Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tigers are road weary, on to Stillwater

There is no shame in losing at Texas, which Missouri did last Saturday, 71-58. The Longhorns are a hot top-10 team rapidly climbing up the rankings. What’s frustrating is that this was a great opportunity to pick up a huge road win that would have bolstered Missouri’s NCAA Tournament resume. All this glory and opportunity was tantalizingly within reach throughout the game as Texas struggled at the free throw line, allowing Missouri to hang around.

In the end, the Tigers (17-4, 3-3 in Big 12 play through last Saturday) simply couldn’t keep Texas in check in the rebound department, and Missouri couldn’t muster even the tepid shooting performance that might have pulled off the upset for the Tigers.

Texas outrebounded Missouri 40-28, and it certainly seemed worse than that. Particularly early on, the Longhorns grabbed rebound after rebound, essentially playing shoot-till-you-make it en route to a 10-0 lead. Missouri stabilized, but they were already doomed to chase Texas and its 10-point lead all night.

The first-half injury to Laurence Bowers, likely a concussion, surely hurt Missouri’s rebounding chances, not to mention the offense. The Tigers made just 33.9 percent of their shots, including only 4 of 18 (22.2 percent) of their three-pointers. Justin Safford took the most shots, usually a sign of a struggling Missouri offense, and he made exactly one of 10.

You know it’s a bad night when Texas’ Dogus (pronounced “Doge”) Balbay, a player teams don’t bother guarding as though he’s the worst player on a 7th grade girls team, outscores Mizzou’s Marcus Denmon, an all-Big 12 candidate. Balbay does great things other than scoring, but he was averaging over 12 points per game less than Denmon. It’s tough to win at Texas that way.

Really, Missouri is finding it’s tough to win anywhere on the road in the Big 12. In Big 12 play, Missouri is 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the road heading into Wednesday’s game at Oklahoma State.

It’s worthwhile to compare Missouri’s road struggles under coach Mike Anderson to the rest of the conference. Here’s a look at Anderson’s home and road records since his arrival for the 2006-07 season, compared to the Big 12 totals both during his time at Missouri and for the league all-time:

Anderson: 25-10 (.714) at home, 13-20 (.394)

Big 12, since 06-07: Home Teams 281-142 (.664), Road Teams 142-281 (.336)

Big 12, all-time: Home Teams 918-465 (.664), Road Teams 465-918 (.336)

For starters, you can see Big 12 road teams only win one out of every three games. So, on average, Big 12 teams will only win two or three of their eight conference road games.

Also, the difference between Anderson’s home and road win percentages (.320) is almost the same as the difference between home and road win percentages for all Big 12 teams all-time (.328). So the difference between how often Missouri wins at home and on the road is about on par with the league average, actually a bit less pronounced.

Yes, it’s tough on the road, and Mizzou’s road struggles are clearly not unique. In the Big 12’s 14 completed seasons, only one team (2001-02 Kansas Jayhawks) has gone 8-0 in conference road games, while 20 teams have gone undefeated in home conference games.

That being said, Missouri will need to pick up a decent road win or two somewhere to earn a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taking the Fastest 40 Minutes on the road

The basic premise of this blog is pretty simple: it's hard to win on the road in the Big 12. That's an opinion, I guess, but the fact is the road team wins about one out of three games. The question, as I see Mizzou start 3-0 in home Big 12 games and 0-2 in road Big 12 games, is this: do Mike Anderson's Tiger teams struggle more, less, or about the same on the road as the league average?

In short, Anderson's teams are better than league average on the road, but the difference between his home and road win percentages is slightly greater than the difference between the whole league's home and road win percentages.

First, some background on how much home teams dominate Big 12 play. I'll have to compare the following numbers to other leagues later, but I have heard ESPN's Doug Gottlieb (who played in the Big 12) say it's tougher to play on the road in the Big 12 with its fairly frenetic crowds than the Big East, with its urban commuter campuses and less-than-capacity crowds. Here's a look at the home-road breakdown:

1,377 Big 12 games (through Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011)
Home teams: 913-464 (.663)
Road teams: 464-913 (.337)

There's more. Out of all Big 12 teams ever, only 16 have gone 6-2 or better (out of 168 all-time road schedules). Five have gone 7-1 (four of which were Kansas). Only one went 8-0 on the road, the 2001-02 Kansas Jayhawks, the only team to go 16-0 in Big 12 play. In contrast, 20 teams have gone 8-0 at home.

