Why NFL Nerds Don't Believe In The Undefeated Kansas City Chiefs

At 9-0, the Kansas City Chiefs are the last undefeated team in the NFL.

Despite their record, a lot of NFL media types (us included!) aren’t believers in this team.

Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders wrote in his recap of KC’s win over Buffalo yesterday, “The Chiefs need to consider changing their helmet logo to a rabbit’s foot, because their ridiculous luck continued this week.”

Here are the four biggest reasons why people are sceptical.

1. Fumble luck

Recovering fumbles is random. There’s no such thing as a team that’s consistently good at recovering fumbles over a large sample size.

Right now, the Chiefs are getting incredibly lucky with fumbles.

They’re recovering 56% of their own fumbles (the 12th-highest percentage in the league), while recovering an eye-popping 73% of their opponents’ fumbles (the 3rd-highest percentage in the league).

So they’re recovering about two-thirds of all fumbles when the should be recovering about half. It’s pure luck, and there’s no rational reason for it to continue.

2. Turnover luck

Their average turnover margin per game is +1.7. That’s first in the league, and would tie for the largest turnover margin of the last 10 years.

They’ve forced 23 turnovers, and returned six of those (26%) for touchdowns. Against Buffalo on Sunday, Sean Smith returned an interception for a touchdown when the Bills were on the one-yard line and Tamba Hali returned a fumble for a touchdown. Without those huge defensive plays, they don’t win that game.

On their current pace, they’d score the most defensive touchdowns of the last 10 years.

The problem is that things like turnover margin and takeaway rate aren’t predictive. Jim Armstrong wrote about turnover luck for Football Outsiders in 2004:

“A defence’s tendency to force turnovers is fairly important to the team’s success, but it seems to be even more unpredictable. In general, a team’s ability to force fumbles seems to be almost entirely luck. There is a little bit more persistence in a team’s ability to force interceptions, though it isn’t clear how much of this ability is just a residual effect of general defensive ability.”

3. Strength of schedule

This is obvious. Kansas City has faced the easiest schedule in the league.

According to Grantland’s Bill Barnwell, Kansas City opponents have an average Pythagorean win percentage of .392, the lowest number in the league.

That’s about to change. KC plays Denver twice, San Diego twice, and Indianapolis in the last few months of the season.

4. Middling quarterback performance

Despite that easy schedule and the crazy, unsustainable rates at which his defence is forcing turnovers, Alex Smith has been exactly average.

He’s 15th in the league in our own quarterback rating system (which combines three advanced stats). He doesn’t take chances (30th in the league in yards per attempt) and he’s not particularly accurate (23rd in the league in completion percentage).

In short, there is going to come a key game where Alex Smith needs to single-handedly bring his team down the field and score a touchdown late. There isn’t a whole lot of evidence that he can do that right now.

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