The Worst 8 - 0 Team of all Time?

CBS's Pete Prisco recently sent out a tweet saying the Chiefs "might be the worst 8 - 0 team I've ever seen."  I thought I would take him up on that by compiling some basic team stats of every 8 - 0 team in a Google spreadsheet and comparing them.

Regardless of what the stats say, you should familiarize yourself with this amazing gif which is probably the only reason the internet needs to exist and is proof-positive that Andy Reid's Chiefs are worth every bit of 8 and OHHH YEEEAAAA.

The spreadsheet will contain the following stats on each team:


Pythagorean Wins

Using an exponent of 2.3 (which seems to be roughly what PFR is using), the expected Pythagorean wins of a team account for point differential and "lucky" wins. Pythagorean win percentage is useful for predicting future wins and are seen as a reliable indicator of underlying talent. Close wins are worth less than blowouts.

For example, let's say the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars, and not the 2013 Chiefs, were actually the worst team to ever go 8 - 0, but that they had won those 8 games by a combined 8 points. Their expected wins, therefore, would be somewhere right above 50%, or 4 total wins in 8 games. The fact that they are actually 8 - 0 means they are "outperforming" their expected wins -- i.e., getting lucky.

We would expect regression to follow in the second half of the season, where the Jags would likely finish the season closer to their expected win percentage: 4 - 4.

Close Wins and Big Wins

Close Wins are any win by 7 points or less. This records how often a team was "lucky" in that a field goal or touchdown would have cost them the game or at least sent it into overtime.

Big Wins are wins by 10 points or more, based on the work of Jim Glass in the Community Forum of Advanced NFL Stats, who noted that teams with many Big Wins in a season do better in the playoffs than teams with many close wins.

Opponent Wins

Opponent Wins is a strength of schedule estimate. How many wins did the undefeated team's opponents have through 8 games? Were the undefeated teams beating up on nobodies? Or were they playing tough S.O.B.'s week-in / week-out?

Since the 2013 Chiefs are the only team whose opponent wins are affected by a bye week (since Week 9 has not happened yet), they were given 0.5 wins in that column for each of the 3 teams who have only played 7 games (not that it will matter).

Other stuff...

Points For and Points Against mean exactly what you think they mean through 8 games.

Final Wins is the number of wins the team tallied by the end of the 16 game season.

Lastly, Season Result is how far into the post-season each team made it.

So... how bad are the Chiefs?

The data has been put into this Google spreadsheet, and is organized by Pythagorean Wins. Here are the 2013 Chiefs rankings in each category:
  • #2 scoring defense
  • worst scoring offense
  • slightly above average Pythagorean Wins
  • by far the easiest schedule
Of the 15 teams to ever start a season 8 - 0 (not counting this year's Chiefs), 9 have made the Super Bowl, with 6 winning it. Regardless of any other stat, the Chiefs will be happy to accept a 40% chance of winning the Big Dance in February. There is a quite a bit in their way, but any doubts over their legitimacy as a Super Bowl contender are odd given the parity of today's NFL and the random chance of playoff games.  Basically any team who makes the playoffs is a "Super Bowl contender", so why not the league's lone undefeated squad?

Which brings us to the point of which 8 - 0 team appears the "worst."

No one, of course, is going to confuse the squad for the New England team of '07, or the less-mentioned '91 Redskins.  These two teams dominated opponents at historic levels.  The Chiefs sit roughly in the middle of the Pythagorean rankings, right next to teams very similar in both quality and style: the 1990 Super Bowl Champion Giants, and the 2008 Tennessee Titans.

Both teams scored less than 200 points, but gave up only around 100.  They serve as polar opposites of the outcome one might expect for this year's Chiefs.  The Giants won the Super Bowl behind a stout defense that allowed only 35 points during their 3-game run.  The Titans, meanwhile, went one-and-done when their offense could only put up 10 against the Baltimore Ravens, who managed a win with 13 points of their own.

Andy and Alex and Avery, oh my!

The Chiefs have the worst scoring offense in the group, as the first-year tandem of Alex Smith and Andy Reid are still working through a sub-par offensive line, a plethora of dropped passes, and a deep ball that remains elusive.  The team's leading receiver is running back Jamaal Charles, which is sure to put a damper on any quarterback's yards per attempt average; and the second-leading receiver is not Dwayne Bowe, but Donnie Avery, who may have finally found a home at age 29.

By advanced standards for quarterbacks this year, Smith is 18th in EPA per play, 21st in WPA per game, and 24th in Success Rate. All numbers back around his averages two years ago and something to give pause to Kansas City fans who were hoping to get the Smith of 2012 right away. Since the former #1 overall pick is the kind of guy who needs to get used to a system before excelling in it, his efficiency stats may stall for a bit longer, but should still improve from their lacklustre averages as the season moves forward.

Indeed, if there is one thing going in the Chiefs favor on offense, it is improvement, as the unit's last two games verse Houston and Cleveland are their best of the season so far by Expected Points Added (EPA).

