Why Kansas City Chiefs Started Winning, and Dolphins Continue to 'Suck for Luck'
Just a month ago, both the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins were winless. The Dolphins were preparing to take on the San Diego Chargers, while the injury-riddled defending AFC West champion Chiefs had the winless Vikings coming to Arrowhead Stadium.
That afternoon, the Chiefs would record their first victory of the season thanks to Matt Cassel connecting with Dwayne Bowe five times for 107 yards and a touchdown, as well as Tamba Hali's two sacks on Donovan McNabb.
Meanwhile Miami would lose to San Diego, but lose much more, as quarterback Chad Henne would separate his non-throwing shoulder and get placed on injured reserve.
Since then the Chiefs have been hot, as they've won four straight to go from 0-3 to 4-3. Where at first, the thought was that Todd Haley was on the hot seat and the Chiefs were thinking "Suck For Luck," now Haley is a Coach of the Year candidate and Kansas City is thinking of their second consecutive AFC West title.
Meanwhile in Miami, Sparano's seat has only gotten hotter, and the cries of "Suck For Luck" have grown louder.
Let's take a look at why two teams who looked to be on the same track earlier this season are now going in different directions as they prepare to face one another on Sunday (1pm ET CBS).
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Here's a breakdown of Matt Cassel's first three games of the season, when the Chiefs went 0-3 and were outscored 109-27:
54 of 82 for 428 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. That's a cover your eyes bad quarterback rating of 65.5.
In contrast, Miami's starting quarterback at the time was Chad Henne. Miami also went 0-3, however they were only outscored 78-53. Henne's numbers from those first three games:
61 of 108 for 841 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions for a 82.4 quarterback rating.
While Henne's numbers weren't great, they did suggest some progress, and if after Week 3 you were to take a guess at who would get their initial win first, you'd bet heavily on Miami.
But then in Week 4, the Dolphins saw Chad Henne go down with a separated left shoulder. It was his non-throwing shoulder, but the injury was found severe enough that the Dolphins would place him on IR. Matt Moore would take over for Henne during their Week 4 contest against San Diego, and would remain the starter for the Dolphins after that.
Meanwhile for the Chiefs, Cassel would remain their starting quarterback and start getting it turned around. The turnaround started with their Week 3 loss to San Diego, but would continue in their next four games.
Here are Cassel's numbers in those four games:
73 of 120 for 939 yards, six touchdowns, four interceptions and a quarterback rating of 88.2.
Most importantly: the Chiefs went 4-0.
Now here's a look at Moore's stats during those four games:
68 of 115 for 706 yards one touchdown and four interceptions; a quarterback rating of 65.3.
The NFL is a quarterback-centric league now, and usually as your quarterback goes, you go. The two teams have flip-flopped as far as quarterback performance, but the Chiefs were able to capitalize on a decent effort from Cassel, while the Dolphins, who Moore has kept in all of their games save for the Jets game, have sputtered.
Running the Ball
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This is one position where it's a wash between the two teams, but when you look closer, you will see that while one team has been able to weather the storm that is having their star running back get knocked out for the season (Jamaal Charles), the other team has difficulties when their star running back is out (Daniel Thomas, who seems to miss every other week with a hamstring injury.
The Dolphins' best rushing performances came against Houston, Cleveland, the Jets and the Giants. Against Houston and Cleveland, Daniel Thomas rushed for 202 yards on 41 attempts, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.
However, since then, when Thomas has been healthy he's only rushed for 104 yards on 34 attempts, for an average of 2.9 yards per attempt.
Reggie Bush, on the other hand, has been hot and cold. He only had success in his two games in the Meadowlands, first going for 71 yards on 10 attempts against the Jets. Then two weeks later he tore apart the Giants' anemic rushing defense with 103 yards on 15 carries.
Miami's running game has been very inconsistent, where as with Kansas City, despite the loss of Jamal Charles, they have continued to pound the ball well with regularity.
When things were going bad for KC, they still managed to rush for 340 yards on 69 attempts for an average of 4.9 yards per carry.
On this 4-0 run the Chiefs have gone on since starting off 0-3, Kansas City has rushed for 530 yards on 132 carries for an average of about four yards per carry.
