Last year, I maintained a rather cheery attitude about the Kansas City Chiefs' prospects, despite a 1-5 start. As the season continued, I argued in one particular article here at Arrowhead Pride that the Chiefs should stay the course. So, what am I going to do amid calls, yet again, for Andy Reid's head, for Alex Smith's job, for Bob Sutton's defense?
I'm going to talk about baseball.
Baseball is an interesting sport to me. It’s a game primarily composed of failure. The best record in the American League this year belonged to the Texas Rangers. They won 58% of their games. Let’s rephrase that. They lost 42% of their games. Some team is going to win the World Series this year despite losing around 70 games. That team will not be the Texas Rangers. Whoever does end up winning, we'll be watching, and as they lift the trophy later this month, we'll all quietly forget about a lot of really ugly baseball played in July. Or September. Or yesterday.
In baseball, a great batting average is anything over .300. That means, roughly 66% of the time, you are failing. But that makes you the least bad failure in the league. You get a batting title. A trophy for failing less than the other guys. Most at-bats end with the hitter bowing his head and walking back to the dug-out a big, capital "L" Loser while the crowd, expecting this result, eats cracker jacks and his teammates acknowledge nothing except their sunflower seeds.
Have you seen the kind of goofiness that happens in a bullpen in right-field while the game yawns its way into the 5th inning? That game means something. The St. Louis Cardinals missed the playoffs by that game. Yet those guys might throw a pitch one day a week. Every other outing involves sitting on your butt. Or finding ways to do anything other than sitting on your butt. Get off your butt.
Right now you are begrudgingly reminiscing your own nose-picking days in center-field, where your little league coach put you for two innings so that you wouldn’t ruin everything. Sometimes you managed to accomplish exactly nothing, and that meant you did your job. Just like coach drew it up.
You had one at-bat each game where personal success was defined as a ground-out deep to the shortstop. And who knows, maybe he’d flail it over the first baseman’s head and you’d reach base successfully. No. Not successfully. You don’t get credit for a hit. He just gets an error. You’re still a loser. You’re both losers.
Baseball beats you up until you get used to losing. Thus, when losing happens, which is often, it rarely makes you feel like you and I feel right now after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 43-14 in primetime on national television… losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 43-14 in primetime on national television… losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 43-14 in primetime on national television… losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers 43-14 in…
The variance in baseball is expected and accepted. The lows are frequent and cannot really be combated with skill or preparation. How grim is that? Instead, they are to be endured with the aid of strange, superstitious rituals. Try washing your socks. Or not washing them. Or washing them but not drying them. Try spanking your teammate’s left butt cheek. Try the right. Try both at the same time with two hands. If that doesn’t work, try patience. Patience is probably more scientific. Probably.
The best team in the league will lose many games because they failed to score a single run, or because they gave up seven. It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to change your strategy. Yah, sure, your strategy could always be better. You could always play better, have better players, better coaches, better practices, better games, etc. Improvement does not have an end. But just because you got spanked on national television and looked like the worst team in baseball, doesn’t mean you are the worst team in baseball. Heck, you could be the best team in baseball. You will still get embarrassed. You will fail. You will lose. A lot.
Baseball is long. The thing many people hate most about baseball is also its greatest luxury: it’s long and hype-less. And don’t you love that about baseball? The lack of hype. Maybe you don’t. But I do. You can sit down with a book and watch baseball. You can not watch baseball and watch baseball. You can play music while the game that ended the St. Louis Cardinals’ boyhood dreams—you know, that game way back in June—tumbles its way into the anticlimactic bottom-of-the-9th strikeout of some guy who on Tuesday was a minor leaguer in Nebraska. Isn’t there a baseball team in Nebraska? There must be. I bet they love baseball in Nebraska. Because Nebraska is America. And America is baseball.
Or, it used to be. But baseball is not America’s game anymore. That’s because America is all hype and baseball is too hype-less to be America’s game. America’s game should be all hype all the time. Like football. That’s a game with hype. That’s a game with so much hype that no one notices it’s slower than baseball. And definitely no one notices that hockey is more fast-paced. Those guys are on skates and they literally punch each other. And it’s allowed! The refs just send them to timeout for five minutes and they have to sit in the dunce box. Fans can heckle them. They can heckle fans. In football, you aren’t even allowed to dance with another player, let alone punch one in the face. And if you get two penalties for dancing, you are disqualified from the game. Gotta put a lid on all that hype.