Now, for Anderson. Now in his fifth year at Mizzou, Coach is 25-10 (.714) at home and 13-21 (.382) on the road through today. Here's a look at how Anderson compares to the Big 12 averages for both his time at Mizzou and the entire history of the league. (home/road/difference)

Anderson/Mizzou: .714/.382/.332
Big 12, 06-07--now: .662/.338/.324
Big 12, all-time: .663/.337/.326

So slice it either way: Anderson gets more of a win percentage boost from playing at home, or his overall win percentage is hurt more by playing on the road. But, you'll note the home/road win percentage differences are within one percent of each other.

And one could see how the primary disadvantage of playing on the road (not getting as many calls from refs) could be a little extra challenging for Anderson's teams, who of course strive to play at the edge of mayhem on defense.

So, when Anderson and the Tigers go on the road, they have about half as good a chance of winning as at Mizzou Arena, overall... Which is just about what it is for the Big 12 as a whole.

The good news? Mizzou has tied for the third-best road record in the Big 12 each of the last two years. Plus the Tigers are usually a threat to run the table at home these days, and joining the above list, those who went 6-2 or better, means a special season. We'll see if MU can get started on shoring up the road record down at Texas Saturday night, where they won in dramatic fashion two years ago.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mizzou takes momentum into tough four-game stretch

Last Saturday night was quite a scene a Mizzou Arena, a scene that has not been especially common during the arena’s seven-year history, but one that appears to be becoming more frequent.

Before another sellout crowd, with all of the remaining home games at or near sellout status, Missouri (17-3, 3-2 in Big 12 play) overwhelmed Iowa State, 87-54. The crowd was loud and involved. The Tiger defense, which has struggled in spots, held the Cyclones to 27.1 percent shooting, and a subterranean 18.2 percent (4 of 22) on three-pointers. Missouri even dominated the glass, outrebounding Iowa State 55 to 35.

Iowa State is clearly a rebuilding program in the first year under coach Fred Hoiberg. The Cyclones have several good players coming for next year, but for now they lack depth. Iowa State had only eight players play for significant minutes, and only seven played more than 12 minutes. In contrast, Missouri had 10 players play over 12 minutes.

Even still, Iowa State came into the game at 14-5, and the Cyclones had played very competitive basketball. Their biggest margin of defeat had been by nine in overtime at Oklahoma State. They only lost to Kansas by five. Missouri rolled to it fourth-biggest margin of victory ever against the Cyclones.

The good feelings and momentum from the big win perhaps couldn’t have come at a better time for the Tigers, who now enter arguably the toughest four-game stretch of their conference schedule. The Tigers play at Texas on Saturday, then at Oklahoma State, Colorado at home and at Kansas. After a 1-2 start to Big 12 play, the Tigers have won two straight home games. But this upcoming four-game stretch includes three road games, two of which are at the top two teams in the Big 12 standings, Texas and Kansas. Here’s a quick look at these four games:

At Texas, 8 p.m. Saturday (ESPNU): Missouri has won three straight over Texas, although the Big 12-leading Longhorns are hot right now, winning at Kansas last Saturday, snapping the Jayhawks’ 69-game home winning streak.

At Oklahoma State, 8 p.m. Feb. 2 (ESPN2): Missouri is 2-0 under coach Mike Anderson at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys are in the middle of the Big 12 pack, and their ancient Gallagher-Iba Arena can be a daunting place to play.

Home vs. Colorado, 6:30 p.m. Feb. 5: Missouri will have a chance for some revenge on the Buffaloes for the loss in Boulder. Colorado will have Missouri’s full attention this time.

At Kansas, 8 p.m. Feb. 7 (ESPN): Big Monday. The rivalry game. At historic Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas is 113-8 in Big 12 games through last Saturday. Missouri hasn’t won there since 1999, Norm Stewart’s last year coaching the Tigers. Kansas has another great team, but even the possibility of winning there will have Tiger fans excited.

