by Kurtis Seaboldt
It was one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history. In his first year as head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Andy Reid took a team that finished 2-14 the previous season and won 11 games.
The Chiefs were the 34th team since 2000 to follow a 10-loss season with a 10-win season. That was the good news. The bad news heading into 2014 was what tends to happen to teams that go from 10 losses to 10 wins in one season.
Heading into 2014, the previous 31 teams to make such a leap had fallen back significantly in Year Three. Those 31 teams had an average record of 5-11 in their 10-loss season and 11-5 in their 10-win season. Their average record in Year Three was just 7-9.
But there is an interesting distinction within those Year Three teams and here is where the history mentioned in the title portends a good 2015 for the Chiefs. Even though the average Year Three team only won seven games, the individual win totals are all over the map, from three wins (2013 Redskins) to 13 (2006 Bears).
Nine of the 31 teams won four or fewer games in Year Three, a huge drop off from their 10-win season. But nine other teams won at least 10 games in Year Three and 12 teams had winning records, including the Chiefs at 9-7. And that Year Three performance is where the teams separate a little bit going forward.
The 19 teams that were 8-8 or worse in Year Three had an average record of 8-8 in Year Four, with just seven of the 19 (37%) making the playoffs. The 12 teams that had winning records in Year Three (as the Chiefs did last year) had an average record of 11-5 in Year Four, with eight of the 12 (67%) making the playoffs.
The Chiefs – and the other Year Three winners from 2014, the Eagles and Cardinals – appear poised to keep that trend going.
It’s a small sample size but three teams were exactly 9-7 in Year Three. The 2002 Patriots went 14-2 and won the Super Bowl in 2003. The 2005 Chargers went 14-2 in 2006. The 2009 Falcons went 13-3 in 2010.
Again, a small and very specific sample size but, as the late Fred White was fond of saying, “If ya wanna dream a little”.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
In the beginning, it was a hope, then a possibility, a probability and now a near certainty. For the second year in a row, the Kansas City Royals are going to the post-season.
But what will they do when they get there? A year ago, they were the darlings of October, piling up win after win, each one more unexpected than the one before, as they swept their way to the World Series. They were “Cinderella”.
This year, the Royals are the favorite. The target they were shooting at last October is now on their own back. Hunter. Hunted. Yada, yada, yada. You get the picture.
Sometimes the favorite wins it all. See the 2013 Boston Red Sox. Sometimes they win nothing. See the 2014 Los Angeles Angels. Or the 2014 Washington Nationals. Which one will the big, bad 2015 Kansas City Royals be?
Sadly, it’s almost impossible to get much of a handle at all on what lies ahead this Blue October. I’ve looked at a handful of possible indicators and the results have been, for the most part, inconclusive.
Rolling to a division title hasn’t been a plus. Since 1995, 32 teams have won their division by at least ten games. Half of them lost in the LDS. Eleven more lost in the LCS. That leaves just five that got to the World Series. Of those five, only the 1995 Atlanta Braves and the 1998 New York Yankees won the whole thing.
Playing well against other playoff teams in the regular season doesn’t mean that much, either. The Royals have not played particularly well against those teams this year. They are 18-19 against the teams that would, if the season ended today, would be in the post-season (Yankees, Blue Jays, Astros, Angels, Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs).
But of the ten teams to make the World Series in the last five seasons, six were under .500 against playoff teams from that year. Their overall win percentage is just .479. So the Royals’ mediocre play is anything but a harbinger.
There is one indicator that seems to show something: How well a team plays in September. Nine of the last ten World Series winners were over .500 in September. Their combined win percentage was .611. As for pennant winners, 17 of 20 were over .500 with a combined win percentage of .602. The only teams in that stretch to reach the Fall Classic after a losing September were the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals and the 2006 Detroit Tigers. That was a weird year.
For the Royals, last year was all about getting to the post-season. This year, it’s all about what happens once they get there. On that score, unfortunately, history is of little help.
Bo Jackson was perhaps the biggest star on the planet. Bret Saberhagen was flattening bats in route to his second Cy Young Award. George Brett, Frank White and Willie Wilson were still in the lineup. Mark Gubicza, Charlie Liebrandt and Jeff Montgomery were on the mound.
It was 1989 and the Royals were very good. They were also very popular. It was that season that the club set an all-time attendance record that is still standing today. On average, 30,971 fans filled then-Royals Stadium, a total of 2.48 million for the year. The team went on to draw two million fans in both 1990 and 1991 but diminishing stars and diminishing returns soon resulted in diminishing crowds.
