The Chiefs' challenge in 2014: For 11-5 not to become 8-8
Despite its abrupt end in the first round of the playoffs, the Kansas City Chiefs' 2013 season was nothing short of a miracle. But what comes next? History says a regression is in order, but if the Chiefs can remember the past, they might not be condemned to repeat it. Henry Kissinger, Andy Reid, John Dorsey, Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki, Tony Gonzalez, Todd Haley, Jason Campbell, Jeff Tuel, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith
Alex Smith was central to Kansas City's 2013 miracle season. Now he and the Chiefs must figure out how not to regress in 2014.
Andrew Weber / USA TODAY Sports
By Sean Keeler
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There's this great old line about history, courtesy of noted football enthusiast and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger:
"Change is the law of life. Any attempt to contain it guarantees an explosion down the road; the more rigid the adherence to the status quo, the more violent the ultimate outcome will be."
He wasn't referring to the NFL salary cap at the time, but what the hell? It fits.
The party isn't what sinks you in today's pro football; it's the morning after. Over the last 50 years, just six NFL teams before the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs made a jump of nine wins or better over the previous season's pace: the 1963 Raiders, the '99 Colts, the '99 Rams, the '04 Steelers, the '08 Dolphins and the '12 Colts.
Now check out the year after those "miracle" turnarounds:
'64 Raiders? 5-7-2, a drop of five wins. No postseason.
'00 Colts? 10-6, a drop of three wins. Lost in AFC wild-card round.
'00 Rams? 10-6, a drop of three wins. Lost in NFC wild-card round.
'05 Steelers? 11-5, a drop of four wins. Won Super Bowl XL.
'09 Dolphins? 7-9, a drop of four wins. No postseason.
'13 Colts? 11-5, no drop. Lost in AFC division round.
So there's the glass, half, well, half-something.
Plus side: Of those six, four wound up reaching the postseason again.
Down side: The average drop in wins was 3.17. And if we toss that Oakland team out of the equation, it's still an ominous slip of 2.8.
No matter how you slice it, that's three fewer wins, on average. Applied to the 11-5 Chiefs, that projects to a follow-up of ... 8-8.
You have to get better. Because the dance card always does. The Andy Gang replaces the Jeff Tuel and Jason Campbell of 2013 with Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick and Tom Brady this upcoming fall, flipping the Jaguars and Browns and Bills for the Patriots and Niners and Seahawks.
That's what we love and hate about today's NFL beast, where money talks and parity rules. It's how the Chiefs can change quarterbacks, make some key renovations and come rolling out of nowhere. How the Redskins could the same the year before.
But then look at Washington last fall. Or don't. It'll hurt your eyes.
Of course, this is where the resume, the track record, the street cred of the current regime comes in. Coach Andy Reid knows the drill, and the pitfalls to come. When his Eagles jumped from five wins in his first season there in 1999 to 11 victories in 2000, Philly didn't fall off the map, averaging 12 wins over the next four seasons after that. After a seven-game dip from 13-3 in '04 to 6-10 in '05, the Eagles bounced right back to 10-6 in '06 and averaged 9.5 wins from '07 through '11.
General manager John Dorsey has walked the walk, too, in a supporting role. He stressed repeatedly last fall, publicly and privately, that he wasn't going to swap draft picks or alter the roster significantly to make a run at, say, three months of Tony Gonzalez, that it's about the long view. From 2001-12, Dorsey's old organization, the Green Bay Packers, averaged 10 victories per year and reached the postseason in nine out of 12 seasons -- a 75 percent clip. Over that same stretch, the Chiefs went to the playoffs just three times.
Turning over an engine in the NFL isn't the hard part; the system provides you with jumper cables after a stall. The hard part is keeping that engine purring, and running, at a high level once you've got it back up to speed again.
That and insulating yourself against the inevitable roster catastrophe, injury-related or otherwise. Freaky things can happen the season after "your year." Take 2011. (Take it, please): After a 10-6 mark in 2010 that was the most schedule-inflated in Chiefs history (-3.2 strength of schedule rating, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, lowest by a country mile; '13 was tied for third-kindest, at -1.7), Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki got hurt. First 0-3 happened, then 5-8, and thanks for playing, Todd Haley.
Bovada.com recently slotted the Chiefs as a 28-to-1 shot to reach Super Bowl XLIX, tied for 12th in the league with Indianapolis. While more icebergs than usual are up ahead, it's hard to see this ship sinking quickly. But given an estimated cap space for 2014 of a teensy $799,944, Dorsey will have to make some hard decisions -- or some very creative ones -- to stay the course.
"Everybody bought in," wideout Donnie Avery said a few months back. "Everybody came to work believing the system, and you see what it got us."
Some of the same pieces won't be here, but that belief still will be. Good thing, too, given what else they say about history: Those who can't remember the past are usually condemned to repeat it.
You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @seankeeler or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.