I think so.
After the Chiefs barely beat the Giants, a friend asked if the Chiefs really are just barely better than the Giants. With a subtext of "What's Wrong With the Chiefs?"
At the time, I was thinking of writing a fanpost for Arrowhead Pride, but I wanted to find some clips of the specific crazy events that sunk the Chiefs. I found where a goal-line fumble turned into a TD for the Ravens, instead of the turnovers that resulted in the Chiefs fumble. But I could have sworn there was a batted ball by Herbert that turned into either a TD or a first down on a TD drive, and I just didn't have time to re-watch all the games on NFL Game Pass to see if that memory was correct or not. Both games were close losses. Us batting balls in the air that end up positive yardage or a score for the other team vs them batting balls in the air that end up as interceptions was just one of the examples of high-variance plays that were *all* going against us in our losses to very good teams.
So I didn't write the article.
But I wrote the following email on 5 November. I wish I had posted it, even without the clips, because I think the game against the Raiders showed that the Chiefs have made the necessary changes, but that there were still execution errors against the Packers that led to such a low score. And, of course, that the Packers D is not shabby at all.
Anyway, here's the email:
I was thinking of writing an article for Arrowhead Pride.
Spent all day thinking about the best way to explain what I think.
Because there are two ways to look at it: you *are* what your record says you are. So the Chiefs are a 4-4 team, and only edged the Giants by 3.
But this isn't the whole season.
A few years back, the Chiefs started 1-5, lost Jamaal Charles, then won 10 games in a row, and won their first playoff game in decades, blowing out the Texans 30-0. They looked good, but got banged up badly. We went into the next game missing our top RB (Spence...not even including Charles who had been out), 3 of our 5 starting OL, our #1 WR, one starting LB. And still only lost by a TD...although that doesn't mean that much, the Patriots might have taken their foot off the gas, content to depend on their defense and let the Chiefs use up most of the clock getting the TD that put them within 7.
So the Chiefs are 4-4 a 4-4 team...but does that mean they can only end up 9-8 or 8-9 at best?
1) For as bad as the Chiefs looked, change 2 plays and the Chiefs are 6-2 with only one really bad loss to the Titans, who also beat the Bills.
And, sure, you can't just "change plays". Or you can change plays and take away another team's turnover, too.
But it's the high variance of the plays that have been killing the Chiefs.
Meaning, the Chiefs have fumbled a bunch, which aren't random, but can be improved if players are more careful with the ball.
And the Chiefs have lost a bunch of fumbles, which is truly random. So if the fumble recoveries regress to the mean, KC starts recovering fumbles, has fewer turnovers, scores more points, and wins more games in the 2nd half of the season.
For example, the Chiefs were in the RZ against the Giants, threw a pass, it bounced off a player, and then was intercepted. That took 7 points off the board.
But against the Ravens, the Chiefs forced a fumble right on the goalline, and then Duvernay recovered it for a Ravens' TD. If the Chiefs recover that, it takes away 7 points, and they are too far behind to complete their comeback.
I could swear that one of Herbert's TD passes also bounced off of a player, went up in the air, and was caught, but I can't get to the nfl.com game page to watch the highlights. When the Chiefs did it, it was an INT, when another team does it, it's a TD (or maybe it just kept a drive alive and resulted in a TD...if I'm not imagining it, it happened in the red zone).
You can't gameplan that. It was still in the final score. You can't change the past. But teams can't expect to get those impossible plays when they need them to score against the Chiefs.
2) Chiefs defense has been extended a *bunch* of drives with badly-timed penalties. That also seems to be a Chiefs thing, since it killed us in the AFC Championship game we lost to the Patriots 3 years back, with the game-winning INT overturned by Ford lining up in the neutral zone and not getting a warning they give most players.
Discipline to not get penalties *CAN* be improved during the season. The Chiefs need to focus on it. The Chiefs Defense has actually been pretty good the last few games. The Giants aren't great, but 17 points is almost a full TD below the NFL average this year.
If the Chiefs can reduce penalties and get just 2 more stops each game, that's potentially 14 points fewer opponents get each game. Or 6. Or even just better field position from punts.
Moreover, it improves game flow.
3) Game flow is pretty important, too.
Meaning, the Chiefs D is built to protect a lead, not to get the ball back for the Offense. The Chiefs offense is supposed to score a few TDs early, put pressure on the other team's D to get a stop, and O to keep up.
