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Steelers-Chiefs playoff preview: What does 43-14 mean?

Are we but dust and shadow? Specks of sand? What is our purpose on the Earth? And how relevant exactly is that Kansas City Chiefs’ loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers from earlier this season?

Kansas City’s embarrassing defeat at the hands of Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers came a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away — so long ago, in-fact, that Football Outsiders’ Weighted DVOA after Week 18 agrees with James Harrison: what game? As far as both are concerned, it’s irrelevant.

Ah, but here we are, fans of the Kansas City Chiefs, possessing neither the privilege of short memory, nor the luxury of fancy charts with unpronounceable acronyms. Our charts are simple and proud. Our memory unforgiving. And we have lots of time.

How dare you tell us a 14-43 prime-time stomping is irrelevant. Did you know, for instance, that it was the biggest loss suffered by any team this whole season? Ha!

That view comes to us from Football Perspective’s unique Game Script statistic. Game Script averages the point-margin across every second of the game to give you a different view of how close the game was.

Take the Chiefs’ loss this year to the Titans. The Game Script for that was +8 Kansas City. This means, on average, the Chiefs were leading by 8, even though the Titans won on a last-second field goal after Andy Reid tried to ice the kicker in freezing temperatures.

In the season opener against San Diego, the Game Script was -10.3. This means San Diego led most the game. But the Chiefs came back late and won. Nice job, Chiefs!

The Game Script for the Week 4 disaster was -24.5 — the greatest disparity of 2016. No other team lost quite like the Chiefs lost. A sentence we are all quite used to typing.

Mr. Irrelevant?

A sentence we are not used to typing, however, is: “The Chiefs lost in a blowout.” That’s rare. As I have noted in previous posts outlining Andy Reid’s success here, the Chiefs have only lost one game by 20+ points in four seasons — the best mark in football.

When the Kansas City Chiefs lose, they tend to lose by a very small margin. Three of the team’s four losses this season came by a combined 11 points. They only have one loss this year of anything over nine points, and that was to the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road in Week 4, in prime-time, 14-43. A point-margin of 29.

As we all know, the 2014 Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots were also spanked in Week 4, on the road, in prime-time, 14-41. A point-margin of 27. Some spooky synergy right there.

Now, if a team loses by 29 points to any team at any point, it’s usually because that team is bad, right? Well, maybe. 22 teams have lost at least one game this season by 20+ points. Certainly most of them are bad. Especially the ones who lost more than one game by such margins.

But eight of the teams on that list are playoff teams (which, by the way, doesn’t necessarily exclude them from being bad). And five remain alive, including three in the AFC. Big losses did not stop their season, nor their post-season.

The Steelers lost on the road in Week 3 to the Eagles, 34-3. The Seahawks lost on the road in Week 14 to the Packers, 38-10. The Packers lost on the road (notice a pattern?) in Week 10 to the Titans, 47-25. The Texans lost on the road in Week 3 to the Patriots, 27-0. And all four of these teams handled their opponents in the Wild Card round, at home, with relative ease.

Two of them even beat their opponent by 20+ points, meaning the Detroit Lions lost their second such game, and the New York Giants their first — all three games were on the road, by the way.

That all sounds great, but the Seahawks are not playing the Packers this week. The Packers are not playing the Titans. The Steelers are not playing the Eagles. The Chiefs, however, are in-fact playing the same team who whooped them earlier this year. So are the Texans. Our football senses tell us a very similar fate awaits Houston this Saturday in Foxboro as the one which met them four months ago. So what makes Kansas City’s fate so different?

In my opinion, a few things, starting with...

Home field advantage

Aside from the hints I have been not-so-subtly providing above, the fact is high-quality teams are always competitive at home. The good teams above — Seattle, Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City — that got routed on the road always looked different in their own stadium. Even sometimes a mere week later, let alone four months.

If you take that same list above of games where the margin of defeat was 20+, and narrow it to only include losses by the home team, it goes from 40 total games to 12.