Your favorite baseball team plays almost every day, so there’s no time for hype. Too much time is spent actually playing the game. Pretty cool. But football teams play once a week. So what happens the other six days? Hype. And that’s why football is America’s game. Because it’s an advertiser’s wet dream. The perfect game for everything to happen except the game.
So when the Chiefs lose... No, not lose. Let’s start that again.
So when the Chiefs get slaughtered, it hurts. It hurts and there’s no game tomorrow. It hurts and we’re on a bye. It hurts and it’s 1 loss out of 16 games, rather than 1 out of 162. That makes it hurt more. It hurts more now. It hurts more now and there’s six whole days of hype. Six days to hype the hurt. Turn that hurt dial up to 11. Why can’t 11 just be 10, you ask? Because Chiefs. That’s why. Because Chiefs.
The loss is experienced over and over again. Nothing will stop the hurt of the loss except winning. And winning is a long ways away. It would be much easier to remember the Chiefs are winners if they played five times a week. Why, they would have already won at least two of those games. Maybe three! That’s the difference between below and above average.
But, as it stands, they played most recently about 10 days ago and it was terrible. Everything is terrible. The Chiefs are terrible. We know this because 10 days ago they played and they were terrible. Quick, smack another user’s butt cheek. Try both cheeks. Use two hands. Wash your favorite Chiefs jersey. Remove that terrible stench. Don’t dry it though. Hang it outside to air-dry. Get a flag pole. Or a pointed stick. Come back inside now. Post Kwon Yuri GIFs. Ahhhhhh…
We need a different way. We need to harness for ourselves the power of Baseball Vision. Baseball Vision is the view of the world baseball fans cannot escape, but we football freaks are privileged enough to enter and leave as we please. It’s the understanding that everything is okay because nothing is ever okay. Our team is really good and that means they suck. They are going to win in heart-warming ways because of their general awesomeness, and then they are going to lose in the stupidest ways because of their general incompetence. A lot. Not as much as some other, slightly bigger losers. But enough to remind you that you are a fool.
The Chiefs won 11 games last year in the regular season. They won 9 the year before that. And 11 more in their first year under Andy Reid. That’s 31 wins in three years. Only six teams have more wins than that, as you can tell by organizing the following table by the "W" column.
You can also order that table by the "PD", or "Point Differential", column. This tells us who is winning games, on average, by the largest margin, and losing games by small margins. It moves the Chiefs to 4th, meaning their 3-year record should probably have a couple more wins (or other teams high on the list should have a few more losses). Still, what’s cool about this new table is that the three teams just above the Chiefs have won the last three Super Bowls.
The three teams just above the Chiefs have won the last three Super Bowls.
Better still, since Andy Reid came to town, the Chiefs have also recorded a victory over all three of those Super Bowl-winning teams. They did that with Andy Reid as the Head Coach. And Alex Smith at quarterback.
Now, a team this good shouldn’t be capable of putting up performances as bad as 10 days ago, right? Could the same Bob Sutton that gave Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brian Hoyer, and Ryan Fitzpatrick the worst losses of their respective careers really be the guy who let the Colts break our hearts and Antonio Brown break our corners?
I’m afraid these questions are being asked by a user not wearing certified Baseball Vision goggles. Baseball Vision tells us to combat the frequent lows of our sporting obsessions with strange rituals. And if those don’t work, we try patience. Hopefully patience rooted in facts.
One fact is, before the Chiefs were routed by the Pittsburgh Steelers 43-14 in primetime on national television, they were one of only two teams in the entire league to not have lost a game by at least 20 points since 2013. That other team? The Seattle Seahawks. In fact, the Seahawks have lost only one game by 10+ points over the last three seasons. Wowzas. But in case you think that means the Football Gods haven’t punished Seattle enough in primetime, remember that they threw their last Super Bowl away by choosing not to hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch.
Remember when your coach put you in left field so you wouldn't screw things up? Then the ball was hit. And you screwed things up. That's Pete Carroll. He was gifted everything. The luckiest catch ever. A 1st-and-Goal. Bill Belichick stunned on the sidelines suffering flashbacks of The Helmet Catch. All Pete had to do was not screw it up. Then the ball was thrown. He screwed it up.
