The Chiefs are currently 2-3, in sole position of last place in the AFC West, and the 11th seed in the AFC. With an uphill battle to go, will the Chiefs make the playoffs?
Has the Offense lost a Step?
Over the last two seasons, when the Chiefs made the Super Bowl, the offense was averaging 28.9 points per game. Through five games in 2021, the offense is averaging 30.8 points. The issue with the offense stems from turnovers. Patrick Mahomes threw a total of six interceptions in 2020. He has already matched that number in 2021. There is an argument to be made about the quality of those interceptions, however.
His first interception of the year was due to a receiver letting the ball go through his hands. He has had two interceptions that were caused by defensive linemen tipping the ball. So you can make the argument of at least half of the interceptions not being his “fault”. According to Pro Football Focus, Mahomes has thrown five-interception-worthy passes, yet he has six interceptions.
Half of his interceptions happened on throws that were not deemed interception-worthy. Either way, the interceptions are happening and Mahomes has made fixing it a priority. “It starts with me. It’s something I’ve not usually done in my career, but I have to reevaluate where I’m at, what decisions I’m making…In my career, I’ve never been someone who throws a lot of interceptions. I have to look at it now, reevaluate what I’m doing, and I have to cut it out.” said Mahomes.
Fumbling has become an issue with the team as well. Clyde Edwards-Helaire had never fumbled in his career, he has fumbled twice this season. Byron Pringle has fumbled twice and Tyreek Hill, Creed Humphrey, and Mahomes have each fumbled once. Even though the team is still putting up yards and points, they’ve struggled to win games due to turnovers. If the offense can fix these mistakes, the team will be able to go on a run and win a lot of games. Fixing these mistakes seems easier said than done, though.
Defense is on a Historic Stretch
The defense is chasing history in 2021, but not in a good way. They’ve allowed 29+ points in the first five weeks of the season which is the second-longest stretch to start a season in NFL history. There is currently nothing that the defense is good at doing. They’ve given up the fifth-most passing yards, the fourth most rushing yards, they have the fourth most penalties, they have recorded the fewest amount of sacks, and they are giving up the most points in the NFL.
Individually, Tyrann Mathieu has been the only reliable player for the unit. Chris Jones has been moved to defensive end where PFF has him ranked as the 46th best defensive end, and his presence in the middle of the line has sorely been missed.
Frank Clark continues to be one of the biggest mistakes in NFL history as he has only suited up for two games this season and has recorded a whopping three tackles. Daniel Sorensen has been the worst player on a historically bad defense. Sorensen leads the NFL in missed tackles with 12. Sorenson has a PFF grade of 35 which ranks him 82nd out of 84 safeties.
The offense has issues but is still performing and can correct the issues they have. The defense is what it is. There is no magical answer. Frank Clark continues to be a money pit; the entire defensive line continues to get no pressure; and, Sorensen continues to blow coverages and give up big play after big play. The only upgrade the team can make as of now is benching Sorensen for 2019 second-round pick Juan Thornhill. Why Sorensen continues to start over Thornhill remains a mystery. At this point, though, Thornhill can only be an upgrade.
Will the Chiefs Make the Playoffs?
DVOA(Defensive-adjusted Value Over Average) is a metric that measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every single play to a league average based on situation and opponent. To put it more simply, DVOA measures every single play and gives you a quantitative number that shows you how good a team is with 0% being the average.
The average number of the Chiefs’ five opponents this season is 18.8%. No other team is above 11% in that same stretch. The average DVOA of their remaining schedule is -1.3%. This tells us that the Chiefs’ first five opponents have been significantly harder than the rest of the NFL. It also tells us that the remaining schedule is much closer to the league average and is the 21st easiest remaining schedule.
The Chiefs’ 2018 defense, one of the worst defenses in recent memory, gave up 26.3 points per game. The Chiefs’ current defense is giving up 32.6 points per game. That number is inflated by the number of turnovers the offense has and how much strain it’s been putting on the defense.
Despite all the turnovers, the Chiefs lost to the Ravens on a last-second fumble, and it took the Chargers until the final 30 seconds to be able to score the winning points against the Chiefs. The Chiefs still lost those games but it shows that even with how bad the defense has been and how many turnovers the offense has, the Chiefs were on the verge of winning those games and being 4-1 as opposed to 2-3. In 2019, when the team won the Super Bowl, they were 6-4 at one point before starting their run.
All of these numbers show that the offense can still score at a high rate, the team is a few mistakes from being in first place in the AFC West, and that their schedule has been absolutely brutal. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however.
The offense can fix their mistakes. They are led by one of the best coaches in NFL history and quarterbacked by a player that has made the extraordinary look mundane. Their issues on offense are very fixable. Once the turnovers are slowed, the defense will have more breathing room and even though they’ll still be bad overall, they can do enough just like they did in 2018. The schedule also lightens up significantly from here on out for the Chiefs. It’s easy to panic, and the Chiefs aren’t a given at all at this point, but they will still be playing football in January.
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