But first, the big game at Texas. The Longhorns defeated Texas A&M and Kansas last week, about as outstanding a week as one can have in the Big 12. But Missouri has a good recent history against the Longhorns, and Texas’ 15 turnovers against Kansas should get the Tigers’ attention. If Missouri can win the turnover battle and get 10 or more three-pointers, the upset could happen, launching Mizzou back into the Big 12 title race.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Tigers get back on track

Over three days, Missouri played two games with divergent results that still showed one thing: this Tiger team appears to be ready to compete in the big matchups in the coming months. One game was Saturday’s overtime loss at Texas A&M, a frustrating game that could’ve been won but instead slipped away. The other was Monday’s home win over Kansas State, a righting of the ship after a 1-2 start to conference play.

The bitter feelings after the A&M loss were in contrast to the satisfaction (relief?) after defeating Kansas State, but Mizzou’s performance in both games was another indicator that this could be a very good team.

Texas A&M was riding the longest single-season winning streak in school history, and the Aggies’ Reed Arena can be very challenging. Throw in that Missouri coach Mike Anderson is 0-4 against the Aggies and that A&M’s bruising half-court physicality is in some ways kryptonite to Mizzou’s up-tempo style, and it’s clear this was a tough matchup for the Tigers.

Missouri still jumped out to an early lead, fell behind, then rallied to take a lead late. The Tigers led by four with under a minute to play, but missed free throws and turnovers in crucial situations doomed the Tigers. Still, losing 91-89 in overtime at a hot top-15 school isn’t a disaster. Also, Ricardo Ratliffe was a force inside, with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Phil Pressey, working back to 100 percent after a hand injury, exploded for 16 points and made all four of his threes.

Even still, Mizzou was in a perilous spot, at 1-2 with an equally hungry 1-2 Kansas State team coming in just two days after the A&M game. The Tigers sprinted to a 15-point halftime lead. When Kansas State cut the lead to three, at 58-55, Missouri’s frantic pressure defense lived up to its reputation, forcing turnovers on six of the next seven Wildcat possessions, with the other possession being a missed Kansas State free throw on a one-and-one. That’s seven Kansas State possessions without a field goal attempt in the most crucial juncture of the game, which Missouri won 75-59.

Most every story has two sides, and it must be noted Kansas State is struggling to score right now, not counting games against woeful Texas Tech. The Wildcats really don’t seem to have many reliable ballhandlers beyond Pullen, and Missouri feasted on that. Even with the current issues Kansas State has, Missouri forcing 23 turnovers while limiting the Wildcats to 8 assists is an outstanding defensive performance.

And so No. 13 Missouri (16-3, 2-2 in Big 12 play) is now 0-2 on the road and 2-0 at home in conference play. In the early going, it appears about every Big 12 game will be tough, except the home gimmes with Oklahoma and Texas Tech. It’s tempting to say the 2-2 start may have already ended Missouri’s conference title hopes, especially with Kansas continuing to run roughshod over the entire conference, as they are prone to do.

But it’s still early, and the last few games have been encouraging for Tiger fans, even if the Texas A&M game slipped away.

Next Missouri hosts Iowa State at 8 p.m. on Saturday on ESPNU. First-year coach Fred Hoiberg has the Cyclones playing better than anyone expected, but Missouri's sizable talent advantage should lead to a Tiger win, especially in Mizzou Arena, where Missouri has won 17 of its last 19 Big 12 games.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Every Big 12 team's last conference title

I thought it would be interesting to look up each Big 12 school's last conference championship in football and basketball, since I'm quite obsessed with Mizzou winning a regular season conference title in either sport. Fortunately, it doesn't take too long to look up and verify such information. Here it is, with last outright title in parentheses if the school's most recent title was shared. I also noted whether the school's last conference title was actually a Big 12, Big Eight, Big Seven, Missouri Valley or Southwest Conference title.