Most important though, comes in rushing touchdowns. Miami has four and Kansas City has three.
However, while both teams have done well with their ground game, Kansas City's has been more consistent.
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The current defensive rankings would suggest that these two teams are almost even defensively. But in the words of Lee Corso, not so fast my friend.
Remember that Kansas City's defensive numbers are skewed by their first two games against Buffalo and Detroit. Remember, the Chiefs were outscored 89-10 and gave up a combined 775 yards in both of those contests.
Since then, the Chiefs have buckled down, giving up a combined 1840 yards in their following five games and also allowing only 81 points. Average it out, that's 368 yards per game allowed, along with allowing only 16.2 points per game.
Now let's look at Miami, who thus far in the season have allowed a total of 2664 yards and 166 points. Average it out, and Miami is allowing 380.6 yards and 23.7 points per game.
But the main beef with the defense has been closing the game out. The Dolphins have led going into the fourth quarter three times, only to see that lead slip away each time.
Kansas City hasn't had a team come from behind to beat them all season. That's the difference between the two defenses. The closest to that was on Monday night, when the Chargers scored the tying touchdown. But the Chiefs were able to answer in overtime with a game-winning field goal, which is why they stand at 4-3 and first place in the AFC West.
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The atmosphere surrounding the two teams couldn't be any more different. It's almost as if one team had Earth's atmosphere while the other team had Pandora's. Odds are, if you're used to one atmosphere, you can't cope with the other's.
With the Chiefs, they've done a tremendous job of holding themselves together through adversity. Losing Jamaal Charles is usually enough to wreck a season, but Kansas City has held strong. Because of this, Todd Haley should be considered a Coach of The Year candidate at midseason, even though it's likely that either Jim Schwartz or Jim Harbaugh will take the award home when all is said and done.
On the opposite side you have the Dolphins, where everything is being held together by scotch tape. You have the very definition of a lame duck coach in Sparano, along with a front office whom the fans take about as seriously as John Laurinaitis and Teddy Long. (WWE reference, sorry Miami is being swept by Wrestlemania fever, as tickets for the event will go on sale on Saturday. By the way, who's willing to bet me that The Undertaker will have more wins at Sun Life Stadium this year than the Miami Dolphins?)
With a coach who's safer in his job (even though it didn't look that way at the beginning of the season for Haley) and a front office that's trusted by both players and fans, it's no wonder that Kansas City's atmosphere is much less toxic than Miami's. This usually allows things to get done.
Things like winning football games.
Strength of Schedule
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Really, everything I just wrote in this slideshow can be boiled down to one thing.
The Chiefs have had a much easier schedule.
Their first two games of the season were against bona fide playoff-bound teams. Combined record: 11-4.
But then in their next five games, where they went 4-1, their opponents combined record was 10-20 (I'm only counting San Diego once).
On top of that, it's possible that none of Kansas City's last four opponents (again, only counting the Chargers once, since they played twice) will make the playoffs, and two of them are definitely out of it.
Then there's the Oakland game where the Chiefs pitched a shutout. Oakland had lost their quarterback Jason Campbell the week before, and it was their first game with Carson Palmer under center. This was Palmer's fifth day with the Raiders, and while he didn't even start the game, he finished it. Kyle Boller started the game and was his usual terrible self.
Now let's look at the Dolphins.
In their first two games they took on two possible division winners who right now have a combined record of 10-5.
Since then, they have faced the same Chargers that the Chiefs have, the Cleveland Browns, New York Jets, New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
Only the Browns and Broncos are under .500 right now.
The combined record of Miami's last five opponents is 18-17.
Kansas City was able to build momentum beating up on a weaker slate of teams, momentum that came to a crest Monday night against the Chargers.
The question is, will the Chiefs have a let-down on Sunday afternoon?
With everything the Chiefs have gone through, I'm going to go with no.
But just remember, these two teams aren't far apart, and this game will be Miami's most likely victory of the season.
Until they blow it in the fourth quarter and we're saying that about next week's game against Washington, that is.
Thomas Galicia is a Miami Dolphins Featured Columnist who also writes about other goings-on in the NFL. Follow him on Twitter, @thomasgalicia, and follow him on Facebook as well. Be sure to check out his archives at www.thomasgalicia.com.