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The worst seasons in Chiefs history might not be as bad as we thought

A new ranking of really bad NFL teams might raise your eyebrows.

Kansas City Chiefs v Cincinnati Bengals
Quarterback Tony Adams on the field for the Chiefs against the Cincinnati Bengals in September 1978
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Throughout the month of June, the football analytics site Football Outsiders has been publishing a series of articles identifying the worst anti-dynasties in NFL history.

So you might be asking: what does that even mean?

Basically, it follows a similar series from a year ago, in which FO named the top dynasties in league history, creating a set of metrics to quantify each set of seasons in which an NFL team demonstrated continued success. Unsurprisingly, the New England Patriots’ run from 2001 through 2019 was ranked first. As we told you a year ago, the Kansas City Chiefs’ 1966-1971 seasons were ranked 14th, while the 2015-2019 run under head coach Andy Reid (and eventually, quarterback Patrick Mahomes) ranked 33rd.

So in the 2021 offseason, FO simply reversed the process, creating a similar set of metrics they could use to find the worst stretches NFL teams have ever suffered — which they have chosen to call anti-dynasties.

And here they are — the worst teams in NFL history:

1. 1999-2019 Cleveland Browns
2. 1985-2006 St. Louis/Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals
3. 1983-1996 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. 1926-1945 Chicago Cardinals
5. 1967-1986 New Orleans Saints
6. 1991-2002 Cincinnati Bengals
7. 1933-1941 Pittsburgh Pirates/Steelers
8. 1960-1972 Denver Broncos
9. 1948-1958 Green Bay Packers
10. 2001-2015 Detroit Lions

By now you must be wondering: did any Chiefs teams make this list?

Yes... but just one — and it’s likely not ranked as poorly as you thought. Here’s what FO had to say about Kansas City’s sole contribution to their ranking.

No. 53: 1974-1979 Kansas City Chiefs

Peak Anti-Dynasty Points: 36
Record: 28-60 (.318)
Average DVOA: -13.1%
Bottom-Five DVOA: -15.2%

Head Coaches: Hank Stram, Paul Wiggin, Tom Bettis, Marv Levy

Key Players: QB Mike Livingston, T Charlie Getty, T Jim Nicholson, G Tom Condon, C Jack Rudnay, LB Willie Lanier, CB Emmitt Thomas

[The] Super Bowl-era Chiefs had five Hall of Famers—Bobby Bell, Willie Lanier, Len Dawson, Buck Buchanan and Jan Stenerud, plus coach Hank Stram. [FO failed to mention Johnny Robinson] The last time all five players were on the field together was the final game of 1974, and the Chiefs basically lost one every year throughout this down period. Even Municipal Stadium, where the Chiefs had played in the AFL, was dismantled in 1976, a relic from the 1920s no longer fit for purpose. The stadium, at least, was replaced. The Hall of Famers, not so much.

In 1973 and 1975, the Chiefs had no first-round draft pick thanks to trades for George Seals and John Matuszak (24 combined starts for Kansas City), and frankly, the picks they did make weren’t much better. From 1970 to 1976, the Chiefs took Sid Smith, Elmo Wright, Jeff Kinney, Woody Green, and Rod Walters; all of them under 16 career Approximate Value. The Chiefs made 11 picks in the 1975 draft; only one ever saw an NFL field, where running back Morris LaGrand picked up a career 37 yards. A team can survive a bad draft or two, but general manager Jack Steadman’s run would be crippling for any franchise. He took 91 players between 1970 and 1975; only 11 started a single game for Kansas City, and none ever made a Pro Bowl or All-Pro team. You could make an argument that the four worst drafts in franchise history all fell in that six-year span. That’s bad.

The remaining Chiefs legends kept things from falling apart entirely for years; a series of 5-9 seasons in the mid-1970s were bad, but not in and of themselves enough to qualify for this list. By the late 1970s, however, there was just nothing left, to the point where new head coach Marv Levy installed the old Wing-T in 1978 to try to produce something on offense. In the dawn of the modern passing age, Levy’s Chiefs set NFL rushing records, including running the ball 69 times on opening day while holding the ball for more than 40 minutes of clock time. They were still terrible, don’t get me wrong, but at least they were an interesting, novel sort of terrible. Levy’s work eventually brought the Chiefs to mediocrity, where they would stay until Marty Schottenheimer came to town.


Takeaway

What has fascinated me the most about this process is that if you asked a Chiefs fan about the worst stretch in team history, they’d likely say it did start around 1974 — but that it lasted well past 1979. In addition, they’d be likely to say that that it would rank among the worst stretches any NFL team has ever endured.

But as we see here, under Football Outsiders’ criteria, the really bad time only lasted six years — and didn’t even crack the top 50 of anti-dynasties. Naturally, there’s room to argue about FO’s criteria — but just the same, it sure seems like things weren’t quite as bad as we might have thought.

You’d probably need a psychologist to understand all the reasons why Chiefs fans may have over-estimated how bad their lean years really were. Personally, I believe a lot of it has to do with how good the team was in the years before the playoff loss to the Miami Dolphins on Christmas Day of 1971, the team’s selection of Todd Blackledge (instead of John Elway, Dan Marino or Jim Kelly — or even Tony Eason or Ken O’Brien) in the 1983 NFL Draft — not to mention the team’s failure to draft a first-round quarterback from then until 2017.

Now, that’s all in the past. Future calculations of NFL dynasties will likely show that the team’s current stretch of success will extend well beyond their 2019 championship. Eventually, it will be a lot easier to leave the memories of the mid-to-late 70s behind.

But it’s nice to know that it wasn’t nearly as bad as we might remember.