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.
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.