Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: The dumb streak that’s about to end, a dumber ranking of Chiefs teams, and Royals money

Chiefs running back Charcandrick West runs against the Broncos during their No. 15 game in Denver, a 29-13 win for KC. Sam Mellinger on which is the best team in the AFC now? “The Patriots are first, the Steelers are rolling, and then it's either the Chiefs or Broncos.”
Chiefs running back Charcandrick West runs against the Broncos during their No. 15 game in Denver, a 29-13 win for KC. Sam Mellinger on which is the best team in the AFC now? “The Patriots are first, the Steelers are rolling, and then it's either the Chiefs or Broncos.” deulitt@kcstar.com

The expansion Kansas City Royals came on quick, quicker than any expansion team had before. They won 85 games, and finished in second place (though 16 games out) in their third season, in 1971, which is when a Chiefs team two years removed from a Super Bowl title made one last push into the playoffs.

The Chiefs lost one of the great games in NFL history, on Christmas Day in overtime, and an aging roster started to fade — from 10 wins to eight, then to seven, then to five, and Hank Stram was done in 1974.

By then, the Royals were growing into one of the best teams in baseball. George Brett played his rookie season in 1974, and two years later was the best player on the Royals’ first playoff team. They won the American League West four times in five years while the football team across the parking lot continued to dip.

The Chiefs made a surprise playoff appearance in 1986, the year after the Royals’ first World Series championship, but did not become a regular winner until Carl Peterson and Marty Schottenheimer and Derrick Thomas. The Chiefs made the playoffs seven times between 1990 and 1997, and no NFL team won more games in the decade.

By then, of course, the Royals had disintegrated. They collapsed, the victims of a cruel conspiracy of beloved founder Ewing Kauffman’s death, the changing economics of the sport after the 1994 strike and some astonishingly bad management.

For decades, living in Kansas City has meant understanding that the two biggest professional sports teams in town aren’t ever going to be good at the same time. Something about the cosmic energy, maybe. They’ve come close, sort of.

The 1985 World Series title was a year early from matching with the Chiefs’ only playoff appearance between Hank Stram and Marty. The Royals’ Great Fluke of 2003 was about a month short of lining up with Dick Vermeil’s all points, no defense team that year.

The last two years have been particularly close. Nobody thought about it in these terms at the time, because we were all just trying to wrap our heads around a legitimately good Royals baseball team, but the 2013 bunch won 86 games and stayed in the playoff race until the final days. That fall’s Chiefs team won 11 games and made the playoffs and it’s probably best we all pretend that’s where that season ended.

The next year, 2014, the Royals went all the way to the seventh game of the World Series and the Chiefs were not eliminated from the playoffs until the last game.

This year, finally, one of the bizarre coincidences in major American sports should end. There are technicalities here, because of course both teams have played playoff games in the same calendar year, just not from the same calendar seasons. It just makes sense that it will take a Chiefs team coming back from a 1-5 start to do it, because it’s Kansas City.

This week’s eating recommendation is whatever the daily special is at YJ’s Snack Bar, and the reading recommendation is Ken Rosenthal on how Zack Greinke’s enormous contract came together in less than six hours.

As always, thanks for the help, and thanks for reading.

The AFC playoff picture is a jumbled mess, with pretty much everyone after the Patriots having reason to worry and varying degrees of reason for hope.

All things considered, you have to be very happy with where the Chiefs are. The schedule is soft, and they have the tiebreaker over, I believe, every team that is a realistic contender for the wild card. Unless you count the Bengals.

The Chiefs are flawed — more on this in a minute — like every team, but they keep winning, and at the very least their defense — Justin Houston should be back for the playoffs — and general refusal to turn the ball over would make them a tough out.

This is very unlikely, even with Brock Osweiler apparently turning into a pumpkin (one touchdown in seven quarters?), but the Chiefs have a shot-ish at the AFC West. The Broncos go to Pittsburgh this weekend, then face the Bengals and Chargers at home. If they lose two of those — again, unlikely, but still — the Chiefs could win out and take the division based on their better division record.

