KANSAS CITY, Mo. — History suggests the Kansas City Chiefs are more likely to win the Super Bowl than miss the playoffs if their third-down dominance continues on offense.
Roughly one-third of the way through the 2021 season, the Chiefs’ third-down efficiency is unprecedented in NFL history.
Kansas City has converted 60.3% of its third downs through the first six weeks of the season, earning a first down on 41 of 63 chances.
“I think it’s just executing the game plan,” said Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. “I think the coaches do a great job of kind of telling us what to expect on third downs, and I think, at the end of the day, guys get open.”
The Buffalo Bills rank a distant second at 50%, converting 41 of 82 third downs this season.
No team in the last 30 seasons has converted more than 56.7% on third down — the New Orleans Saints in 2011 — and only nine teams have finished a season with a third-down conversion rate above 50%.
Why is third down so important? Well, the NFL leader in third-down percentage has made the playoffs in 27 of the last 30 seasons, winning an average of 11.5 games per year.
Only the Saints, who led the league in third-down efficiency but also went 7-9 each season from 2014-16, failed to make the postseason.
No other teams since 1991 have led the NFL in third-down conversion percentage and finished with a losing record.
Five teams — the 2019 Chiefs, 2006 Colts, 1999 Rams, 1994 49ers and 1991 Washington Football Team — won the Super Bowl, while the 2009 Colts and 2001 Rams reached the Super Bowl but lost.
Seven other teams lost in their respective Conference Championships Games, while nine lost in the Divisional Round and four lost in the Wild Card Round.
Of course, it’s not just third down. The Chiefs’ success on earlier downs, which keeps the offense in third-and-manageable situations has aided that third-down dominance.
“Whether it’s the first- or second-down calls, the guys making plays on those downs — that always helps,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. “Normally, your percentage will go up, and I think the coaches have done a nice job of that. (Quarterbacks coach) Mike Kafka and EB (offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy), these guys work on that like crazy. So, I think they’ve done a nice job there, too.”
Still, third down is the money down in the NFL — and nobody’s ever done it better than Kansas City has so far in 2021, which simply needs to avoid turnovers to nudge back toward the top of the AFC postseason race.
It would also help if the defense continued to perform as well as it did last week against the Washington Football Team, but Kansas City faces a tough test against “one of the best running backs of all-time” Sunday against Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans.
Here’s the tale of the tape for Sunday’s game.
Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) at Tennessee Titans (4-2)
Series record (last meeting): Chiefs lead 30-24 (Jan. 19, 2020 — Chiefs, 35-24 in AFC Championship Game)
When (TV/radio): 12 p.m. (CBS/WDAF-106.5 FM)
TV commentators: Ian Eagle, Charles Davis and Evan Washburn
Spanish-language radio: KPRS-103.3 HD2