Kansas City Chiefs (0-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)
The Chiefs were no ordinary 2-14 team. They had 6 Pro-Bowlers last year. That might sound baffling, but it’s not. Only Eric Berry and maybe Tamba Hali (who had a down year) didn’t deserve it, but they could have easily been replaced by Brandon Flowers and Justin Houston. They have 8 of my top-200 players, significantly above average (Dwayne Bowe, Jamaal Charles, Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah, Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers).
Unfortunately for them, football is a team game, not a contest of who has the highest amount of good players. This team was the perfect example of the sum of the parts being greater than the whole. If you’re as poorly coached and poorly quarterbacked as the Chiefs and lose the turnover battle at a near record rate, you’re not going to win a lot of games. I don’t care how many talented players you have.
Because they were no ordinary 2-14 team, the Chiefs took a different approach to the off-season than most teams coming off of seasons with similar records do. Instead of rebuilding, the Chiefs acted as contenders, bringing back their top two free agents Dwayne Bowe and Branden Albert on a lucrative multi-year deal and the franchise tag respectively.
They also signed four players to multi-year deals, adding Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith to shore up holes in the secondary, Mike DeVito to shore up a hole on the defensive line, and Anthony Fasano to likely be their starting tight end. They brought in a veteran Head Coach in Andy Reid and, rather than using an early draft pick on a quarterback for the future, they sent a 2nd round pick to San Francisco for veteran Alex Smith and used the #1 overall pick on a more NFL ready player in Eric Fisher, who will plug in at right tackle immediately.
I think, overall, their moves made a lot of sense this off-season. They might have overpaid a few players, but I like the strategy and I think they’ll be a much improved team this season. Not only are they more talented, but the additions of Alex Smith and Andy Reid will fix the three things that were holding them back last season, quarterback play, turnovers, and coaching and let the rest of their talent shine.
Reid wore out his welcome in Philadelphia, but he also managed to keep his job there for 14 seasons, which is saying something. Over his time there, he made basically every quarterback he had look better than they were, allowing the Eagles to ship off Kevin Kolb, AJ Feeley, and, eventually, a washed up Donovan McNabb for 2nd round picks, even though none of the three ever did anything of note for their new team. He also revitalized the careers of Jeff Garcia and Michael Vick, who both came to Philadelphia as backups on cheap one year deals.
Reid should continue his fine work with new quarterback Alex Smith, a great fit for Reid’s West Coast offense. Smith was not as good as he looked in San Francisco with Jim Harbaugh. Their supporting cast made life very easy for him, especially their defense, as Smith had an excellent win-loss record despite only leading a talented offensive bunch to 23 points per game in 1 ½ years under Harbaugh.
However, I don’t think you can say he’ll immediately regress to the borderline starter he was before Harbaugh. I believe he’s legitimately an improved quarterback over the one he was 2 seasons ago. Plus, with Reid and Kansas City’s supporting cast, he’s not going into such a bad situation in Kansas City. He’ll also see a much easier schedule than he did in San Francisco. He’s physically limited and can only lead teams deep into the playoffs in absolutely perfect situations, but at the very least he’ll stabilize the turnover margin.
Speaking of that turnover margin, it was a league worst -24 last season, which was actually one of the worst in NFL history (-30 by the 1965 Steelers is the worst in NFL history). It made it very tough for them to win games and affected both sides of the ball, especially defensively, where they were not nearly as bad as the 26.6 points per game they allowed would have suggested.
Turnover margin tends to be inconsistent on a year-to-year basis. For example, teams with 20 or fewer turnovers on average turn the ball over 25.5 times the following season, while teams that turn the ball over 35 or more times turn the ball over 28.1 times the following season. Teams with 20 or fewer takeaways take the ball away an average of 25.3 times the following season, while teams with 35 or more takeaways take the ball away an average of 27.3 times the following season. Teams with a turnover differential of +15 or higher have a turnover differential of +3.6 the following season, while teams with a turnover differential of -15 have a turnover differential of +1.5 the following season.
Turnovers and takeaways are incredibly hard to predict on year-to-year and even a game-to-game basis (teams with a turnover differential of +4 or higher and teams with a turnover differential of -4 or lower both average a turnover differential of +0.0 in the following game). Alex Smith should cut down on their interceptions. They should recover more than the 33.3% of fumbles that hit the ground that they did last season, 3rd worst in the NFL. And their talented defense should get their hands on a few more interceptions as well. With almost the same defensive unit in 2011, they had 19 interceptions. Last year, they had 7. That’s how inconsistent this stuff can be. That will go a long ways towards letting their talent show through and improving their record.
Unfortunately, this isn’t an uncommon opinion. Most people expect them to be much improved this season. This is a pretty big line for a road team as the Chiefs are favored by 4. That being said, the Jaguars are terrible. They need to get used to losing by more than four because it’s going to happen a lot the rest of the season. They might be better than the Raiders, but only by default. I actually like what they did this off-season, hiring Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell as Head Coach and GM respectively, purging themselves of overpaid veterans, even at the expense of their current salary cap (their 27 million in dead money on the cap is only behind Oakland), and not reaching for a quarterback in a draft that didn’t have a good one, instead taking the best available in Luke Joeckel.
That being said, it won’t help them win this season. Only Oakland has less talent as they’ll be starting 3 rookies and they filled holes on defense with mediocre veterans like Sen’Derrick Marks, Roy Miller, Geno Hayes, and Alan Ball. Blaine Gabbert remains overmatched under center and will continue to prove why they never should have spent a top-10 pick on him in the first place.
They did have a ridiculous amount of injuries last season, but only Maurice Jones-Drew returning from injury has the possibility of really impacting their season. The rest of those guys are either no longer with the team or mediocre at best starters. They only have two of my top-200 players and they don’t really have many solid starters after them, especially with Marcedes Lewis and Justin Blackmon out in this one. I feel pretty confident taking the Chiefs to win by more than 4 here.
Also, one note, I’m changing how I do picks this year. I’ll be grouping my picks into high confidence, medium confidence, low confidence, and no confidence picks. I’ll also have one pick of the week.
Kansas City Chiefs 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 12
Pick against spread: Kansas City -4