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FiveThirtyEight says Mahomes is in “an ideal situation” with the Chiefs

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Neil Paine did some research, and found that it’s been a while since a first-year starter has had a supporting cast this good.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Atlanta Falcons Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, FiveThirtyEight.com’s Neil Paine dropped an excellent article about Mahomes and his surrounding offensive cast. It’s well worth a read.

Paine looked at all of the offensive rosters since the NFL merger, and used Pro Football Reference AV (Approximate Value) numbers to rank different NFL offenses for quarterbacks who are in their first season as a primary starter.

Using this data, Paine says the offense Mahomes will inherit in 2018 is the 12th best supporting cast for a first year primary starter — and in fact, is the best supporting cast for a first year starter in over a decade.

Since 2007 there have been roughly 20 quarterbacks who have started their careers and played eight or more games in a season. Of those 20 teams, Mahomes’ offensive personnel is the best.

This includes the 2016 Cowboys team led by Dak Prescott. Prescott finished the year with 23 touchdowns, four interceptions, and a passer rating of 104.9 — and the team finished the season 13-3.

Prescott’s Cowboys didn’t even land on Paine’s list of great supporting casts.

Of course, Paine didn’t look at the offensive line while generating his numbers, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t say that helped Prescott succeed in Dallas.

Still, Prescott put up great numbers in 2016, and had less skill position talent surrounding him than Mahomes does. The future is incredibly bright in Kansas City — and it only gets brighter when you consider about the Chiefs offensive prowess from a year ago.

Now... I know my tweet says Mahomes is walking into the best situation — but I actually like Paine’s approach better.

I say this because NFL yardage totals shift over time, and a more honest (and time consuming) representation of the data would have been to normalize the offensive yardage totals over the years and then compare them.

So let’s stick with the 12th best situation for Mahomes — with an understanding that the Chiefs yardage totals from last season can boost our optimism.

Paine also discovered that on average, teams on his list had a nearly identical number of wins after moving on to the new quarterback. He found that the the old quarterback won an average of 9.0 games, and the new quarterback won an average of 8.9 games.

This follows with something I’ve been trying to say for a long time: The NFL is a team game. The quarterback position is very important, but fans often severely overplay the impact of most quarterback transitions.

From all my experience, the switch from Smith to Mahomes will not be as statistically drastic as many of us hope. In fact, my prediction for Mahomes in 2018

is very close to Smith’s numbers from 2017: 4,042 yards, 26 TDs, 5 INTs.

The numbers from Paine’s research show the Smith-to-Mahomes transition may not provide a massive boost in the win/loss column, but a continuance of the same — at least for 2018. This also supports the work I have put forth while making my prediction for Mahomes.

This doesn’t mean Mahomes will always play at Smith’s level. It’s just a reality that NFL quarterbacks must grow over time to reach their full potential.