If we can be objective, where does that rank on your list of terrible play-calls? Probably somewhere above Andy Reid and Alex Smith throwing screens. Yet, there they were. The Seattle Seahawks. Best team in the league over the last three seasons. Ruining everything. What a bunch of losers.
To continue, aside from the Chiefs, 30 other teams have lost at least one game by 20+ points since 2013. Let’s take a look at some of the best teams—i.e., the teams at the bottom of the table who have suffered the fewest routs.
You can click the various hyperlinks in the field to see the "Individual Games" of each team. This will show you all the games where they got their butt kicked. For example, this link here will take you to the resulting page for the Patriots games. They have only one such loss since 2013 The Chargers have only two. Here’s that list. The Lions have only lost three such games. Here’s their list. Noticing a trend?
Yes, the Chiefs were responsible for one spanking of each team. This is made more cool by the fact that one game was at home, one on the road, and one on a neutral field in London. No matter where in the world you travel, there’s a fair chance the Chiefs will kick your butt. In fact, if we reverse the search query, we see that the Chiefs have won 10 games by at least 20 points since 2013. The only teams with a greater amount of dominant wins? The Broncos, Seahawks, and Patriots. This and so much more is why my gut, and my head, and whatever other body parts you accept as a metaphor, tell me the Chiefs are closer to a Super Bowl, not further away.
Because what was going on before this? Before Andy Reid and Alex Smith and Bob Sutton came in to Kansas City riding mules? Can you accept your heroes on mules? Oh, you're more the role-model-wife-and-flashy-smile-never-ever-have-a-bad-year-Tom-Brady kinda fan? Okay. Well, Eli Manning rides a mule. Joe Flacco is a mule-rider. Peyton Manning entered the league as a knight on a noble horse. But he left on a mule. Bill Belichick? That guy had to do a lot of losing before a lot of winning. He still wears the same sweater every week. You wanna tell me he rides anything other than a mule?
Before the mules came to Arrowhead in 2013, the Chiefs were a bunch of losers losing more often and by more points, as opposed to a bunch of losers losing less often and by less points. It’s a bit like the transition the Bengals have made. Except those losers can’t even lose their way into winning a playoff game. At least the Chiefs have done that.
Personally, I like this bunch of losers. That’s partly because this bunch of losers can get hot. And that’s what you need to win a Super Bowl. I’ve even argued here at Arrowhead Pride that Alex Smith can get hot enough to win a Super Bowl. And he’s the biggest loser on the team!
Of course, it’s hard to win 4 games in a row for a playoff run no matter who is at QB. But it’s even harder to win 9 games in a row. And, since 2013, the Chiefs have won 9 games in a row twice. No other team has done that.
Baseball Vision tells us that a win streak on its own, much like a few ugly games on their own, is nothing to bet on. It just means you don’t wash your clothes this week. It means dancing Kwon Yuri GIFs gleefully populate the post-game victory threads. But Baseball Vision also tells us that the Chiefs, over a large sample size, consistently outscore their opponents by playing better football more often. So it is only natural that they would put a few impressive win-streaks together over the course of a couple seasons. One really ugly loss doesn't change that.
That is why we shouldn’t be shocked to learn that 20% of Chiefs games in the Reid-era have ended with the Chiefs winning by at least 20 points, and a mere 1.8% of games have expired with the Chiefs losing that way. This is because the Chiefs are a winning football team. And that of course means they will lose. A lot.
The bigger picture, the one that can only be accessed with certified Baseball Vision goggles, is that the Chiefs are one of the best teams in the league, and certainly a Super Bowl contender if things go right. Yes, with Alex Smith. Yes, with Andy Reid. Yes, even after the game 10 days ago. Yes, even at 2-2. At 1-5...
What does that mean? That doesn’t mean they will produce the metaphorical base-hit. Well, it could mean that. But it could also mean the Chiefs simply hack a sad grounder to the shortstop, who proceeds to flail the ball over the first baseman’s head. The Toronto Blue Jays (there's a bunch of losers for ya') recently eliminated the best team in the American League on a play kind of like that.
So it doesn’t mean the Chiefs get a hit. The other team just gets an error. The Chiefs are still losers. Go Chiefs.