Maybe you’ve been overweight.
Maybe you’ve had some pudge around the sides you’ve wanted to get rid of. Maybe you started a diet. Started exercising. Maybe you saw those pounds come off, slowly, and maybe you eventually realized your goal.
Then, maybe you realized the hard part was just about to begin — keeping that weight off.
Now, maybe you can understand where the Chiefs stand going into 2014, a year after going from 2-14 to 11-5 and in the playoffs.
There aren’t a lot of honest analogies to be made between an NFL team and the life of, say, a city bus driver. But this is an exception. Consider the numbers.
Research has shown that only about 20 percent of overweight people succeed in losing weight and keeping it off. Since 1990, only about 29 percent of NFL teams have done what could be described as the equivalent: a losing season one year (overweight), a jump of at least five wins and the playoffs the next year (weight loss), and a return to the playoffs the third year (keeping it off).
This is the Chiefs’ challenge, and it’s not a coincidence that when coach Andy Reid is asked about the NFL trend of teams falling back the year after making a big jump into the playoffs, he sounds a little like a man talking about weight loss — eat right and exercise.
“Good players and good coaches working hard,” Reid says. “That normally works.”
This is one of those truths that is both unassailable and much easier said than done. There is a large sample of NFL history to prove it.
The Chiefs have their own experience with this. Back in 2009, they went 4-12, then 10-6 and a division title in 2010, then no playoffs for the next two years. Those were the Scott Pioli years, of course, so you can think of specific failures of those seasons. Weak quarterback. Way too much interoffice drama. Romeo Crennel.
But that experience fits the pattern.
Just in recent years, the Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5 and in the playoffs in 2009. They haven’t been back since. Washington was 5-11 in 2011, then 10-6 and a division champion in 2012, then 3-13 last year. The Vikings went 3-13, 10-6 and 5-10-1 the last three years.
All together, of the 42 teams to follow a losing season with a jump of five wins or more into the playoffs, only 10 made it back to the postseason. Compare that to the roughly 50 percent turnover rate for all playoff teams.
There is any number of theories for why this is, from the practical (harder schedules after good seasons) to the intangible (it’s human nature to let up after success). Everything about the NFL structure — from schedules to salary caps to contracts — is designed in a way that helps pull bad teams up and push good teams down.
Reid has some experience here that fits his job with the Chiefs this year. The Eagles went 5-11 in Reid’s first year, then 11-5 and into five consecutive postseasons after that.
There is no way to know for sure, of course. Any single theory could be argued against with certainty and passion. But if you want to be optimistic, there are some similarities between those Eagles teams and this Chiefs team beyond the head coach.
The Eagles found their quarterback by drafting Donovan McNabb second overall in 1999, and the Chiefs think they’ve found theirs by trading for (and then signing) Alex Smith. Those Eagles teams didn’t have a standout receiver until Terrell Owens. And like those teams, these Chiefs figure to design a lot of their passing game through the tight ends. Those Eagles ran a high-pressure defense with an aggressive coordinator and big production from pass rushers.
Sounds a lot like the Chiefs, right?
Generally speaking, the teams that make the big jump into the playoffs and stay there consistently are the ones that do it without shortcuts. These are the teams that do it with solid foundations instead of the football equivalent of crash diets. Generally speaking, these are teams with respected coaches and thoughtful front offices.
Among the teams to keep the weight off are Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers, Lovie Smith’s Bears, Bill Cowher’s Steelers and Tom Coughlin’s Giants.
That’s the kind of company Chiefs owner Clark Hunt has always aspired to keep, the consistency he’s wanted to have even through a tumultuous past five years or so. Reid and the encore to last season’s playoff run represent the franchise’s best chance in years of achieving it.
History shows the odds are against the Chiefs this year. But their coach has the kind of credibility to make it interesting.
“I’m not here to predict any future or anything else,” Reid says. “The guys have worked their tails off and we’ve got good quality players. Now we need to just go play and that’s the part I get excited about. They’ve worked so stinking hard, now let’s go play and whatever happens, happens.”