Oklahoma 2010 Big 12
Texas 2009 Big 12
Kansas State 2003 Big 12
Colorado 2001 Big 12
Nebraska 1999 Big 12
Texas A&M 1998 Big 12
Baylor 1994 (1980) SWC
Texas Tech 1994 (1955) SWC
Oklahoma St. 1976 (1926) Big Eight
Missouri 1969 (1960*) Big Eight
Kansas 1968 (1930) Big Eight
Iowa State 1912 (never) MVC

Kansas: 2010
Texas: 2008 (1999) Big 12
Oklahoma: 2005 (1989) Big 12
Oklahoma St: 2004 Big 12
Iowa State: 2001 Big 12
Texas Tech: 1996 SWC
Missouri: 1994 Big Eight
Texas A&M: 1986 (1980) SWC
Kansas State: 1977 Big Eight
Colorado: 1969 Big Eight
Nebraska: 1950 (1916) Big Seven
Baylor: 1950 (1946) SWC

*- 1960, the year of the asterisk. MU won the title outright over Colorado with the forfeit win over Kansas. The last year MU won the football conference title outright on the field was 1945.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Colorado stuns Mizzou, two big games ahead

The temptation as Missouri began Big 12 play was to look at the Tigers’ first two games, at Colorado and home against Nebraska, and assume Missouri could ease into its conference schedule. Colorado entered last Saturday’s game with four losses (including setbacks at Harvard and San Francisco). Missouri won as many conference games last year (10) as the Buffs have the last three years. The Tigers had won eight straight against Colorado. I mean, it’s Colorado, right?

Wrong. This Colorado team is improved, led by Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, and provided a lesson for Missouri that all conference road games are treacherous. The Buffs kind of out-Missouri-ed Missouri, running up and down the court en route to a stunning 89-76 win over the then-No. 8 Tigers.

Colorado’s 10 turnovers were the fewest Missouri has forced all season. In recent meetings, Missouri has destroyed the Buffaloes with their athleticism and pressing style. On Saturday an avalanche of Colorado fast-break points forced Missouri to abandon the press and settle into a half-court zone defense. Naturally, given how this game went, Colorado buried a three in its second possession against the zone.

Colorado got 36 points from Burks to spring the upset. Maddeningly for Missouri fans, he is from Grandview, Mo.

Missouri (14-2, 0-1 in Big 12 play at week’s end) still has 15 games with which to have a fine conference season (the Tigers lost their conference opener on the road before the 2009 Elite Eight run), but a pair of telling games loom ahead after the Wednesday home game with Nebraska.

On Saturday, Missouri has its first big-time conference game of the year, at Texas A&M (noon on ESPN2). The Aggies are the one Big 12 team that Mike Anderson has not defeated in his time at Missouri (0-4). The Aggies (14-1, 1-0 Big 12) pummeled struggling Oklahoma on the road to open conference play and should be ranked in top 15 for the game with Missouri. They have won at least 24 games and made the NCAA Tournament second round in each of coach Mark Turgeon’s three years in College Station. Tiger fans should also be aware Turgeon played at Kansas.

This clash is followed by a Martin Luther King Day (Jan. 17) home game with Kansas State (4:30 p.m. on ESPN). The Wildcats battled through a difficult nonconference schedule and some off-court issues to a 12-4 record at week’s end. Like Missouri, Kansas State lost its conference opener on the road, albeit a more respectable defeat at Oklahoma State in the historic and rowdy Gallagher-Iba Arena. In a race to catch their object of mutual hatred, Kansas, the Tigers and Wildcats will both need this game extra badly after already dropping a league game.

Both of these games will be early indicators of what this team is capable of. One is a road game they need to steal after already dropping an away contest, the other is a stern test of Missouri’s ability to protect its home court advantage.

I thought heading into conference play that if Missouri could go 7-1 in home Big 12 games and 5-3 in road conference games, the resulting 12-4 record would mean a very good seed for the Tigers in the NCAA Tournament. After Saturday’s loss, getting to 5-3 on the road is a big mountain to climb with trips to Texas, Texas A&M, Gallagher-Iba (OSU) The Phog (Kansas), and the Octagon of Doom (Kansas State) yet to come.

But, only one game into Big 12 play, the Tigers can overcome last Saturday's loss to Colorado, starting with these two big games.

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Chiefs in the Playoffs

As many people already know, the Chiefs have lost six straight playoff games dating back to January 23, 1994, my seventh birthday. It’s been quite a run, as the Chiefs have won a lot of regular season games during this time and have had some very good teams. So often they have lost in crushing fashion. Of the six games, three were on the road and three were at home, including two losses as the No. 1 seed.

