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On Pro Football: Will Defense Doom the Chiefs in the Playoffs?

[Read our predictions for the divisional round.]

The Chiefs’ defense finished last or second-to-last in passing yards (4,374), total yards (6,488) and yards per rush (5.0). The Chiefs gave up the most first downs ever, with 419. And though they ranked 24th in points ceded, with 421, only three other teams since 1990, when the playoffs expanded to include six teams from each conference, gave up that many and still advanced to the postseason.

According to Pro Football Reference, only 13 of the other 173 teams to reach the playoffs since 1990 have fared worse than the Chiefs in at least one of those statistical categories, including Green’s group from the 2003 season, which allowed 5.2 yards per carry. Aside from Kansas City, the only others to earn a No. 1 seed were Green Bay and New England in 2011, and neither won the Super Bowl. In fact, only one of the 13 — excluding the 2018 Rams, who allowed the most yards per rush this season — won a championship: the 2006 Colts, whose strong pass defense offset their generosity against the run.

Plus, they had that Manning guy.

The Chiefs have a guy, too — Patrick Mahomes — and that’s a pretty strong counterargument. But it’s not an impenetrable one, as losses to the Chargers (Kansas City led by 14 with less than nine minutes left) and the Seahawks (Seattle ran for 210 yards) proved.

It’s difficult identifying a historical analogue to the 2018 Chiefs, a team of such extremes. The closest might be the 2011 Packers, whose leading receiver, Greg Jennings, recognized the similarities at once. Like the Chiefs, Green Bay created a load of turnovers — a league-high 38 — while also scoring the most points. The Packers also gave up more passing yards and total yards than Kansas City did this season.

“The defense recognized it more than even we did as an offense,” Jennings, now an analyst for Fox, said of the imbalance. “What needed to be done was what we did. We recognized it and we had to make up for it.”

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