By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts Chief of Intelligence (@footballfacts)
The Kansas City Chiefs have won all nine games this year but few believers.
The Chiefs are 9-0, the only undefeated team left in the NFL. But few folks are convinced they’re the best team in football, or even the best team in the AFC West.
They are certainly contenders for one title: the smartest, most efficient team that’s ever lived.
Consider this: the Chiefs have negotiated more than half the NFL season without a single blemish. They’ve won seven of those nine games by at least a touchdown. They’ve outscored their nine opponents nearly 2 to 1 (215-111).
Yet the Chiefs have been outgained in total offense by their opponents this year, 2,942-2,856 (-86).
That inability to win the physical battles, not to mention a soft schedule (just one Quality Opponent), are two reasons the Pigskin Public harbors legitimate doubts about their ability to win it all.
Teams that are outgained by the opposition are not supposed to go 9-0 in a sport that is, at its essence, a war of a territorial acquisition.
But brains count as well as brawn in the NFL. And the Chiefs provide proof of both.
There is no doubt that the Chiefs are the great masters of situational football this season, and maybe of all time, fielding one of the most “bendable” defenses that ever existed while riding mediocre offensive production, turnovers and special teams production to an undue number of points on the scoreboard.
The Kansas City Chiefs head into their bye week:
No. 1 in Bendability, our measure of defensive efficiency that quantifies the “bend but don’t break” phenomenon. The Chiefs force opponents to march an incredible 26.5 Yards Per Point Allowed. Put another way, opponents need a to produce a daunting 185.5 yards of offense, nearly two trips up and down the length of the football field, just to generate the equivalent of a touchdown and extra point.
No. 7 in Scoreability, our measure of scoring efficiency that tells us how effectively teams translate yards into points. Boosted by their defensive and special teams proficiency, the Chiefs need just 13.28 Yards Per Point Scored, almost exactly half the total of their opponents. Put another way, Kansas City needs just 92.96 yards of offense to generate the equivalent of a touchdown and extra point.
No. 1, by a wide margin, in our Insider-only Intelligence Index, our measure of overall proficiency in situational football. No team is even close – the Carolina Panthers a distant-second in team intelligence.
We’re looking at historical data now to see how Kansas City’s +13.22 Intelligence Index total sizes up against the smartest teams of all time. We know, already, from our initial research and anecdotal evidence, that the 2013 Chiefs are at least on the short list. We're fairly certain at this point that they're the only team still undefeated after nine games despite losing the battle of total offense.
Kansas City is merely middle of the pack, No. 18, with their -86 yard differential in total offense. But how much does winning that territorial battle mean if you continually do stupid things with the football?
Just ask Texans fans: Houston is the most physically dominant team in football this year, at an incredible +963 in total offense. But the dumb, inefficient Texans are 2-6, lost to the Chiefs earlier this season, and are already out of the playoff picture because they're a disaster in situational football.
Brains matter, folks.
Kansas City's ability to generate production in all phases of the game is evidenced by a look at Total Team Yards Differential (which measures yards gained or surrendered on offense, defense and special teams).
The Chiefs are No. 6 (+466) in Total Team Yards Differential.
They're also No. 1 in punt return yards; No. 1 in interception return yards; No. 1 in turnover margin (+15); and No. 1 in third-down defense (25.8%).
As we saw on Sunday, all those non-offensive yards and key plays in critical situations add up to victories.
Kansas City’s Textbook Victory Over Buffalo
Kansas City provided a textbook example of its historically efficient style of play with a 23-13 Week 9 win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday.
The Bills outgained the Chiefs 470 yards to 210, but the Chiefs outgained the Bills where it matters most: on the scoreboard.
Kansas City feasted on Buffalo miscues, getting a 100-yard pick-6 score from Sean Smith and an 11-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by Tamba Hali.
If you’re keeping score at home, that’s nine straight games the Chiefs have held their opponent under 17 points. Not coincidentally, that’s nine straight wins for Kansas City, the kings of Bendability.
But don’t overlook Alex Smith and the passing game. Smith produced an anemic 3.5 Real Passing Yards Per Attempt, a number that won’t hold up over the course of time.
But the Chiefs, thanks largely to defensive contributions, climbed two spots in Scoreability this week.
- Buffalo produced an anemic 36.2 Yards Per Point Scored
- Kansas City produced a devastating 9.13 Yards Per Point Scored
Smith might not win you a lot of games. But he doesn’t lose you many, either. He doesn’t throw those critical 100-yard pick sixes like Buffalo’s Jeff Tuel did after moving his team.
As we demonstrated years ago with our Cold, Hard Football Facts Interception Ladder, it is more important NOT to throw picks than it is to throw TDs. And Smith has been very careful with the ball.
The Chiefs have suffered just four total turnovers out of the QB position this season, the fewest in football.
Smith is an incredible 29-6-1 since the start of the 2011 season, with two different teams. He’s the winningest quarterback in football over that time.
Mistake prone quarterbacks don’t win 81.9 percent of their games over a three-season span, no matter how good their defense may play.
Kansas City's Super Bowl Prospects
Will all that intelligence and efficiency be good enough to lift the Chiefs to a Super Bowl?
We don’t know. The margin is awfully thin if you’re getting outgained by the opposition. The Chiefs have to play smarter and more efficiently than their opponents.
But a game-manager quarterback and the league’s best defense is a formula to win games in any era. Kansas City’s defense is the first since the 1977 Falcons to hold their first nine opponents to 17 points or less. Those Falcons, at the depths of the Dead Ball Era, went on to become the stingiest defense since World War II (9.2 PPG).
The Kansas City defense is not only the stingiest and most efficient in football this year, they’re also the best in Relative defense (+8.9 PPG) – that is, the best even if we take into account the quality of opponents played.
The Chiefs return from the bye with two of their next three games against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Kansas City need win only one of those games to give itself a great shot at the AFC West title and the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
After that, you gotta like the chances of the smartest, most efficient team perhaps in NFL history to hold serve and reach the Super Bowl.
At the very least, it'd be dumb to count them out.