of Alex Smith and Andy Reid are still working through a sub-par offensive line, a plethora of dropped passes, and a deep ball that remains elusive. The team's leading receiver is running back Jamaal Charles, which is sure to put a damper on any quarterback's yards per attempt average; and the second-leading receiver is not Dwayne Bowe, but Donnie Avery, who may have finally found a home at age 29.
By advanced standards for quarterbacks this year, Smith is 18th in EPA per play, 21st in WPA per game, and 24th in Success Rate. All numbers back around his averages two years ago and something to give pause to Kansas City fans who were hoping to get the Smith of 2012 right away. Since the former #1 overall pick is the kind of guy who needs to get used to a system before excelling in it, his efficiency stats may stall for a bit longer, but should still improve from their lacklustre averages as the season moves forward.
Indeed, if there is one thing going in the Chiefs favor on offense, it is improvement, as the unit's last two games verse Houston and Cleveland are their best of the season so far by Expected Points Added (EPA).
The Red Scare
Kansas City makes up for the lack of offensive production with the second-best scoring defense of our group. I don't think even Peyton Manning is looking forward to his Week 11 or Week 13 match-ups with the rate this defense is accruing sacks. The Chiefs are on pace for 72 of them this season, which would tie them with the '84 Bears for most in NFL history. They are also one of only three teams in our group to give up less than 100 points through 8 games.
Those are signs of consistency, and we may expect them to continue. But while Kansas City's interceptions (10) and defensive touchdowns (3) are useful once they occur, they are also notoriously random, if not impossible to predict. The best defense in the league according to EPA may take a hit in the second half of the season, as both their offensive schedule gets tougher and turnovers / defensive points regress.
All this implies a unit that might be lucky to be 8 - 0. But, then again, what 8 - 0 team isn't? Especially in today's "any given Sunday" NFL landscape? Our list shows only two teams with expected wins over 7, meaning all 14 other teams were expected to lose at least once through their first 8 games.
Remaining undefeated is tough for any team, and doing it is automatically a sign of over-achieving. The question always is, "How much? And when will the fall happen?"
What is really interesting is that while some are waiting for the Chiefs to crash hard, many seem to forget how fluky last year's 8 - 0 team was: the Atlanta Falcons.
The 2012 Falcons have one of the lowest Pythagorean Win totals of our group thanks to winning 5 of their first 8 games by 7 or less points.
A true sign of a "lucky" team, or a team worth our skepticism, is a team with too many close wins. The Falcons trailed or were tied in the 4th quarter during 4 of those games and needed some last-minute heroics to pull off the "W."
Say what you will about the Smith-led offense of Kansas City, but one would be hard-pressed to call any of the team's wins "fluky."
In the eyes of most pundits, however, having a high-power NFL offense is the key to granting your team immunity to doubt. A "franchise quarterback" and some shiny wide receiving toys are a straight ticket to respect, regardless of how bad your defense is or how many close games you win -- the latter of which, in fact, will only be used as an argument for your "clutchness."
An example of this varying perception is that sites such as Advanced NFL Stats were right on top of it. Through 8 weeks, the Chiefs are ranked 12th in GWP. In 2012, the Falcons were ranked 13th. Despite the undefeated record, stat sites were skeptical of both teams for the right reasons. Only your standard pundit could develop amnesia because one squad has Matt Ryan and another Alex Smith, while ignoring everything else.
Outside of the Falcons, who strike me as a clear example of a "worse" 8 - 0 team than Kansas City, one could point to the 1990 49ers or the 2006 Colts as teams who at least "looked worse" through 8 games by some metrics.
The 49ers and Colts, for example, trail our Pythagorean Win metric. San Francisco only scored 6 more points than Kansas City through 8 games, but gave up 40 more. The Colts, meanwhile, won 6 of their first 8 games by small margins and finished the season with only 12 wins -- both marks good for last in our group.
Here is where hindsight is 20/20 and where reputation is earned, not given. The 49ers were coming off a 4th Super Bowl with a stacked team expected to go the distance yet again; while the 2005 Colts actually won the Super Bowl later that season.
Kansas City enjoys neither the luxury of hindsight nor good reputation. They are one year removed from a 2 - 14 debacle and the first pick of the draft. Their quarterback, Alex Smith, is an average quarterback by career numbers and Andy Reid, too, is one year removed from a painful and embarrassing end to his reign as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Still, what brings Kansas City down the most is the blatant fact underlying every "W." Looking better in Pythagorean Wins than the 2006 Colts, who faced the toughest schedule of our group, is worthless if it comes at the hands of the easiest schedule.
Sending out an S.O.S.
This is the area where every critic of the 2013 Chiefs first travels. It also happens to be the clearest dichotomy in the data; and it does not bode well for Kansas City.
Of the 15 teams with finished seasons, 6 faced opponents with at least 28 wins by Week 8 -- i.e., they had the toughest schedules -- and 5 of those 6 won the Super Bowl, with the 2007 Patriots counting as the lone defeat.
The other 9 teams had 27 or less opponent wins, meaning their schedules were easier. Only 3 of these teams made the Super Bowl, and only 1 won it. 4 of the other 6 went one-and-done in the post-season, including the 2003 Chiefs.
Since this year's Chiefs have faced the easiest schedule of our group by quite a margin, they will have to continue proving themselves in the second half of the season -- otherwise, any loss will be an "I told you so" moment from many members of the press and Kansas City may go the way of their counterparts a decade ago.
Two games still to come verse Denver and one against Indy will do a lot to bulk up Kansas City's strength of schedule -- and with two of those contests at the raucous Arrowhead Stadium, emerging with at least those two wins will bolster Kansas City in the necessary stats to make a believer out of everyone. Even Pete Prisco.
To conclude, I do not think the Chiefs are the worst 8 - 0 team anyone has ever seen -- in fact, they are not even the worst 8 - 0 team of the last two seasons -- but they certainly have traversed the easiest path to an undefeated mark. Until they beat some "playoff teams," and prove their offense can "hang" with the likes of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and even a revitalized Philip Rivers, this team will continue to be ridiculously questioned by pundits and appropriately cautioned against by advanced metrics.
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This article is a more homered-up version of the original article, which appeared today over at Advanced NFL Stats. If you liked what you read, don't be afraid to click over that way to give some "page views" to the original, since Brian Burke (the owner of the site) is nice enough to let me repost my stuff anywhere I please, so the least I can do is send him some readers. His site has all sorts of wonderful stats, too; so check it out! Thanks!