By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Pigskin Papoose (@footballfacts)
Three teams enter Week 6 with perfect 5-0 records.
But only one of them is the NFL's undisputed statistical champ through five games. And it’s not the high-flying 5-0 Broncos or rejuvenated 5-0 Saints.
The best team in football right now is the surprising 5-0 Kansas City Chiefs – the No. 1 team in our Quality Stats Power Rankings.
Our Power Rankings are not based upon the misleading old eye test or subjective assumptions about each team’s capabilities. Instead, they’re based upon average ranking across the board in all of our Quality Stats, each of which has a direct correlation to winning football games.
The top-ranked Chiefs at this moment are the team to beat in the AFC.
They’ve gone from 2-14 in 2012 to all-around statistical powerhouse in the space of five games in 2013, which makes it a dramatic storyline about how fast life changes in the Not for Long League.
The statistical storyline is this: regardless of how bad the team looked last year, the Chiefs today are a deadly combination of league-best defense, game-manager quarterback and overall team intelligence and undisputed dominance in situational football.
Four Reasons to Fear the Chiefs
ONE - THE NFL’s BEST PASS DEFENSE – Championships are typically won by teams with great pass defenses. Kansas City ranks No. 1 in all three of our measures of pass defense:
Look at any franchise in NFL history and you’ll typically find that their championship teams boasted the franchise’s best pass defense.
The Chiefs are no exception. The best Defensive Passer Rating in franchise history was posted by the 1969 Super Bowl IV champion Chiefs (42.1).
Kansas City's pass-defense dominance here in 2013 makes them a tough out against any opponent.
TWO - A GAME MANAGER QUARTERBACK – Misinformed football fans think “game manager” is a derogatory way to describe a quarterback. It is not.
Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith has been the NFL’s best game-manager quarterback since 2011, a period during which he’s gone 25-6-1 (.797). Peyton Manning over that same period is 18-4 (.818); Tom Brady 32-10 (.762). We’re talking great company, and Smith has done it with two different franchises.
History proves that game managers win championships far more often than big-armed gunslingers. Hell, from 1961 to 2004, a period of 44 seasons, 27 percent of all NFL championships (12 total) were won by teams led by three of the most notable “game manager QBs” in history: Bart Starr, Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
Brady won three titles in his first four seasons on the field, a period during which he was derided as a boring game manager. He’s won zero championships since 2007, a period of six years in which he was one of the most exciting and prolific passers in football history.
Bottom line: don't diss the game manager. History proves that the guy who avoids turnovers and makes smart decisions is more likely to help you win a championship than the big-armed gunslinger.
THREE - EFFICIENT AND RELATIVELY STRONG DEFENSE – Kansas City is No. 1 in scoring defense (11.6 PPG) right now.
Perhaps more importantly, they’re also No. 1 in Bendability (our measure of defensive efficiency), forcing opponents to march an incredible 26.97 Yards Per Point Scored. Put in football terms, Kansas City opponents need to produce a daunting 188.8 yards of offense, nearly two entire trips up and down the field, just to score the equivalent of a TD and extra point.
Kansas City is also No. 1 in defensive Relativity, holding opponents to 12.25 PPG below their scoring average in other games. The Saints are distant second, holding opponents 8.7 PPG below their average in other games.
FOUR - TEAM INTELLIGENCE and COACHING – Perhaps most importantly, Kansas City is the smartest team in football, easily topping our CHFF Insider-only Intelligence Index, which rates efficiency on both sides of the ball and tells us which teams are the best in “situational football” – those critical situations that almost always separate winners from losers in pro football.
How important is team intelligence and success in situational football? Consider this:
- The Top 6 teams on the Intelligence Index, the “smartest” teams in football, are a combined 27-3 (.900) straight up and 20-10 (.667) against the spread.
- The five worst teams on the Intelligence Index, the dumbest teams in football, are a combined 2-21 (.087) straight up and 1-22 (.043) against the spread.
Keep in mind that the Chiefs were No. 32 last year on the Intelligence Index. They've gone from the dumbest team in football to the smartest team in football in the space of five games. That's a testament to the job the rejuvenated Andy Reid has done in his new location. After all, team intelligence and proficiency in situational football are a direct reflection of the quality of coaching.