That would put them in line for the three seed in the playoffs, and good luck figuring out who would be the six, but that game would be at home.

OK, so more realistically, the Chiefs win the first wild card. That would, presumably, put them against the winner of the garbage AFC South. Maybe that’s Indianapolis, like you say, and maybe Andrew Luck will be healthy and you will start to get the shakes from past nightmares, but the Colts stink right now. I mean, they are terrible. If it’s not the Colts, it’s the bad Texans, who’ve lost two in a row and are quarterbacked by Brian Hoyer, at least when he’s healthy, and if it’s not them, it would be the Jaguars, who, really, might actually be the best of the three teams which is probably all you need to know.

So, honestly, wouldn’t you feel pretty good about any of that?

(Yes, we all know this will all look drastically different in three weeks, and there’s a decent chance that in three weeks the Minutes will have some sort of reference to, “Hey, remember three weeks ago when we thought we had it all figured out?” But, whatever. If you’re going to pick nits like that, kindly go back to work and let this time suck continue on without you. All due respect.)

Third?

The Patriots are first, the Steelers are rolling, and then it’s either the Chiefs or Broncos. Blair made a good point on the podcast — if you take the two games in aggregate, the Chiefs bombed the Broncos in Denver, and should’ve gone to overtime, at least, in Kansas City. The wild card, obviously, is Osweiler. If he’s good, the Broncos are probably better. If he’s not, the Chiefs are probably better.

The Chiefs are probably better.

Two qualifiers. First, this Chiefs team is impossible to figure out. Even in this win streak, they generally haven’t faced the kind of competition they’ll see in the playoffs, and certainly haven’t faced the kind of competition they saw in the early part of the schedule. Also, I’m assuming you mean the teams that have lost since the last playoff win which, woof, will celebrate its 22nd birthday next month.

In reverse order:

8. 2006. This is fairly obvious, I think. They went 9-7, and needed the equivalent of a Powerball hit to make the playoffs on the last day.

7. 2010. This team may suffer from hindsight, because they did win the division, and had some good players, but Matt Cassel was the quarterback.

6. 1995 GREAT defense ... and Steve Bono at quarterback. And that other guy at kicker.

5. 2003. But, no punts.

4. 2013. You probably think this is too high, but just wait, you’ll have better reason to call me an idiot here in a minute. They were 11-5, could’ve won 12 games if they didn’t rest everyone in the last week of the season (still almost won) and had that playoff game effing won and, well, let’s just move on.

3. 1994. This is the one you’re going to call me an idiot over, which is fine, and maybe this is my childhood coming through, but it was largely the same team from the year before, and when Montana played, they were tough to beat.

2. 2015. My goodness. This might be way too high. It is almost certainly too high. What did I just do? Are those DVOA numbers in my head too much? Guys, I really don’t know if I believe this. Please don’t hold me to this. I need to think about what I’ve just done.

1. 1997. Did you know this team led the league in fewest points allowed, and was fifth in points scored?

Move on? Move on.

Well, I did just rank them as the second best team since 1993, which I’m almost certainly going to regret here soon, but whatever.

Here’s the thing: they are flawed. For sure. The offensive line is bad, particularly in pass protection, their best playmaker on offense is hurt, their star tight end is hard to figure out sometimes, and the quarterback is playing well but remains limited.

But by the Chiefs’ good fortune, they play in the NFL, where all teams are flawed, at least all teams since the 1985 Bears, which means there isn’t a game they would play before the Super Bowl that you would look at as unwinnable and, yes, I’m including the Patriots here. The Chiefs would be a deserved big underdog in that game, but the Patriots have some injuries, and crazier things have happened.

Can we pause for a moment and recognize that this is part of the NFL’s evil genius? There are like three really good teams, three really bad teams, and everyone else in the middle. And even the teams in the middle can beat the teams at the top on the right day. I am now talking about a team that lost five games in a row as a threat to advance in the playoffs and I don’t think I am crazy.