The team hasn’t drawn two million since then. That is going to change this season and it won’t even be close. The Royals, fresh off their first World Series in 29 years and bubbling over with exciting players, have packed Kauffman Stadium on a regular basis. They’re average attendance this season is 32,255, a mere 11,537 more than a year ago. At the current pace – keep in mind a team’s attendance increases in the upcoming summer months – the Royals will hit 2.61 million this season, breaking their franchise mark by more than 130,000.
And the attendance has been consistent. They have drawn 30,000 in 19 of 30 home dates, putting them on pace for 51 on the season. Their previous high was 45 in 1989. Last year, they had 16. In 2013, they had 10. In 2012, they had seven. Last month, they had six in a single home stand. They have drawn a crowd of 30,000 or more on every day of the week. And they are barely a third of the way through their home schedule.
The Royals just played two games in Minneapolis against the team that began the week in first place. The Twins have a brand new ballpark and a winning team and they drew crowds of 22,796 and 22,497. The fans haven’t bought into the Twins yet. Royals fans clearly have.
Three years ago, they hosted the All-Star Game; this year they are owning it. They have overloaded the All-Star voting to the point that there is almost surely going to be a rule change, one that will bear the name of the team that made it necessary.
A year ago, the only mention of crowds of 30,000 at Kauffman Stadium had to do with how poorly the Royals played in front of them. Now it’s how crowds of 30,000 have become the norm. It is a different time, indeed. Royals fans are proud of their team. They should also be proud of themselves.
By Kurtis Seaboldt
Wednesday night was a banner night for the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Jeremy Guthrie tossed six scoreless innings, running the team’s current streak to 24 straight, tying a franchise record set way back in 1976.
Three innings later, Luke Hochevar struck out Brandon Phillips for the final out of the Royals’ 7-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds. Kansas City’s third straight win ran their record to 26-14, the best 40-game start in the club’s 47-year history.
It’s great. But what does it mean? What does history say about teams that sit where the Royals sit right now and where they eventually sit when the season is over? I wanted to know and so, as I do from time to time, I checked it out.
Since 1995, when Major League Baseball adopted their current six-division format, 16 teams have started a season exactly 26-14 (not including the Royals, Cardinals and Astros this season). I initially looked at teams that were 26-14 or better but decided that would not be an accurate predictor. The Seattle Mariners started 31-9 in 2001; what could that predict about at team that started 26-14?
So, how did those 16 teams fare? Not as well as you may have expected, certainly not as well as I expected. Their average win percentage that season was just .553, which works out to an average 162-game record of 90-72. That’s just one game better than the Royals were last year when they started the season 20-20.
But, how many of those 16 teams had a run differential that matched the Royals’ current differential of +68? Just one. The 1996 Texas Rangers had exactly the same record and exactly the same run differential as this year’s Royals and they finished – you guessed it – 90-72.
Even the post-season wasn’t a lock for the “Sweet 16”. Only nine made it, though it must be pointed out that, from 1995 through 2011, there was only one Wild Card team in each league. The 2006 White Sox would have made it as the second Wild Card team.
One oddity that may or may not have anything to do with the Royals’ chances: From 1995 through 2004, seven of the eight made the post-season. From 2005 through 2014, only two of the eight did although, again, the 2006 would have.
The Royals are off to the best start in their history and the fans should enjoy every minute of it. But any thoughts that they are a post-season lock should be tabled for the moment.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
In popular culture that number is and will always be the maximum output for Nigel Tufnel’s amps in “Spinal Tap”.
But in sports, especially around these parts, it represents how many consecutive Big 12 titles the Kansas Jayhawks have either won outright or tied for. It also happens to be the age of Jamari Traylor, KU’s oldest player, the last time Kansas’ name wasn’t on the trophy. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk was six. Siiiiiiiix.
The streak has become such a phenomenon that it has developed something of a “the-chicken-or-the-egg” thing. How much of the streak has been due to Kansas being great and how much has been due to the league being down? How does KU’s run compare to the other major conferences?
In the last 11 seasons, the teams that have won or shared the most titles in the other five power conferences are as follows:
ACC: North Carolina, 6
Big East: Georgetown, 3
Big Ten: Ohio State, 5
Pac 10/12: UCLA, 4
SEC: Kentucky and Florida, 4
So, Kansas has more than doubled all but North Carolina in conference titles and no school had more than three in a row. Adding to the story is the fact that Kansas has also dominated the Big 12 when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Kansas is the only Big 12 team during their streak to go to the Final Four, having gone in 2008 and 2012.