The Red Scare

Kansas City makes up for the lack of offensive production with the second-best scoring defense of our group.  I don't think even Peyton Manning is looking forward to his Week 11 or Week 13 match-ups with the rate this defense is accruing sacks.  The Chiefs are on pace for 72 of them this season, which would tie them with the '84 Bears for most in NFL history.  They are also one of only three teams in our group to give up less than 100 points through 8 games.

Those are signs of consistency, and we may expect them to continue.  But while Kansas City's interceptions (10) and defensive touchdowns (3) are useful once they occur, they are also notoriously random, if not impossible to predict.  The best defense in the league according to EPA may take a hit in the second half of the season, as both their offensive schedule gets tougher and turnovers / defensive points regress.

All this implies a unit that might be lucky to be 8 - 0.  But, then again, what 8 - 0 team isn't?  Especially in today's "any given Sunday" NFL landscape?  Our list shows only two teams with expected wins over 7, meaning all 14 other teams were expected to lose at least once through their first 8 games.

Remaining undefeated is tough for any team, and doing it is automatically a sign of over-achieving.  The question always is, "How much?  And when will the fall happen?"

What is really interesting is that while some are waiting for the Chiefs to crash hard, many seem to forget how fluky last year's 8 - 0 team was: the Atlanta Falcons.

The 2012 Falcons have one of the lowest Pythagorean Win totals of our group thanks to winning 5 of their first 8 games by 7 or less points.

A true sign of a "lucky" team, or a team worth our skepticism, is a team with too many close wins. The Falcons trailed or were tied in the 4th quarter during 4 of those games and needed some last-minute heroics to pull off the "W."

Say what you will about the Smith-led offense of Kansas City, but one would be hard-pressed to call any of the team's wins "fluky."

But in the eyes of most pundits, having a high-power NFL offense is the key to granting your team immunity to doubt. A "franchise quarterback" and some shiny wide receiving toys are a straight ticket to respect, regardless of how bad your defense is or how many close games you win -- the latter of which, in fact, will only be used as an argument for your "clutchness."

An example of this varying perception is that sites such as Advanced NFL Stats were right on top of it. Through 8 weeks, the Chiefs are ranked 12th in GWP. In 2012, the Falcons were ranked 13th. Despite the undefeated record, stat sites were skeptical of both teams for the right reasons. Only your standard pundit could develop amnesia because one squad has Matt Ryan and another Alex Smith, while ignoring everything else.

Outside of the Falcons, who strike me as a clear example of a "worse" 8 - 0 team than Kansas City, one could point to the 1990 49ers or the 2006 Colts as teams who at least "looked worse" through 8 games by some metrics.

The 49ers and Colts, for example, trail our Pythagorean Win metric. San Francisco only scored 6 more points than Kansas City through 8 games, but gave up 40 more. The Colts, meanwhile, won 6 of their first 8 games by small margins and finished the season with only 12 wins -- both marks good for last in our group.

Here is where hindsight is 20/20 and where reputation is earned, not given. The 49ers were coming off a 4th Super Bowl with a stacked team expected to go the distance yet again; while the 2005 Colts actually won the Super Bowl later that season.

Kansas City enjoys neither the luxury of hindsight nor good reputation. They are one year removed from a 2 - 14 debacle and the first pick of the draft. Their quarterback, Alex Smith, is an average quarterback by career numbers and Andy Reid, too, is one year removed from a painful and embarrassing end to his reign as coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Still, what brings Kansas City down the most is the blatant fact underlying every "W."  Looking better in Pythagorean Wins than the 2006 Colts, who faced the toughest schedule of our group, is worthless if it comes at the hands of the easiest schedule.

Sending out an S.O.S.

This is the area where every critic of the 2013 Chiefs first travels. It also happens to be the clearest dichotomy in the data; and it does not bode well for Kansas City.

Of the 15 teams with finished seasons, 6 faced opponents with at least 28 wins by Week 8 -- i.e., they had the toughest schedules -- and 5 of those 6 won the Super Bowl, with the 2007 Patriots counting as the lone defeat.

The other 9 teams had 27 or less opponent wins, meaning their schedules were easier. Only 3 of these teams made the Super Bowl, and only 1 won it. 4 of the other 6 went one-and-done in the post-season, including the 2003 Chiefs.

Since this year's Chiefs have faced the easiest schedule of our group by quite a margin, they will have to continue proving themselves in the second half of the season -- otherwise, any loss will be an "I told you so" moment from many members of the press and Kansas City may go the way of their counterparts a decade ago.

Two games still to come verse Denver and one against Indy will do a lot to bulk up Kansas City's strength of schedule -- and with two of those contests at the raucous Arrowhead Stadium, emerging with at least those two wins will bolster Kansas City in the necessary stats to make a believer out of everyone. Even Pete Prisco.