One thing to note: look at the quarterbacks. KC in the six games: Joe Montana (twice, nearing the end of his great career), Steve Bono, Elvis Grbac, Trent Green (twice). Opponents: Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Jim Harbaugh, John Elway, Peyton Manning (twice). So by and large, the Chiefs are going into battle against the all-time great quarterbacks. They’ll get Joe Flacco on Sunday, still pretty young but a very good quarterback.

And without further adieu, here is the Chiefs’ postseason experience since that long-ago playoff win in January 1994.

January 23, 1994: Buffalo 30, Kansas City 13

One Step Away

The Chiefs came into the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the AFC, 1993 champions of the West Division behind legendary quarterback Joe Montana. They won a thrilling 27-24 overtime game against the Steelers at Arrowhead Stadium.

In the Divisional round, on January 16, 1994, the Chiefs won 28-20 on the road against the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome. The Oilers team no longer exists. Nobody plays in the Astrodome. It was Albert Pujols’ 14th birthday (probably). The Chiefs were a strong team, would be one of the winningest teams of the 90s. Surely no one thought this would be the team’s last playoff win for nearly two decades (and counting).

In the AFC Championship game, Kansas City lost 30-13 by a tremendous Bills team that was winning its fourth straight AFC title game. The Chiefs only trailed 20-13 heading into the fourth quarter, but the Bills closed it out with 10 unanswered points. For Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer, “destiny’s orphan,” to borrow from Rick Reilly, it was his third loss in three AFC title games. More on Marty in a bit.

December 31, 1994: Miami 27, Kansas City 17

Montana's Last Stand

The Chiefs earned a Wild Card berth during the 1994 season, slipping in as the sixth and final seed in the AFC. They were tied at 17 at the half, but then things fell apart.

Miami scored 10 unanswered points in the third for a 27-17 lead. But the Chiefs had Montana, the King of the Comeback Drive, the man who pointed out John Candy in the stands before leading a Super-Bowl winning drive.

But on this day, he threw a pick at the goal line in the fourth quarter. Another aging legend, running back Marcus Allen, fumbled for Kansas City at the Miami 34 with 7:31 to play. There was no comeback. Montana did finish his final game with 314 passing yards and two touchdowns.

January 7, 1996: Indianapolis 10, Kansas City 7

Lin Elliott’s Ice Cold Nightmare

Schottenheimer is the NFL’s sixth-winningest coach, yet he is clearly known for his playoff failures. He is 200-126-1 in the regular season, but his 5-13 playoff record isn’t the elephant in the corner of the room, it is the room. I think his 200 wins will get him in the Hall of Fame some day, but because he never reached a Super Bowl, he’ll never be considered one of the NFL’s greatest coaches.

But he never had that franchise quarterback that almost all great coaches seem to have. It can’t be proven, but there’s a reasonable argument that Schottenheimer is a Brady away from being Belichick, an Otto Graham from being Paul Brown, a Roger Staubach from being Tom Landry. Or maybe not. But we’ll never know. He had two years of a fading Joe Montana and a parade of anonymous, middling-at-best quarterbacks. Still, Schottenheimer almost rode a ferocious defense, running game and his “Martyball” conservative style to the Super Bowl.

Schottenheimer’s 1995 Chiefs team was arguably his best. The stout defense was led by Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith and Dale Carter in their primes. The Arrowhead crowd was perhaps the loudest in the NFL, and the Chiefs went 8-0 at home. Kansas City won the division at 13-3 and earned home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They seemed invincible at home. This was the year.

The first round playoff game opponent was the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Jim Harbaugh, who coached Stanford in the Orange Bowl Monday night. It was a brutally cold game. I’ve found the temperature at kickoff listed anywhere from 0 to 14 degrees, and it surely dropped as the game progressed, given the 3 p.m. start. It had snowed a lot the day before. Wind chills were below zero. It was cold. If you’ve seen Arrowhead, you know what makes it so loud, the massive, steep three decks of seats, also keeps the stadium grass from getting any sun late in the season. The field was simply a frozen, shredded, torn up mess.

The Chiefs took an early 7-0 lead and things looked bright. Then, as the sun began to sink, things started to go awry. The Colts tied the game with a second-quarter touchdown. Kicker Lin Elliott missed a 35-yard field goal wide right. Elliott later said it “was like kicking off your garage floor.” The conditions were tough, but even worse Elliott began thinking of everything but actually kicking. He though about the torn up sod, how the cold made the ball rock-like, the weight of the moment and a hungry, almost desperate fan base.