I think teams have been gameplanning to figure out how to stop Mahomes. I'm sure teams that knew they were going to face the Chiefs this year probably did some extra gameplanning for the Chiefs. You gotta know the Bills and Ravens did. Probably the Titans and Browns, too. Probably nothing extra from the other AFC West teams, tho, because the rivalry is already there, and they play each other twice each season, every season.
But the other teams, we've already seem them take extra risks. So far, they've been paying off. They've caught the Chiefs in the wrong defensive call and gotten scores. They've gotten Mahomes confused and gotten stops and sacks where they wouldn't have last year.
It's a game of inches...maybe an extra inch of room and Mahomes squirts free to throw a TD instead of taking a sack. When you risk, sometimes it pays off. I *think* the risks have been paying off for the other teams at a little better rate this year.
I mean, consider the Giants game. If the deflected ball had done what it did for the Ravens and gone to a Chiefs player and scored a TD, and then Jones still threw his next INT, the Chiefs would have been up 14-0 before the end of the 1st quarter. The Giants players would likely have deflated a little...or pressed harder, taken more risks to try to keep up...and then the Chiefs would be up 21-10 at halftime. It wouldn't have felt anywhere near as close.
Again, this doesn't mean the Chiefs SHOULD have won any of the other games. The breaks are exactly what they are.
When the Titans scored the first TD on the opening drive, i was worried. When the Chiefs didn't match it, I got more worried. when the Titans went up 14-0, I knew we were in trouble, and then Mahomes failed to lead them to a FG, I knew it was pretty much over. And it was.
He's been pressing too much all season.
If he can get in a few games where he's up by 2 TDs, I think he'll relax and score even more TDs, have fewer turnovers.
So all this means:
The Chiefs DO have problems.
The turnovers *can* be improved by regression to mean on extraordinary events.
The untimely penalties CAN be improved through greater discipline and extra attention from the coaches.
Mahomes hasn't been Mahomes. But he's too smart to stay fooled for much longer.
The Chiefs O brain trust simply HAS to be more innovative in giving him somewhere to throw the ball, and develop a better dink and dunk gameplan.
Get Mahomes throwing 3 TDs in the first half again, and the Chiefs automatically look a lot better.
Get the D to stop extending drives, and they will win games.
Reduce fumbles, and then keep the fumbles you commit, the Chiefs won't have wasted drives that get the other team pumped up.
Do all these things, Mahomes doesn't have to play hero ball anymore...or if/when he does, maybe that also regresses to the mean and they end up TDs instead of TOs....depending on what you think the mean actually is...it's possible that his hero ball failing this year *IS* regressing to the mean.
We won't really know until the end of the season.
At this point, the only thing that would surprise me is the Chiefs missing the playoffs. They have the hardest record remaining in the NFL, but there are a lot of games left to play. I think Mahomes and Reid and Spags and getting back players from injury is going to result in a team that looks really good the rest of the season.
So here we are at 6-4. The exact same record we had 2 years ago, after which we didn't lose and won the Super Bowl.
This year, it is a little more difficult, because The Bills, Ravens, and Tennessee Titans all hold the tiebreaker over us. The Chargers will lose their tiebreaker if/when we beat them in the next matchup.
It seems difficult to believe that the Bills and Ravens will both lose two more games than we do over the rest of the season, and the Titans will lose *three* more games over what the Chiefs do, if any. At one point, calculations showed the Chiefs have the hardest schedule remaining. But even that can change based on who wins and loses over the next few weeks.
But the thing is, we would need those additional losses by the other teams to win the sole Home Field Advantage slot. We don't actually need to win it. The Chiefs are good enough, and Reid/Spags are good enough at gameplanning, that all we need to do is make the playoffs. Don't forget that the defense that worked against Mahomes has been working against other top QBs. Dak, Rodgers, Josh Allen, and even the new Pass-Heavy Lamar have all been completely shut down recently, by a variety of defenses. I think the Chiefs have their losses out of the way. I think some of the other seemingly-tough teams have a few more surprising losses coming up.
I think getting through this slump, gameplanning better uses of the same talent in a dink/dunk strategy, and Mahomes just getting that much more experience for his near-photographic memory, will all pay off. If not this year, then in the coming years. But I think it will also be this year.
Like I said in the email, the only thing that would surprise me at this point is the Chiefs missing the playoffs. Everything else is on the table, including winning the Super Bowl again.