We can stretch that query to the previous three seasons, 2013-2015, and see that there were 59 such home defeats. Away games? 104. Put together, road games account for 65 percent of total blowouts since 2013.

Even the best teams in the league during this stretch — Denver, New England, Seattle — sometimes have an awful road game that gets away from them. But high-quality teams almost never let a home game go down that way. Over the past four seasons, the Chiefs are one of eight teams who have not been blown out at home.

That alone means our expectations of the Houston @ New England rematch should be much different from Pittsburgh entering Arrowhead. The Chiefs having things on their field this time around makes the Week 4 drubbing significantly less relevant already.


This is not surprising, but when a team — especially a good team — loses by a lot of points, the recipe includes turnovers.

Just looking at the games above that involved playoff teams getting drubbed, the combined turnover margin was 16-0. Yes, the losing teams turned the ball over 16 times in five games. The winning teams (who were at home) did not turn the ball over even once. If we include the two most recent blowout losses involving the Lions and Giants, that margin extends to 18-0.

That’s a serious home-road split. Luckily, so is Big Ben’s. While his INT rate is pretty even at home or on the road, his TD rate is cut in half on the road over the last four seasons. This is not the same quarterback by effectiveness or production outside of the Steel City. 2016 adds further evidence. Roethlisberger has a 22/7 TD/INT ratio at home. That drops to 9/8 on the road.

If being on the road was a major contributor to the Week 4 rout, the Chiefs have put Pittsburgh in that position now. And if turnovers were another major part, the Chiefs are in better shape this Sunday than anyone.

Kansas City is the best net turnovers per drive team in the NFL. And no one takes the ball away more per drive than the Chiefs.

So the Steelers will probably get their yards. And, honestly, can Le’Veon Bell be stopped by anyone right now? But when it comes to the situational pieces of the game, Kansas City has a major edge. Special teams, turnovers, homefield advantage, and also...

Bye, bye!

...the Chiefs just had a bye. Along with Reid’s fantastic regular season record after the bye week, he is 3-0 in his career in the Divisional Round when his team gets to rest during the Wild Card phase. This is a home game late in the season involving an extra week of much-needed rest — night-and-day from an early-season road game.

Only four games have ended in routs for the home team after a bye since 2013. None of them were playoff games. None of the losing teams were high-quality.

The Chiefs are good

This bit is important. If a team is bad, you expect a blowout to tell you a lot about future performance. If a team is good, however, then the blowout is unpredictable when it happens and very, very unlikely to repeat.

The Chiefs were blown out once. But all their other losses this year were by one score or less. How often does that happen? Shouldn’t a team who loses once that badly have a hard time being so consistently competitive in every single other game? And if a team instead shows every sign that their actual level of play is clearly higher than that game, especially if the game was a long time ago, then don’t we just accept at some point that the whole thing was a bit of fluke?


. . .


looks around...

“Yes. You. In the back. With the yellow towel. No need to swing it. Thank you. You have a question?”

“You are very handsome and hospitable. I have a question which I hope is worthy of your time. Do you mean to imply that the Steelers’ victory was a fluke?”

“Not at all. Only that such a large loss by a team that never loses that way is not very indicative of how they will perform in the future. But it is still very indicative of the opponent’s capacity — in this case, the Steelers’ — to take advantage. If the Chiefs perform that poorly again, the Steelers can rout them again.

However, it’s unlikely because: (1) that game was a long time ago, (2) the Chiefs are better now, (3) the Chiefs are good as a general rule (4) they rarely play that way, (5) are at home now, (6) just had a bye, (7) oh, and Terrance Mitchell.

For all those reasons, the first performance tells us very little about the Chiefs we’ll get on Sunday; even though it still tells us a lot about what the Steelers can do to any opponent who plays miserably. Okay? Great. Yes, you now. In the front row. Always so attentive. With the Certified Baseball Vision Goggles. Your question?”

