Notes From A Crumbling NFL Empire: Part IV

Kansas City Chiefs 20, New York Giants 17

There are three doors. They all look the same, and they all lead to the same place, but they are different.

The first door shows the reality that the Kansas City Chiefs are not very good. There exists all the same faces and all the same names, but the truly elite players are merely great, the once-solid middle of the roster is now only average, and the bottom of the roster is as bad as it’s ever been. The players are still motivated and giving their best effort, it’s just that the rest of the league has gotten younger, and faster, and smarter.

The second door features a landscape littered with coins flipped upside down. It doesn’t matter if you see Heads or Tails, because that coin that you are looking at is facing the wrong direction. So is the next one, and the next. All that matters when you open this door is the realization that the Chiefs have run into bad luck. They lead the league in giveaways (19) — four more than the next highest total — which is good for an average of 2.4 per game. If only their luck went to neutral, they would again be one of the two- or three-best teams in the NFL.

The third door showcases a team that merely got off to a slow start. They are still what everyone expects them to be, only instead of winning 7 of their first 8 games they were still figuring out who they were. They needed time to get the offensive line in unison; they needed time to figure out what they were as a defense; they experimented on both sides of the ball, hoping to find a recipe that could be sustainable moving forward. It didn’t work as well as they anticipated, but it at least put them in a better position to understand themselves.

What are the odds that the truth of the 2021 Kansas City Chiefs resides within Door Number One? I think it’s fair to put those odds right around 15 percent. It is possible that Patrick Mahomes is still recovering from a foot injury that required surgery after last season, and maybe he’s just not right. It’s also possible that Travis Kelce, who at age-30 is entering his post-prime years, has lost a step and simply isn’t the guy he was even as recently as last year. Door Number One isn’t a fun one for Chiefs fans to consider, but there’s no question that the possibility exists.

What are the odds that the truth is Door Number Two? It’s far likelier, perhaps even as high as 50 percent or more, that the bulk of what ails the Chiefs boils down to bad turnover luck (which is a real thing). You can pinpoint with relative clarity that the teams who most overachieve in a given season are those who have the best turnover differential. The same goes for those with the worst. Kansas City is tied for a league-worst -11 in turnover differential this season. One would think if they simply reverted back to their old ways — that is the ways of 2018-2020 — that this will once again be one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

How about Door Number Three? Obviously if I have already allotted 70 percentage points to the first two doors, then that leaves 30 percent. I know I am looking at this all wrong, but I can’t shake the weird feeling that despite all the poor start, despite all the bad luck, the Chiefs aren’t exactly a team I would be all that thrilled to play in the playoffs. You can look at their current record, or their poor performance on the field, but the reality is as long as they still have a healthy Mahomes, Kelce, and Tyreek Hill, they remain as dangerous an offense as there is.

Speaking of luck, Kansas City may have caught their first big break of the year, as their Week 9 opponent — the Packers — will be without Aaron Rodgers, who is out with COVID. As a big fan of Rodgers I was somewhat shocked to learn that he had not been vaccinated, but that probably has more to do with me since I figure if I like a person then goddamn it that is a person who is smart enough to be vaccinated. Alas, his backup, Jordan Love, will get the nod. If the Chiefs don’t win against him then it’ll give me all the information I need insofar as what door is more accurate.

I’m not yet at the point where I am going to game out the schedule, trying to predict how many wins Kansas City will have at the end of the year. For now I just want to see my favorite team appearing as if they are having fun, and winning football games. This year I don’t have the luxury of seeing my team start 4-0 or 7-1 or 10-2 and sitting back and enjoying the football year. It’s more a matter of survival for them.

Just win, baby. Win, and you’re in. I don’t care about the 1 seed this season. Just get in the playoffs and see how every other team reacts when they have to stop Patrick Mahomes and the reigning AFC Champs.

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