The Kansas City Chiefs are the latest challengers for the Green Bay Packers
The slumping Kansas City Chiefs host the unbeaten Green Bay Packers Sunday afternoon. Many are expecting a blood bath, but should they be?
First of all, Arrowhead Stadium is traditionally a difficult place to play. However, this season, the Chiefs are just 2-4 at home, and there's no doubt the Packers come in with many of the miscellaneous advantages: coaching, motivation (Green Bay can lock up the league's best record), momentum and confidence.
Green Bay is also top five in the league in turnover differential, fewest penalties and yards penalized. Kansas City is in the bottom half of the league in all three.
These are the reasons the Chiefs fired head coach Todd Haley this week and will be turning the reins over to Romeo Crennel for the remainder of this season. Last year, teams did that after playing the Packers (see Vikings and Cowboys within days and 49ers within weeks).
Crennel is not exactly accomplished, going just 24-40 in four years at the helm of the Cleveland Browns. However, one of his 24 wins did come at the expense of Mike McCarthy's Packers; he knows defense and coaching changes can motivate a team.
His first move was to make Kyle Orton his starting quarterback. Orton has an injured right index finger but is expected to go. If not, rookie Kyle Stanzi will get his first career start, as Tyler Palko was demoted to No. 3 on the depth chart.
All of the following matchups consider the players expected to play in the game; the season-to-date only helps assess their value...
This is why listing statistics by yards is not credible. The things that matter are points, passing efficiency and yards per carry on offense.
The chief passing statistic to determine efficiency in the passing game is passer rating, and Rodgers is 16 percent better than No. 2 Tom Brady. That's more than the gap between Brady and No. 9-rated passer Alex Smith.
Of course, passer rating is not without its flaws.
Namely, it does not take into account what a quarterback does on the ground nor things that affect a play's importance—i.e. a 26-yard pass from one's own 40-yard line to end a 42-13 blowout loss counts the same as a 4th-and-26, first-down conversion pass to set up the game-winning score.
So we can look at the total QB rating ESPN designed to correct these issues. There, Rodgers has an 87 rating, Drew Brees is second at 79.5 (a drop-off of almost 10 percent) and Brady third at 76.6.
If anything, this stat is tilted against Rodgers because his superior first-half play rarely puts him in clutch situations. Yet by either measure, the Packers passing game is significantly better than the next-best in the league. Rodgers also leads the league in yards per attempt and touchdowns.
Then again, the Packers will be without leading receiver Greg Jennings and are down two offensive linemen. The Chiefs have an above-average defense in both yards and opponent passer rating and can exploit these losses.
Look for Tamba Hali vs. either backup Derek Sherrod or Marshall Newhouse. All four starting Chiefs defensive backs have at least three picks. If Rodgers faces backside pressure without his go-to possession receiver, they could force a rare Packers turnover.
Ryan Grant had a big game last week.
It opened with a 47-yard touchdown run and continued with 38 more yards on the next nine carries. John Kuhn added another 46 yards on 10 carries, and the two looked like Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor.
But it was just the Raiders, the worst run defense in the league.
True, the Chiefs rank 26th in yards per game, but a lot of that is from teams trying to shorten the game late by running. They rank a respectable 15th in yards per carry.
The Packers are 27th in rushing yards, averaging under 100 yards per game and four per carry. While Grant is healthier than he has been, Packers' top rusher James Starks is not. Only eight teams average fewer yards per carry than Green Bay.
Kyle Orton is likely going to start for the Chiefs, and he has faced the Packers before this season. He was 22-for-32 (.688) with 273 yards (8.5 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns but had three picks (87.1 passer rating).
He was with a different offense, but the Chiefs may have better personnel for him to work with. Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston are solid receivers, and Dexter McCluster catches the ball well out of the backfield.
The Packers give up the second-most yards (288.7) through the air in the league, but top it in interceptions with 27 to 50 percent higher than the next best team. This is a big reason why Green Bay's pass defense is in the top quarter of the league for opponent passer rating at 76.8.
Look for the Packers' secondary to feast on the Chiefs once (and not until) they know they have to pass.
The official Kansas City Chiefs depth chart lists Thomas Jones as the top back, Dexter McCluster as the second and Jackie Battle as the third. Last year's stud Jamaal Charles barely contributed to their rotation before an injury ended his season.
This depth can wear at teams if the Chiefs can stick with the run long enough, and they're 13th in rushing yards. However, they average even fewer yards per carry than Green Bay.
Meanwhile, the Packers run defense allows the 12th-fewest yards per game specifically because teams can rarely stick with it for the entire four quarters.
Some of the team's disappointing 28th ranking at 4.8-yards per carry is because the Packers focus on defending the pass late, but the yards will come in the first half for Kansas City.
The Chiefs are a little stronger in the punting game, giving up fewer yards per return, getting almost one more per punt and doing about the same as the Packers on their own returns. This is to be expected given they use this aspect of the game more.
Meanwhile, Green Bay excels a bit more in the kicking game, be it returns, coverage or field goals. This also makes sense given the higher-scoring nature of its games.
However, neither team is exceptionally strong or weak in either aspect of the game.
With a win Sunday, Mike McCarthy would tie the franchise record with 13 wins in a season. The Packers would be one win behind the 2003-04 New England Patriots with a 20th consecutive victory. Home-field advantage would officially be clinched throughout the playoffs.
That's just too much placed on this game for Green Bay to not be ready and not win. But that does not mean the Chiefs will not be competitive, so the game should be close on the scoreboard, especially since the Packers will increase their substitutions down the stretch of games that are decided.