From the FanPosts -Joel
We all know that the dominant force in the NFL today is that of the elite quarterback. The elite quarterback makes football fun to watch, puts fans in seats, sells lots of merchandise, and wins championships. That is what we have been led to believe for at least the past decade, and for the most part, we’ve gobbled it up. With the arguable exception of one Joe Flacco, every Super Bowl ring given out in recent years belongs to a team with a quarterback who was considered to be elite (at least, at the time they won it- I’m looking at you, Ben Roethlisberger). Eight of the top 10 players in jersey sales are quarterbacks. The Super Bowl and league MVP awards seem to default to quarterbacks unless a player does something truly remarkable. In the NFL, quarterbacks are king.
So how is it, then, that a team that is not known for its quarterback play- a team with a quarterback never considered elite at any point in his career and often mocked for an underrated ability to "manage games"- has become the most important thing to happen to the NFL this year, and possibly this decade?
* * *
We hear a lot about parity in sports. Parity asks the question: how level is the playing field? Can teams that are disadvantaged in one way or another compete with teams that have a larger advantage? Can the Royals, in one of baseball’s smallest markets, compete with the Yankees, who know no shortage of money? Will a TV contract worth billions of dollars allow a team to sign all the good players? The answer is not typically, "Yes, this league has parity" or "No, this league does not have parity." The answer is more along the lines of "This league does not have very much parity" or "This league has lots of parity."
Baseball, for example, does not have a lot of parity, but teams like the Pirates or Royals, who have been disadvantaged for years, are still able to compete by growing their teams in different ways than throwing money at free agency. The NHL and NBA both have fair levels of parity, when you forget about the Miami Heat for a brief moment. However, the shining model of parity has long been football. And why not? The three worst teams in the league had all made the playoffs the previous year, and the Jets- the Jets!- just barely missed out on the last playoff spot.
However, when looking for the best example of this parity, one must look no farther than the Kansas City Chiefs. By any measurement, the Chiefs had one of their worst seasons ever last year. The team rounded out the bottom of the standings and had to deal with multiple issues that no team should ever have to go through. And then, of course, the traditional house-cleaning came after the end of the season. No one was safe. The rebuilding process began.
Rebuilding from the bottom of the league typically takes several years. There have been success stories in the past, however. The Detroit Lions’ climb from 0-16 back into contention happened rather quickly for a team that failed to win a game. The Indianapolis Colts, the Chiefs’ Wild Card opponent, also rebounded to go from the bottom of the league to the playoffs in one season. But the Chiefs are different. The Chiefs didn’t just going to make the playoffs, they made it easily. No team in the history of the NFL has followed up a last-place-out-of-everyone season by going 9-0. And despite a handful of losses on their record since then, the Chiefs still had an outside shot at winning home-field advantage or a first-round bye in the playoffs until late in Week 16. If it weren’t for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, the team crowned as the odds-on favorite in the AFC at the beginning of the year, the Chiefs would have locked up one of those spots.
This is the first reason why the Chiefs are the most important thing to happen to the NFL this year: They provide a story of hope. The moral that many fans will take from the Chiefs is that when we kickoff in early September, everything that has happened previously goes away. It’s a clean slate. And it is entirely possible to make the run from worst to first.
Sure, the Chiefs had plenty of talent on their roster. No one can deny that. Six Pro-Bowlers on a 2-14 squad? That’s insane. But this is the NFL. Everybody’s talented. If they weren’t talented, they wouldn’t be in the NFL. Look at the teams at the bottom of the standings this year. Houston looks like a mirror image of the 2012 Chiefs- lots of talent, but terrible quarterback play. Same with Minnesota. With the right quarterback and coaching, those teams could be right back into contention. Washington and Atlanta have different holes to fill, but both made the playoffs last year with similar rosters. There’s nothing to indicate that it can’t happen again. And can you really count out Jacksonville or Tampa or Buffalo, teams with bright futures ahead of them that have shown flashes of potential already this year? The Kansas City Chiefs have taken away the fear of a lengthy rebuilding process for those teams. They have proven that a climb from the cellar doesn’t have to take three years or more. It can be done in a single offseason.
"And if the Chiefs can pull it off," surmise the fans of those other teams, "what’s stopping us?"
* * *
This seems like an appropriate time to bring out some statistics.
|2012 Chiefs QBs||169.6||57.5||8||20||63.8|
You can look at these stats in one of two ways. You could see the noticeable improvement and think to yourself, "Wow! Amazing what upgrading one position will do for you!" and "Those analysts are right. Quarterbacks really are the key to winning football games."
Or you could look at the statistics within context:
||221.0||Chad Henne||60.6||Carson Palmer||22||Sam Bradford||90.9|
||220.9||Alex Smith||60.6||Alex Smith||23||Alex Smith||89.1|
Let’s be clear; quarterback is an important position. The quarterback handles nearly every offensive snap. And often, there is a real correlation between quarterback play and the win-loss record. But quarterback isn’t the only position on the field, and the Chiefs success isn’t solely due to an improvement at quarterback.
|2012 Chiefs D||356.5||26.6||-24||27|
|2013 Chiefs D
*The increase in yards given up per game took me by surprise. But then, it's okay to give up yardage if you don't give up points. The Chiefs gave up a touchdown less per game this year. Why? The turnover column says it all.
The coaching has also improved. According to the New York Times’ Fourth Down Bot, Andy Reid makes the correct call on fourth down 76.9% of the time. This might seem low, until you consider that Bill Belichick makes the correct call at a similar clip of 77.0%.
At the same time, I’m not trying to devalue Alex Smith, either. I’ve been tremendously happy with him as our quarterback and the way he has put the Chiefs in a position to win every week. But we must also realize that he is not, and never will be, an "elite" quarterback. He doesn’t fit the mold. The Chiefs themselves don’t fit the mold. Alex Smith will never be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, and that’s okay. Because that’s the second reason why the Chiefs are the most important thing to happen to the NFL this year: They are winning differently.
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, quarterbacks are king in the NFL. From a simplified- and incorrect- viewpoint, if you have a good quarterback, you have a good football team. Well, no king lasts forever. They will be toppled from their throne eventually. And this season, the Chiefs are shaping up to be formidable challengers to the throne.
The Ravens uncovered some chinks in the king’s armor by winning last year’s Super Bowl. The Chiefs have already done their part by starting 9-0 and cruising to a playoff berth without a quarterback in the king’s court. If they were to make a deep run- even to the Super Bowl?- imagine how that would shatter the kingdom’s image. It would prove that there is indeed more than one way to ascend to a championship. It would mean that fans of teams without an elite quarterback can still maintain hope and faith that their team still has a chance.
* * *
Isn’t that what fandom is about? Hope and faith. When you lose those things, you turn away from your team. Surely, many of us experienced that last year. But when hope and faith are restored, then fans flock back to their teams and make the NFL season much more exciting.
By showing that it is possible to make a swift turnaround, regardless of whether one has an "elite" quarterback, the Kansas City Chiefs have restored the hope and faith to fans of countless teams. They are the most important thing to happen to the NFL this season.