Friday, December 30, 2011

Chiefs' mediocrity is a product of the NFL parity-machine

The Kansas City Chiefs are mediocre.

Nothing breakthrough here. It's been the case for at least a decade and a half now. The real question is why, and more to the point, why don't they do anything about it?


If, in theory, an average record in the NFL is 8-8 (of course it is), then for the purposes of this blog, let's agree that anything between a 6-10 and 10-6 record should be defined as mediocre.

Since 1998, the Chiefs' year-end records look as follows: 7-9, 9-7, 7-9, 6-10, 8-8,
13-3, 7-9, 10-6, 9-7, 4-12, 2-14, 4-12, 10-6, and 6-9 with a game to go this season. During the span, only four times could the team avoid mediocrity, and just once was it for the right reasons (13-3).

You want answers? Well, the lazy one is that the Hunt family is content with mediocrity on the field just so long as it's beneficial to the bottom-line. And there could be truth to that, but it's not completely fair to put it all on ownership.

Because, the Chiefs and their utter satisfaction with mediocrity are more so a product of the NFL parity-machine than anything else.

What Clark Hunt wants most from the product on the field is the ability to handcuff season-ticket holders with a premature playoff-game/down-payment-for-next-season bill in late-December. If Chiefs' fans were pondering picking up the playoff-game option while buying Christmas gifts these past few weeks, then in Hunt's eyes, general manager Scott Pioli has done his job.

And in the NFL, it's hard not to achieve such a low standard.

Since 2002, when the league realigned the divisions and implemented a more parity-driven scheduling system, the NFL has experienced unprecedented competitive-balance. Unlike before or with any other professional sports league, every team from every market has a legit opportunity to compete year-in and year-out.

A quick glance at the 32 teams' rosters would show that only a handful are more than a player or two away from talking seriously about a deep playoff-run. It was my belief the Chiefs were one of those teams this season, before an uninspiring free-agency period and a joke-of-a-training camp quickly crushed those dreams.

With realignment, teams like last year's 7-9 Seahawks and this year's Broncos and Raiders, both 8-7, are winning divisions. Sunday, five 8-7 teams will fight for a playoff spot, four of which have a chance to win their division.

In the ten years since realignment, the Chiefs have entered the final week of the regular-season with a chance to clinch or having clinched a playoff-spot five times. Three of those occasions the team made the playoffs, which, in Hunt's view, was essentially an added bonus. Regardless of playoff-inclusion, if the NFL parity-machine was allowed to do its job without the team interfering too much one way or the other (like by spending money on top-tier free-agents), then all is well with the world in the eyes of ownership.

The team kept the fan-interest until season's end. Real or not, it felt like the team contended. Job well done — let's do it again next year.

Yuck.

What's most alarming is, with the exception of 2003 (maybe), none of those teams were actual Super Bowl contenders. The question during last year's Chiefs/Ravens wildcard round playoff-matchup wasn't who was going to win, but by how much would the Chiefs lose.

In truth, the NFL has successfully disguised ineptitude with mediocrity and mediocrity with success, with the owners' pocketbooks in mind. It's telling that the last real contender the Chiefs fielded was in 1997, five years prior to realignment and parity.

Now, we bitched and moaned last offseason when the team went all status-quo on us in free-agency. Three torn ligaments later, a simple "hate to say I told you so" just doesn't suffice for me.

The team is 6-9 and going nowhere, and the most disgusting fact to take away from this season is that, to Hunt, it was more or less a success.

The illusion is that the NFL's new-found love with parity has allowed everyone to compete. In reality, teams like the Chiefs seem to have even bigger obstacles to climb because of it.

3 comments:

  1. Looking at the records that the Chiefs have posted since 1998 is quite telling of a franchise that is successfully selling a poor product, cashing-in on some of the most accepting (and patient!) fans in ALL of sports-- you and I, buddy...... Chiefs fans.

    For a franchise that is quick to point out their "proud" legacy and their many achievements over the years, this team has indeed SQUANDERED many opportunitites to thrive in the always competitive NFL. There are 5 reasons for this:

    1. Talent evaluation / Drafting. What a joke this has been since the Marty era; underachiving LSU products, a hot dog WR who cannot catch a clutch pass if his life depended on it, a subpar offensive line, and WHIFFS that should roll heads, if not cost jobs. Remember trading the pick to Pittsburgh that provided them safety Troy Polamalu? Or drafting UCLA's Justin Medlock over Mason Crosby? Or the selection of Tyson Jackson over (insert most of the draft class here)? How about forgetting to check out hometown stud Darren Sproles? And, yes... that was your war-room selecting Tony Moeki over both Hernandez and Jimmy Graham.

    2. Cutting quality players. Are you serious that we felt we could make these cuts and still succeed in the AFC WEST? Jared Allen, Jared Gaither, Bernard Pollard, Lawrence Tynes, Kawika Mitchell, Shawn Smith, to name but a few. And replacements like Savvy Piscitelli? Jon McGraw? Andy Studebaker? (Are the Chiefs running out the dregs simply looking to save a few bucks?)

    3. Cheap ownership. Like father, like son..... What you get is what you pay for. And when you are pocketing $30 Million, approaching your free agency window with the nonchalance of a high school sophomore, letting other teams load-up, you will ultimately pay the price.

    4. Poor Coaching. Between Herm Edwards and the schlub who wore the headset and neglected to bathe, we spent 6 years waiting for success. Over this span, a generation of 1st graders entered middle school watching a pathetic product take the field. Even in instances whereby the Chiefs made the playoffs, it required a miracle in '06, and a pathetic NFC West-based schedule in '10, the year that the Chiefs went 2-4 in division play. (Do you remember in the wildcard game of '06, when the Colts had racked up 23 1st downs to our zero? How about in '10, when "All-PRO" Dwayne Bowe netted ZERO catches against a stout Ravens D?)

    5. Tolerant Fans. We still watch this crap. I still make it a point to turn on the tv and see what my hometown team is doing.

    What is good in this struggle for the Chiefs is that the fans are finally losing their patience. The seats are being vacated, there is no "waiting list" for season tics, and the team has become a punchline on the late-night talk circuit. It IS a bit embarrassing, but I can appreciate that Pioli is now on the hot seat, and there WILL be repercussions if he keeps fucking this up.

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  2. I think you hit it on the head when you mention a generation of first-graders entering middle school having watched this team GO NOWHERE. More to the point, we've gone through about an entire decade of irrelevance. There were first-graders in 2001 who are getting close to graduating from high school and haven't seen a legitimate Chiefs Super Bowl contending team.

    It's opportunity-lost. Those are potential season-ticket holders whose hearts just won't be in it when Clark Hunt asks them to fund the next decade of mediocrity.

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