I do not think the Chiefs are the worst 8 - 0 team anyone has ever seen -- in fact, they are not even the worst 8 - 0 team of the last two seasons -- but they certainly have traversed the easiest path to an undefeated mark. Until they beat some "playoff teams," and prove their offense can "hang" with the likes of Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, and even a revitalized Philip Rivers, this team will continue to be ridiculously questioned by pundits and appropriately cautioned against by advanced metrics.

  • Spread The Love
  • Digg This Post
  • Tweet This Post
  • Stumble This Post
  • Submit This Post To Delicious
  • Submit This Post To Reddit
  • Submit This Post To Mixx

11 Responses to “The Worst 8 - 0 Team of all Time?”

  1. James says:

    I know the league and GWP formula has changed slightly, but I pulled each team's GWP from Week 8 since you started posting rankings in 2007 for another means of comparison. I was too lazy to check for bye weeks so some teams may have been only 7-0, but this should be close enough. Wish there was a cleaner way to format this...

    2007 Patriots - 0.91 GWP, Ranked 1st
    2009 Colts - 0.87, 1st
    2009 Saints - 0.83, 2nd
    2011 Packers - 0.64, 3rd
    2008 Titans - 0.57, 15th
    2013 Chiefs - 0.56, 12th
    2012 Falcons - 0.56, 13th

    So of this smaller list, the Chiefs are towards the bottom but have plenty of company. Also worth noting the 2009 Colts and Saints played each other in the Super Bowl!

  2. Andrew Carroll says:

    @James

    Nice! That list forms itself as expected. Chiefs right with the Falcons, as mentioned in the article, and the Titans. I do wonder where the past teams might appear.

    What is still curious is the pundit dialogue surrounding this year's Chiefs verse last year's Falcons. I don't remember there being as much "doubt" over last year's Atlanta team, even though they were winning a lot of close games. I think this is due to the style of play and the reputation of the quarterbacks involved.

  3. Ben says:

    Good article, but why do you use Pythagorean wins for the Chiefs and regular wins for their opponents?

  4. Andrew Carroll says:

    @Ben

    Thanks. I'm not sure what you're referring to in your question, though. Care to clarify so I can give a proper answer?

  5. Thomas McDermott says:

    Andrew - best article I've read so far this year. Here are a few more stats directly related to your post:

    For the 2013 season, I've been calculating special teams EPA using the same numbers Brian uses for his offense/defense EPA. Instead of having a “offense” or “defense” special teams, I've wrapped it up into one “net” EPA number, in somewhat the same way we look at turnover differential. If a team’s opponent makes a field goal, that team takes a net EPA loss for special teams.

    Kansas City is #1 in this category, having piled up +33.3 total EPA, which comes to +4.2 per game (the league average is 0.0 per game; the lowest ranked team is Washington at -5.9 per game).

    It’s unsurprising that they’re this good at special teams, considering their ST coach is Dave Toub, previously with the Bears (see Devin Hester). But they've also benefited from some “fluky” plays, like recovered muffed punts, etc., and I’m wondering how sustainable this is.

    It seems to me that if they can continue to dominate on defense and continue to dominate, or get lucky, on special teams, then yes, they have a good shot at going far in the playoffs. If either of these units slacks off, it's doubtful.

  6. Andrew Carroll says:

    @Thomas

    Much appreciated.

    The special teams EPA is interesting. Not something I was aware of, but I guess not too surprising, either. I imagine most teams with surprisingly good records benefit from the high wave of special teams play.

    As to what will happen when the wave crashes, I don't know. A timely special teams fumble recovery helped them against Cleveland, but Chiefs fans do at least have something to give hope in that their offense had its best game of the season and outperformed the Kansas City defense in EPA.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Special Teams EPA will also count all those stalled drives that result in FGs as a positive outcome -- something I witnessed firsthand as a niners fan when we had a similar situation with Smith (stifling defense, offense that maddeningly stalled in the red zone, lots of field goals).

    For what it's worth, FO has them listed as third in special teams DVOA, just behind Dallas and New England.

  8. Andrew Carroll says:

    @Anonymous

    That's a good point. The 2013 Chiefs remind me a lot of the 2011 Niners, as it were. Very similar teams in similar situations.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The only thing about this is, is that the pythagorean expected win-loss can't predict how good a team will do if they've gotten a new coach or a major role somewhere in the organization. That's why the Colts went from 2-14 to 11-5. The pythagorean stat predicted they would go 2-14 again. The Chiefs offense still needs a lot of work to be 8-0 material, but their defense is #1 in the nation. That's why they're 8-0.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Using stats as a basis to define a team with so many other factors: lead, TOP, etc... in only an 8 game sample is fun...but absurd.

  11. TPM says:

    @Anonymous: You're right, it is absurd to attempt to define a team after 8 games. It's way too early for us to define Denver as having a good passing game; we should wait until the end of the season to make that assessment. Are you serious? Sheesh...

Leave a Reply

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.