At 7-7, the stage was set for a cataclysmic second half. In the third, Colts kicker Cary Blanchard thumped home a 30-yarder for a 10-7 Colts lead.

Elliott’s “Ice Cold Nightmare,” as an ESPN story would later call it, continued. He missed a 39-yarder to open the fourth quarter.

Meanwhile, Chiefs quarterback Steve Bono was simply horrendous. In the game, he completed 11 of 25 passes for 122 yards, one touchdown and three backbreaking interceptions. One pick set up the Colts’ go-ahead field goal.

Finally, with four minutes left, a desperate Schottenheimer put in backup Rich Gannon, who completed 5 of 8 passes for 30 yards in the biting cold to get the Chiefs in position for the tying field goal. Gannon converted three third downs on the drive, including a 14-yard scramble to get Kansas City to the 25-yard line. (He narrowly missed Lake Dawson in the end zone on third down.)

Alas, Elliott missed for the third time, yanking the 42-yarder wide left with about 42 seconds to go, ending the three-hour horror movie. It was a stunning upset, a wild card dome team winning in the frozen fortress that was Arrowhead in Winter. There were jokes about Elliott trying to commit suicide after the game but being unable to kick the chair out from under himself to complete the hanging. The amount of Internet venom directed at Elliott is staggering. He is hands-down the most reviled Chief of all-time. And in the opinion of many, Jan. 6, 1996, was the darkest day in Chiefs history.

January 4, 1998: Denver 14, Kansas City 10

Helway 3

When it wasn’t Elliot and Bono stabbing Marty in the back in the playoffs, it was John Elway. In January 1987 and January 1988, Elway’s Bronco teams beat Schottenheimer’s Browns in the AFC Championship Game. The 1987 game in Cleveland featured “The Drive,” when Elway led his team on a 98-yard, 15-play drive for the ages to tie the game with 37 seconds to go. (SI’s Rick Telander: “Elway didn’t just pull victory from the Browns’ mouth. He ripped the thing from halfway down their throat.”) Denver won in overtime. The 1988 game in Denver featured poor Ernest Byner fumbling at the Denver three-yard line with the Browns down seven.

Now the Chiefs were again the No. 1 seed in the AFC. And the Broncos came into town with Marty’s old nemesis at the helm. Elway was still hunting his first Super Bowl, an aging veteran wondering if it was ever going to happen.

Early in the game, Denver had to change uniforms for having some sort of slick substance on them. They said it was for warmth; the Chiefs said it was designed to make them slick and tougher to block and tackle.

Denver took a 7-0 lead into halftime, but the Chiefs put up 10 unanswered points in the third to take a narrow lead into the fourth quarter.

But John Elway made a career of erasing fourth-quarter leads, and with Terrell Davis rushing for over 100 yards, the Broncos went ahead with a fourth-quarter Davis touchdown run. For a third time, Elway and Co. yanked it away from Marty and Co.

Down four with two minutes to go, Chiefs quarterback Elvis Grbac frantically tried to lead a two-minute drill. The defining image of the drive may have been Grbac with his hands covering his helmet earholes, trying to get the next play, clearly flustered. The unsettled offense got deep into Bronco territory, but then with 19 seconds to go Grbac’s fourth-down pass to Lake Dawson sailed well out of the end zone. Elway would win the first of back-to-back Super Bowls that year, and Schottenheimer would never again coach a playoff game for the Chiefs.

January 11, 2004: Indianapolis 38, Kansas City 31

Not One Punt

The Chiefs had a sensational offense in 2003, with quarterback Trent Green, running back Priest Holmes, tight end Tony Gonzalez and an outstanding offensive line.

The team roared to a 9-0 start (just like the Royals did that same year) and finished 13-3, winning the AFC West. The Chiefs were the No. 2 seed, getting a bye and a home game with Peyton Manning and the Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs.

The problem, of course, is that the Chiefs defense was simply awful. So many games that year turned into old AFL-style shootouts.

And in this game, the Chiefs did not force Manning and the Colts to punt. Not once. A Holmes fumble near the start of the second half doomed the Chiefs. They hadn’t held serve on that one possession. They couldn’t stop Indy. It was over.