“And what about the 2014 New England game? Are you calling that a fluke!?!? We benched Tom Brady!!”

throws book

Come on in, the Kool Aid’s fine!

Let’s ask: can we find a team that lost by 20+ points one time, but lost no other games that same season by more than eight?

That’s what this year’s Chiefs have done so far. Let’s find other teams like them; teams that had one head-scratcher of a game, but were otherwise highly competitive. Maybe if we can find teams who lost big once, but were clearly still very good, we can figure out how relevant this 14-43 drubbing really is.

My method for this search is simple. For each year of the Andy Reid Era, I will compile a list of teams that lost games by at least nine points in the regular season. Any team with one, and only one, game has a chance of being like this year’s Chiefs. I will look at the result of that game and see how big the margin of defeat was. If it was large, then we will have found a Kansas City parallel.


Just for fun, this season featured four teams who lost only one game by 9+ points. They are the top two seeds in both conferences: Dallas, Atlanta, New England, Kansas City. None of them lost as badly as Kansas City did.

In the Reid Era, the Chiefs lost only two games by nine-plus points in 2013, 2014, and 2015. This is the first year they have lost merely one. That’s a consistent ability to keep losses close over the last four seasons, with this being their best season yet.


Last year, the Panthers managed to lose zero games by nine-plus points. They made the Super Bowl.

Five teams managed to lose just one such game. The biggest loss out of the one-game group was suffered by the Denver Broncos, at home this time, against our very own Chiefs. A point-margin of 16. Denver went on to win the Super Bowl. Gross.


Only the Seahawks managed to lose just one game by nine-plus points. It was not a blowout. They made the Super Bowl.

The teams with two such losses each were the Steelers, Ravens, Patriots, and Chiefs. The Steelers and Ravens actually exchanged blowout losses with each other that year, each of them losing on the road to each other. That’s some see-saw variance.

By the way, according to FO, Pittsburgh is the most high variance team this season. This is a good sign for Kansas City, given what we know about Big Ben’s road troubles, Reid’s record after the bye, and so on. Though I doubt either team comes out flat, Pittsburgh, being the road team, and also the more inconsistent team, is the more likely of the two to simply have an off day.

The Patriots, aside from the 41-14 affair in Kansas City, lost their other game in the chart by 13. Almost fits our criteria. They would go on to win the Super Bowl.


The Broncos, Seahawks, and Patriots managed to lose no games by nine-plus points in 2013. Of course, the Broncos then lost the Super Bowl to the Seahawks 43-8.


The Patriots made the AFC Championship game. Only the Chargers managed to lose just one game by nine-plus; but it was a close game.

So we can see that 5-of-6 Super Bowl appearances were made by teams who lost one-or-fewer games by nine-plus points, like the Chiefs. These are the competitive teams that keep the few losses they do have very close. And we know that two of them also suffered one really ugly loss earlier that season like Kansas City did, before going on to win the whole thing.

In conclusion

Sadly, none of these teams offer a direct “Revenge Game” parallel in the playoffs, like what is facing this year’s Chiefs. But our own Super_G already handled that question with heart-warming results, so I do not need to address it.

If you take that article, along with MN’s film review of Terrance Mitchell, plus our other personnel progressions since Week 4, and combine it all with what I’ve argued here, you reach the conclusion: no reason to fret.

No reason to fret at all.

It’s just another run-of-the-mill home playoff game in the Divisional Round when the Chiefs haven’t won a home playoff game in two decades and the game just got pushed back to prime-time Sunday night because of an ice storm and they’re facing the red-hot Pittsburgh Steelers with all three of their biggest offensive weapons healthy and coming off a butt-whooping of Miami after they already whooped our butts earlier this year and you come online and some obvious homer tries to tell you it’s all irrelevant like you’re just supposed to relax and believe that guy yah right and anyways what the heck is Baseball Vision?

Is it Sunday yet?

31-20. Kansas City exorcises another post-season demon, instead of exercising it.

Go Chiefs.

It's Game Time.

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