For Pete's Sake

The Chiefs are hoping to avoid joining this ignominious NFL list

Arizona Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole made a game-winning catch with no time on the clock as Minnesota’s Brian Russell defended on Dec. 28, 2003. This touchdown knocked the Vikings from the playoffs after they started the season with a 6-0 record.
Arizona Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole made a game-winning catch with no time on the clock as Minnesota’s Brian Russell defended on Dec. 28, 2003. This touchdown knocked the Vikings from the playoffs after they started the season with a 6-0 record. The Associated Press

Five straight wins to a season usually means a team is well positioned to make the playoffs. Usually.

With a 5-0 start to the season, the Chiefs seemed ready to run away with the AFC West title. However, heading into their game Sunday against the Jets, the Chiefs’ division lead is down to one game over the Chargers and Raiders.

Since the NFL went to its current playoff format in 2002, five teams have opened a season with a 5-0 record or better and missed the playoffs. This is one list the Chiefs are hoping to avoid. Here are those five teams and what happened:

2016 Vikings

The Vikings were coming off an 11-5 season and a heart-breaking playoff loss (sound familiar?), so expectations were high. However, Teddy Bridgewater was injured before the season, and that tamped down Minnesota’s forecast. However, the Vikings won their first five games and the future looked bright.

But the Vikings lost eight of their next 10, including four games by six points or less, and needed a season-ending win over the hapless Bears to finish at .500.

That 8-8 record was good for third place in the NFC North.

2015 Falcons

A season before they blew a 28-3 lead in Super Bowl LI, the Falcons blew a chance to make the playoffs after starting the season with a 5-0 record. After improving to 6-1 following a 10-7 win at Tennessee, the Falcons were set to play three of four at home and appeared to be positioned well for a postseason berth.

Alas, Atlanta lost 23-20 in overtime to Tampa Bay, fell 17-16 at San Francisco, had a bye week and then were beaten 24-21 by the Colts. The losing streak eventually reached six games, capped by a 38-0 defeat at Carolina.

Quarterback Matt Ryan had 12 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions over the Falcons’ final 10 games, while running back Devonta Freeman battled injuries and failed to reach 100 yards rushing in his final eight games. Atlanta finished 8-8.

2009 Broncos

By the end of October 2009, Josh McDaniels had peaked as a head coach.

Denver rattled off six straight wins to open the season and seemed like a lock to make the playoffs in McDaniels’ first season. Quarterback Kyle Orton threw nine touchdown passes and just one interception and had a quarterback rating of 100.1 over those half-dozen games. But Denver lost four straight, won two in a row and then ended the season with four more losses and missed the playoffs.

Orton’s numbers over the final 10 games: 12 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a quarterback rating of 79.4. Denver was crushed by the Chiefs at home in the season finale, falling 44-24, and ended with an 8-8 record, missing the playoffs by one victory.

2009 Giants

Outside of a hard-fought 33-31 win at Dallas, New York rolled to a 5-0 start with blowout victories over the Buccaneers (27-0) and Raiders (27-7). The Giants also led 27-3 over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in the fourth quarter before giving up two garbage-time touchdowns. New York had a plus-six turnover margin in those opening five games, but things went south after that.

The Giants had a minus-13 turnover margin in the final 11 games of the season and were blown out in their final two games — 41-9 at home to Carolina and 44-7 at Minnesota.

In their first five games, quarterback Eli Manning was sacked just twice and he had a 111.7 passer rating with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Manning’s final 11 games were a different story: 28 sacks, 17 TDs, 12 interceptions and an 86.4 passer rating.

New York finished with an 8-8 record and was third in the NFC East.

2003 Vikings

Minnesota couldn’t have asked for a better start to the 2009 season. The Vikings opened with six straight wins, including four by double digits and they beat all three NFC North opponents, including two on the road.

However, the defense allowed 450 or more yards in three straight losses, and the offense committed six turnovers in a loss at Oakland as the Vikings’ record dropped to 6-4. After a win over Detroit, the Vikings were crushed 48-17 by the Rams.

Minnesota won two of the next three games and seemed to have the North sewn up as it took a big lead at Arizona. However, Cardinals quarterback Josh McCown — who is now with the Jets and will face the Chiefs on Sunday — threw a pair of touchdown passes in the last 1:54 of the game, including one on the final play as Arizona stunned Minnesota 18-17.

The Vikings ended with a 9-7 record and out of the postseason, punctuated by Minnesota announcer Paul Allens’s crestfallen call of “Nooooo! Nooooo! The Cardinals have knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs!”

This was the most brutal finish for any of the teams on this list.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid commented on the team’s 16-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Arrowhead, the team’s fifth loss in six games.

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff

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