The Colts drives: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, touchdown, turnover on downs after bleeding the clock down to 13 seconds.

After the game, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson resigned in disgrace.

Chiefs defensive end Eric Hicks: “(Manning) is the master. That was an amazing performance… they took us to the woodshed and just beat us. It was embarrassing.”

January 6, 2007: Indianapolis 23, Kansas City 6

Colts-ed Again

This one wasn’t even close. The Chiefs slipped into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed, with Herm Edwards coaching the shell of Dick Vermeil’s fine offense. Indianapolis took a 9-0 halftime lead as Kansas City failed to get a first down until the third quarter. A Chiefs touchdown briefly made it 16-8 and gave the auspice that this was a football game, but the Colts put it away with another touchdown.

Indy outgained Kansas City in total yards 435-126. They had 28 first downs to the Chiefs’ seven. It lacked the audacity of the 2003-04 playoff game, but it was a methodical, dominating step by the Colts en route to a Super Bowl win. It launched Kansas City into a desert of awful seasons from which is is just now escaping.

* * *

And now we have Chiefs-Ravens at Arrowhead on Saturday. Baltimore is a slight favorite, but Kansas City can win this game. As you can see above, they need this game. Either way, the Chiefs' recent playoff history indicates it should be great theater.

After bowl loss, Tigers eye NFL draft decisions

In the wake of Missouri’s stinging 27-24 Insight Bowl loss to Iowa, Tiger fans can’t be blamed for their frustration. Missouri (10-3) pretty much outplayed Iowa (8-5), but two critical turnovers determined the game.

Missouri outgained Iowa by 87 yards, had 13 more first downs, but still lost to a five-loss Iowa team that was playing without some of its key players. In the Hawkeyes’ previous game, they lost to lowly Minnesota, a team so objectionable that it got its coach fired before the season ended.

So yes, Missouri feels like it should have win. The Tigers rallied from a 17-3 deficit, but a Blaine Gabbert interception on a tipped pass in the end zone to close the first half hurt the Tigers. A second Gabbert pick doomed the Tigers, this one a brain-lock play in which the big quarterback needed to throw the ball away but instead lightly tossed it right to an Iowa player, who somehow returned it 72 yards for a touchdown. When a late replay overturned a fine T.J. Moe catch for a first down, it was over. An inability to stop someone named Marcus Coker, a reserve running back who ran for 219 yards against Missouri, also hurt.

But enough reapplying salt to the wound. The Missouri offense played pretty well apart from those two terrible plays. Gabbert completed 41 of 57 passes for 434 yards in the game. He looked sharp and mature, the one egregious mistake aside.

Perhaps he looked too good. Several NFL scouts were on hand to study Gabbert and others. The junior has one year of eligibility left, but he is one of four Missouri players who submitted their names to the NFL draft advisory committee to project where they might go if they left school early to enter the draft.

Like many teams, the key issue for Missouri is whether or not these four players, Gabbert, defensive ends Aldon and Jacquies Smith, and tight end Michael Egnew, return or go pro. I certainly won’t begrudge any kid who can make millions playing football from doing so, and coach Gary Pinkel has said if players get first-round draft projections, he would advise them to go pro, assuming he thinks they’re ready.

The early stuff I’ve read would indicate Gabbert and Aldon Smith would be first-rounders. This would make it tough for them to stay, even if another year might help both of them. Watch Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. If he stays in school for his senior year, then Gabbert becomes one of the more highly-rated quarterbacks available for the draft. If Luck enters the draft, it might encourage Gabbert to stay.

I would also hazard a guess that Egnew and Jacquies Smith are just dipping a toe in the water and will be back for another year. How all this pans out is anybody’s guess, but it bears watching with the 2011 season in mind.

In the ten-team Big 12 in 2011, Oklahoma figures to be very strong. Texas will be a huge question mark, but expect the Longhorns to jockey with Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M in the seemingly endless chase to challenge the Sooners for the conference title.

That conference title eluded Missouri in 2010, as the enthusiasm built by the 7-0 start faded with losses at Nebraska and Texas Tech that kept Missouri out of the big 12 title game. Still, it was a 10-win season, Missouri's third in four years, and it gives Tiger fans optimism heading into a new year, even as these NFL draft questions get sorted out.