Let’s compare that to the other five power conferences:
ACC: (2 teams, 4 appearances) North Carolina 3, Duke 1
Big East: (6, 8) Louisville 2, UConn 2, Georgetown 1, Syracuse 1, Villanova 1, West Virginia 1
Big Ten: (5, 8) Michigan St. 3, Ohio State 2, Illinois 1, Michigan 1, Wisconsin 1
Pac 10/12: (1, 3) UCLA 3
SEC: (3, 7) Florida 3, Kentucky 3, LSU 1
So Kansas isn’t the only school to be their league’s only Final Four representative in the last ten years; UCLA joins them in that honor. But the Jayhawks have completely dominated the Big 12 in regular season and the NCAA Tournament. Their domination of the Big 12 Tournament pales in comparison but they’ve still won six of ten and only Missouri has won more than one.
What it means is, to some degree, still a matter for debate. But one thing is not. The Kansas Jayhawks have owned the Big 12. And they still do.
by Kurtis Seaboldt
At first, it was just a curiosity. Then it became a concern. Finally, it became an embarrassment.
For the first time in half a century, an NFL team – the Kansas City Chiefs – went an entire season without a touchdown catch from a wide receiver. The last team to pull that off was the 1964 New York Giants.
How far back was that? The Chiefs were in just their second season in Kansas City, two years away from playing in the first AFL-NFL World Championship Game. The name “Super Bowl” hadn’t even been invented.
At the time, the Giants’ dubious achievement likely drew few headlines. They didn’t throw the ball around much in 1964. The NFL’s leader in touchdown passes – Cleveland's Frank Ryan – threw just 25. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers threw 25 this season – at home.
Considering the current, pass-happy NFL, the Chiefs’ lack of a wide receiver touchdown this season is one of the more amazing developments in the history of the league. It’s gotten a good amount of exposure around town but I still feel that its significance has been somewhat understated. What the Chiefs did this season is damn near impossible. Consider that 124 wide receivers in the NFL this year caught at least one touchdown pass. One hundred and twenty four. That includes three wideouts who had fewer than ten catches all year. And the Chiefs’ entire crew had zero.
What concerns me almost as much is what appears to be an organization-wide denial that it is even an issue. All year long, Andy Reid and the team’s de facto number one receiver, Dwayne Bowe, were asked about the issue and they both brushed it aside. Every week.
Reid said that, as long as his team was scoring touchdowns, he didn’t really care who was scoring them. Well, they were 17th in the NFL in scoring so clearly the guys who were scoring touchdowns weren’t scoring enough. The team was among the best in red zone efficiency; the problem was that they almost had to get into the red zone to score. The Chiefs had only two touchdowns longer than 40 yards – a 63-yard run by Jamaal Charles and a 70-yard pass to Knile Davis. Only two teams had fewer.
Bowe said he wasn’t bothered by it either, grinning – almost chuckling – as he calmly dismissed the drought on a weekly basis, continually claiming that the wideouts were making plays to extend drive so that others could score. After the Chiefs’ win over Oakland in Week 14, Bowe said, “We are unselfish. We love to play football and we’ve been there before. I led the league before so it doesn’t matter for me to score; it matters for me to win.”
Reid, for his part, isn’t bothered by Bowe’s attitude concerning the lack of touchdowns. “He never complains that he doesn’t get the ball enough or (that) he wants the ball. He just wants to win and I appreciate that.” Reid praised the season that Bowe was having – he finished with 60 catches for 754 yards – so frequently that it almost seemed like he was doing it intentionally.
General Manager John Dorsey seemed equally un-phased by it. In a season-ending interview on “The Border Patrol” he called the lack of wide receiver touchdowns a “fluke”. I think the word he was looking for was perhaps “aberration” or “anomaly” but I understood his point. And I disagreed with it entirely.
Words won’t fix the Chiefs’ monster problem at the wide receiver position but why can’t someone – anyone – in their organization just come out and admit that it was a really, really bad thing to have happened and that it had better not happen again? How hard is it to say, “Yes, it was a problem that we didn’t get a touchdown from our wide receivers this year and it is a problem that we must address in the offseason”?
After the season ended, Bowe was asked about his team’s place in history as the first in 50 years to pull off the wideout whiteout. “It’s not a bad thing, if you think about it. We won the game today (against San Diego) and that’s a good thing. History is in the making and that’s part of history; it’s over now.”
Yes, it is over. Your season is over. And one of the biggest reasons that it’s over is a problem that is being dismissed – at least publicly – by the people whose job it is to fix it.