Why the Kansas City Chiefs Will Make the Playoffs
Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson is known for his brawn not his brain, but that did not stop him from knowing that, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face."
Although he was known for his punch, Tyson delivered a motto that perfectly describes the Kansas City Chiefs' season.
Before the year, Jamaal Charles was the feature back for this team, as he was a surefire top-five running back in the league. Talent, though, is only as good as it is healthy, and unfortunately, Charles was lost for the season with a knee injury in Week 5.
After that, the Chiefs proceeded to lose their game against the Chicago Bears, and they followed up that up with a loss in Week 6 against the Vikings for their fifth straight loss. With no Charles and a five-game losing streak that had the Chiefs at 1-5, the future appeared very gloomy for the Chiefs.
To say the Chiefs were only punched in the face at the time would be quite the understatement.
Although they went on a five-game losing streak, the Chiefs' defense already began turning their season around when Charles went down with his injury. Through Week 4, the Chiefs allowed no fewer than 20 points, but between Week 5 and Week 11, they allowed no more than 18 points. Even with allowing 22 points this week, the Chiefs appear to have all systems firing at the right time.
Before their win over Buffalo, the Chiefs' odds to make the playoffs based on our algorithms were 50.4%; now they sit at 69.66%. With the Denver victory over New England, Kansas City's division odds dropped from 11.4% to 9.7%.
With no remaining games against the Broncos, the Chiefs' chances to win the division are tough, but their playoff odds continue to improve.
So let's examine why the Chiefs are primed to make a run to playoffs.
Dominant Running Backs
Based on our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, entering the week, the Chiefs had the sixth-ranked Adjusted Rushing NEP (19.55). While Charles' success has helped this metric, the Chiefs' run game has carried on without him. Of the 60 running backs with at least 41 carries entering the week, Charles had the 10th ranked Rushing NEP (6.93) and the 8th ranked Rushing NEP per play (0.098).
Charles was a superstar on the ground both in terms of advanced analytics and traditional statistics. Before his injury, he took 71 carries for 364 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and 4 touchdowns.
His receiving prowess was not as impressive as expected as he had 21 receptions for 177 yards (8.4 yards per reception) and a touchdown. Of the 60 backs with at least 15 targets entering Week 12 -- Charles had 30 -- and he ranked 30th in Reception NEP (9.97) and 34th in Reception NEP per target (0.33).
While Charles performed admirably this year, his backups Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware are doing a great job of making it seem like he never got injured. At the time of the Charles injury, the Chiefs' Adjusted Rushing NEP was only at 4.55, not on pace for the 19.55 that they had entering their Week 12 matchup with the Bills.
Statistically on the ground, West is not Charles as he has 98 carries for 373 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns. West still is doing a fine job as he had the 29th ranked Rushing NEP (-2.50) and the 28th ranked Rushing NEP per play (-0.026) entering Week 12.
While West is not best on the ground, his passing-game skills have come in handy in replacing Charles. West has 14 catches for 199 yards (14.2 yards per reception) and a touchdown on 26 targets. Entering Week 12, West sported the 17th ranked Reception NEP (14.06) and the 9th ranked Reception NEP per target (0.54).
The other backup, Ware, is built completely unlike both of the quicker and shiftier backs ahead of him. Because of this, Ware only has four receptions and can be disregarded as part of the Chiefs' passing attack.
Entering Week 12, Ware had 17 carries for 120 yards (7.06 yards per carry) and 3 touchdowns. With this small sample, he had a 6.12 Rushing NEP (only 0.81 lower than Charles') and 0.36 Rushing NEP per play that was better than Karlos Williams' 0.25 Rushing NEP per play.
In Week 12, Ware rushed 19 times for 114 yards (6 yards per carry) and a touchdown. According to numberFire Live, he produced a 4.49 Rushing NEP.
When West is back, it looks ideal to use him as the passing back to complement Ware's running prowess. While this situation muddies the outlook for fantasy, it strengthens the Chiefs' playoff likelihood.
Entering the year, the Chiefs boasted a defense that was expected to remain as impressive as it was last year.
However, after Week 6 (the last Kansas City loss), the defense looked terrible. Overall, the Adjusted Defensive NEP (33.04), Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP (42.55), and Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP (-12.83) did not paint the picture of a defense that deserved respect.
By allowing no more than 18 points in any game before the Bills matchup, the Chiefs brought their defense back to the level expected of it. Entering Week 12, the Chiefs boasted the seventh ranked Adjusted Defensive NEP (1.50), eighth ranked Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP (-13.85), and sixth ranked Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP (9.10).
While the Bills had a good game through the air, as Sammy Watkins had 6 catches for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns, all of that came in the first half, showing that the Kansas City passing defense understands how to adjust to play like they are ranked.
Also, LeSean McCoy only ran for 70 yards on 19 carries as the Bills posted a -5.39 Rushing NEP on the day.
With games against both the Ravens and Browns remaining on the schedule, this defense is primed for at least two more stellar performances and is worthy of all the accolades it receives.
With two games remaining against the Raiders and games against the Chargers, Ravens, and Browns sandwiched between those, this Chiefs team is primed to make a run for the playoffs. They are one of the hottest teams in football right now, and this should not be expected to cool down anytime soon.
The emergence of Ware alongside West muddies their outlook going forward, as he deserves a role in the running game. Before the week, the Chiefs ranked 17th in Adjusted Passing NEP (35.10), but due to running the 22nd most pass plays (359) and having the 20th ranked pass-to-run ratio (1.33), this is a passing offense that cannot be trusted weekly.
As for fantasy football purposes, Alex Smith is a streaming option when the matchup allows for it, and while you are probably starting both Jeremy Maclin and Travis Kelce, the lack of volume is hurting their production. Based on our projections Smith is QB18, Maclin is WR15, and Kelce is TE6.
With a strong running game and defense to lean on along with a passing game to supplement it, this Chiefs team is poised to make a playoff run.