Anything from missing the playoffs to winning in the postseason for the first time in 22 years is an absolute possibility, and we all better tune in to that valuable TV programming on Sundays to find out!

Alex Gordon will finish out his career in a different city. When his new team plays in Kansas City, the people here will cheer him wildly, and he’ll wave, and he will get emotional and say nice things about the Royals, and then three years after he retires he will come back to be inducted into the team Hall of Fame. Might even have his number retired.

Your question is about what they can do to keep him. They could match the biggest contract he is offered. They will almost certainly not do that.

I believe they make around $20 million a year from their horrendous TV contract. The current trend is for teams to receive upwards of $100 million, plus ownership in the carriers, and a share in advertising revenue. The Royals play in one of baseball’s smallest markets, so their deal should be on the small side, but they are also delivering record ratings and have ignited enormous interest locally and regionally.

There is no telling where the TV industry will be in four years, or even two when negotiations are likely to start. But right now, conservatively, the Royals are taking in $40 million less than market value, and the real answer may be double that.

Love this question. We are a bunch of monkeys, aren’t we? Narrative is a thing, sort of shorthand for storyline, or “what a lot of people say,” or “I’m smarter than the idiots who say this other thing,” and like so much else in sports consumption, it was born from a good place but quickly got mangled and misused and overused until nobody really knows what it means anymore.

Hot take is like this, too.

Speaking of which...

I’m not even sure where to begin. This is ill-informed, pandering, misguided, condescending, arrogant, hypocritical, counter to what we should be teaching college kids, and an unnecessary hurdle and challenge for Missouri sports programs which will be recruiting kids against colleges from other states.

I can’t believe this is a serious thing. Kurt Bahr, a state representative, is quoted in the story saying “This discussion needs to be had,” and if that’s all this is — grandstanding — then, fine, I guess.

I’m not sure Bahr or Rick Brattin, a state representative from Harrisonville who filed the legislation, has thought this all the way through. I hope I’m wrong about that, but they’re talking about this being “an issue of contract law,” which gets into a much bigger debate than I believe either of them are positioned to have about what a student-athlete is and whether the labor in a billion dollar industry should be paid in actual dollars.

If I was a lawyer or one of the many people interested in unionizing college athletes or allowing them to earn their market value, I would be cheering the introduction of this ridiculous legislation, because these guys are making my case for me.

Other than all of that, sure, sweet idea fellas.

A year ago, I would’ve made the case that Frank Haith did the program no favors, but that excuse has expired. I don’t buy the SEC thing, it’s not like that’s a difficult league, though maybe you can make a case that the loss of rivalries has created a general diminished interest in the program, but, c’mon. This is about winning.

I like Kim Anderson. Want him to succeed. But this is on him. I do believe some are speaking in too certain and grand of terms on this. We all knew Anderson’s job was more about the long-term than the short-term, but it’s on him to fix it. I hope he does.

This Star Wars obsession has made me feel more disconnected to the world than anything I can remember off the top of my head.

I liked the movies. At least a couple of them. Had the hots for Princess Leia like any other little boy back in the day, but jeez. I am not making fun, or dismissing, or anything else. Do your thing, people.

See, some of us have Star Wars, and some of us choose to make a mess of our lives over sports. Let’s not judge.

You guys, I have to say, the fact that...

...two of you made this joke here makes me as proud as anything since my son decided that farts are funny.

I thought last year’s was good, not great. Had a sort of weird aftertaste, if I remember correctly. But it was good. I liked it. But there’s too much beer out there to wait in line for anything, well, anything other than Saison-Brett.

Besides, I’m taking the morning off to go to the airport with my son. I have big hopes that planes and helicopters will be taking off and landing, and he’ll have this big-eyed expression, point, and say Dah!? like a thousand times. Then we’ll go eat tacos.

It’ll be great.

The Star's Vahe Gregorian, Terez A. Paylor, Sam Mellinger and Blair Kerkhoff dissect the Chiefs' 10-3 home win over the San Diego Chargers on Dec.13.

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