Quite honestly, Reid mailed it in last year in his final season at Philadelphia: the 2012 Eagles were No. 31, just ahead of the Chiefs, on that very same Intelligence Index. Reid did a very poor coaching those Eagles. This year, he's done a very good job coaching the Chiefs, fielding the smartest, most efficient team in football.
BIG FLAWS IN DENVER'S GAME
The Broncos, meanwhile, are clearly a superior offensive team. But the defense is more suspect than Colonel Mustard in the study with a candlestick – as the world saw Sunday when Tony Romo and the Cowboys looked virtually unstoppable.
Yes, Denver won the game, 51-48. But history has proven time and again that prolific offenses paired with porous defenses are never there at the end of the day.
In fact, we took a long, hard look at the history of the greatest offenses in NFL history this off-season (The Big Tease: Why Elite Offenses Never Put Out). The results for teams like the Broncos are simply not good. Teams solely dependent upon offensive dominance rarely if ever get it done alone in crunch time.
Opponents have torched them for nearly 8.0 Real Yards Per Pass Attempt (which includes the impact of sacks), low-lighted by their lack of effort on Sunday against the Cowboys.
Romo put up historically good numbers, passing for 506 yards on just 36 attempts (the fewest ever by a 500-yard passer) and 14.06 YPA.
That’s not a defense you want to carry into the postseason.
We’re not sure the Chiefs could beat, say, the Saints or the Seahawks if they made it to the Super Bowl. Both those teams right now look like the total package: efficient quarterbacks, strong defenses, smart all-around football.
But we certainly like Kansas City's chances against the Broncos. Of course, the two teams clash twice later this year, in mid November and again in early December.
We’ll know a lot more about both teams after those two games. But, right now, through Week 5, only one of these teams looks like it’s built for the Super Bowl: the Kansas City Chiefs.
Here’s a quick look at the Top 10 in our Quality Stats Power Rankings. You can see the entire list here.
Our Power Rankings are not based upon gooey feelings about which team is the best. They’re based instead on empirical data, on the all-powerful Cold, Hard Football Facts.
We size up every team across the board in all of our Quality Stats, each of which has a direct correlation to winning football games. The No. 1 team on the list is the team with the highest average ranking; the No. 32 team on the list the team with the lowest average ranking.
1. Kansas City Chiefs – A great defense and the smartest team in football: No. 1 on the CHFF Insider-only Intelligence Index.
2. Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck is the leader, but his fronted right now by the best offensive line in football. Indy ranks No. 1 on the Offensive Hog Index.
3. Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks are No. 2 in Defensive Real QB Rating, behind only the Chiefs, and virtually untouchable at home. Seattle is 7-0 in its last seven home games, and has outscored its opponents 252-73 in those games.
4. New Orleans Saints – The rejuvenated defense is the story: the 5-0 Saints are No. 3 in Bendability (defensive efficiency) and No. 2 in defensive Relativity, holding opponents 8.7 PPG below their average in other games.
5. Denver Broncos – Peyton Manning and the Broncos easily top the NFL in every measure of passing efficiency. But their defense right now has huge holes in it: No. 28 in Total Team Yards Allowed , No. 31 in Defensive Rusher Rating and No. 32 and dead last in Defensive Real Passing YPA
6. Tennessee Titans – The surprising Titans have lost just three turnovers this year and rank in the top 10 in two critical measures of team success: No. 8 in Passer Rating Differential and No. 5 in Real Quarterback Rating Differential.
7. New England Patriots – The “Get Tough or Die” Patriots are No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 2 in Bendability (defensive efficiency); but Tom Brady and the offense are a meager No. 26 in Real Passing Yards Per Attempt.
8. Detroit Lions – The Lions are +19.74 in Passer Rating Differential , the Mother of All Stats, good enough for sixth league wide and one of the best marks in the inglorious history of the franchise.
9. Green Bay Packers – A classic case of a brilliant offense paired with a pathetic defense: No. 3 in Real Passing Yards Per Attempt (7.66) but No. 26 in Defensive Real Passing YPA (7.26).
10. San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers right now do not possess the explosive punch most folks thought they’d have at this point in the season: No. 20 in Real Quarterback Rating; No. 24 in Time of Possession; No. 27 in Total Team Yards. But a No. 2 spot in Defensive Passer Rating makes them dangerous.